Finland seems to be bursting with entrepreneurial edge of late. In the red-hot startup scene, for example, there’s been a regular stampede: Finland boasts as many as ten unicorns – startups that have broken the one billion dollar threshold – ranging from innovative food delivery company Wolt to smart ring maker Oura.
Last year, Finnish startups had a record year, raising a total of 1.2B € in venture capital. The largest investor group was foreign venture capital investors, who doubled their investments in Finnish growth companies in only a year, to reach 553 million euros. A total of 182 Finnish startups received venture capital investments in 2021.
Obviously, not every business in Finland is a glamorous tech company with aspirations for world conquest – and robust growth is not something that all entrepreneurs even pursue. Professor Alf Rehn, one of leading business thinkers in the Nordics, says that Finnish businesses are not made of the same cloth.
"But what all entrepreneurs do have here is the societal safety net, which makes sure that you'll be alright even if your business is not a great success," says Rehn who is currently the Professor of Innovation, Design, and Management at the University of Southern Denmark.
Alf Rehn notes that Finland has become a lot more pro-entrepreneurship country within the last 20 years or so. Previously, the life of an entrepreneur was envisioned to be mostly gloom-and-doom – but now, running your own business is almost like playing in a rock and roll band, it seems.
"We have changed the way we talk about entrepreneurship, that's for sure," he says, adding that the biggest hype surrounding entrepreneurship is also waning. "Luckily, we're moving towards a more realistic discussion."
"Doing things smarter, rather than more, is one of the keys to success in business," states Simola from Maria 01.
Also, more "human" working hours mean you can enjoy a work-life balance that is the best in the world. Ville Simola, the CEO of Helsinki-based Maria 01, the leading startup campus in the Nordics, says that Finnish startup entrepreneurs are always willing "to go the extra mile," but they also enjoy decent work-life balance.
"I believe that when you do things smarter – instead of simply doing more all the time – is one of the keys to success in business," says Simola.
Riina Laaksonen is the Founder and Coach at Nordic Fit Mama, a digital Helsinki startup for mothers' health and wellbeing. She believes that entrepreneurship is rarely easy – but it does offer you great tools to pursue your own brand of happiness.
"There's freedom in being an entrepreneur that brings happiness – for example, you can impact the time you spend with your kids better," she says.
"There's freedom in being an entrepreneur that brings happiness," explains Laaksonen from Nordic Fit Mama.
Laaksonen and her family have also weathered COVID-19 better than the most of us, it seems. "We've spent the past year and a half at Ylläs, Lapland, and done a lot of skiing," she says, providing the perfect example of the entrepreneur's prerogative: the chance to make your life what you want it to be.
Frank Martela is a Happiness Researcher from Aalto University who has contributed to the making of the UN World Happiness Report in the past. He says that the Finnish welfare state possesses many elements that promote entrepreneurship.
"In Finland, you can test your wings without that much stress," Martela says.
"The welfare state model provides that basic security which allows you to take the plunge and start your business," he says, pointing out that in Finland your kids' education or spouse's dental care are not tied to a steady paycheck from some big company. You can, indeed, go out and try to make it on your own without undue financial risk and hardship.
Marc Hinnenberg, CEO of Hanken & SSE Executive Education, points out that work in general links very strongly with a person's wellbeing and happiness. "In running one's business, the significance of your own work is extremely important – to have a great idea or strong expertise that others appreciate and which creates value for others," Hinnenberg says.
Hinnenberg provides a recent example: one retiring entrepreneur was looking back at his life's work and paused to marvel at how "just a kid from East Helsinki" came to employ over 100 people. "That's deeply meaningful."