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Cold inspires hot run on high-tech

The Economist/ AFR | Feb. 5, 2013
A group of Finnish students have embarked on a most constructive piece of entrepreneurialism in history after returning from MIT.

The new Finland is particularly proud of its booming video games industry, including successful companies such as Rovio Entertainment, the maker of Angry Birds and a leading supporter of the Start-Up Sauna, and Supercell, the maker of Clash of Clans. Supercell’s employees are what you would expect: men with beards and ponytails who take time out from their computer screens to show off their collections of action figures.

Ilkaa Paananen, Supercell’s CEO, points out that Finland has spent years preparing for its current success. Helsinki started to host a festival for gamers in the early 1990s. Today the festival is so popular that the organisers have to rent the city’s biggest ice-hockey stadium, with room for 13,000, and still turn people away. Kajak University offers courses in video games. Finns have a comparative advantage in the four things that make for great games—blood-soaked storylines (all those sagas), bold design, ace computer programming and what might be politely called “autistic creativity”.

The arrival of the iPad and its apps allowed the Finnish industry to break out of its frozen ghetto. Mr Paananen says he now has the wherewithal to build the “company of my dreams”. Screens on the wall display how Supercell is doing against its rivals in real time. The games masters talk about IPOs and “massive growth curves”. The company recently moved into new headquarters which, poignantly, used to be Nokia’s R&D centre.

The mood reflected in the summer of start-ups can be found across the region: investors everywhere are looking for opportunities and bright young things are running companies in converted warehouses. Hjalmar Winbladh, one of Sweden’s leading entrepreneurs, says the atmosphere has changed completely since he started out in the early 1990s. Back then people like him were oddities. Today fashionable young people worship successful tech entrepreneurs such as Niklas Zennström, the co-founder of Skype, and Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, the co-founders of Spotify. Mr Winbladh says his biggest problem is to attract young talent from other start-ups. They all shudder at the thought of spending their lives in big organisations.

Nordic governments recognise that they need to encourage more entrepreneurs if they are to provide their people with high-quality jobs and that no longer can they rely on large companies to generate business ecosystems. They are creating government agencies to promote start-ups. They are encouraging universities to commercialise their ideas and generate start-ups. They are telling their schools to sing the praises of entrepreneurship.

Many of the region’s most interesting entrepreneurs operate at the low end of the tech spectrum, often to help parents deal with the practical problems of combining full-time work and family. The co-founder of a company called Linas Matkasse, Niklas Aronsson, has applied IKEA’s do-it-yourself model to family dinners. He delivers bags containing all the ingredients needed for a meal, chopped up and ready to cook for people who are short of time but prefer not to bring their children up on takeaway pizza.


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