Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm was speaking in Helsinki to a room of media representatives yesterday morning at the Aalto Venture Garage. His visit to Finland is part of a tour to come understand the companies and environment the local startups work in. Before Helsinki, he had visited Berlin and the LeWeb conference in Paris. I managed to talk to Malik about the way he sees these entrepreneurial hubs.
The big part of our discussion circled around the fact that people in Europe always look up to Silicon Valley and how they succeed in everything they do, while failing to see all the potential in front of their eyes. I have to say, while I knowledge the value Silicon Valley has on companies - I wonder how much possibility is wasted when following a given path without truly thinking of the possibilities closer to you. After all, Rovio didn't go to Silicon Valley to succeed - it all started with an innocent tweet by a Swedish athlete in the Nordics (going international I mean).
Later on in the evening, Aalto Venture Garage based Startup Sauna seed accelerator had their Demo Day. 11 companies made it to the stage of the original 18 that made it to the program. The tight criteria inside the program pushed several companies to drop out.
The event itself was very impressive. Startup Sauna is really pushing the limits of grassroots level action in Finland, but also in Northern Europe. This effort is very welcome and we definitely need more of this.
However, there is something that we don't need more of. Startup Sauna praises itself for pulling in much of the talent from the region in a very impressive way, but most of the promotion was towards seeking validation which comes across as bad self confidence.
Much of the pitching was towards positioning Finland as the next startup hub in the region. I'd very much like this, but you can't only push it - it also has to be earned. Even Malik said that if he was given 100k euros and he'd be given the choice to invest it between Helsinki and Berlin, he'd invest it 50-50.
I'm a big fan of Estonia and especially their work in pushing across the e-government solutions through out the society. Estonians weren't the only guests in the room who were left cold in my opinion. There were Russians, Lithuanians and others. Finland can't take credit for something when it invites companies to work here through an incentive paid by Finnish tax payers. It's not fully market driven and thus, it's not really so until private money follows the talk.
I may sound too critical here (and trust me - the Startup Sauna organisers are good friends, putting on a great show and this is a really difficult issue, however it has to be said), but startups and the organizations in Northern Europe building the ecosystem really need to apply the "kick the shit out" -method to themselves that Startup Sauna applies to their startups each week. Be critical of yourself even if you're succeeding. We too, at ArcticStartup, need to do more of this.
Entrepreneurship in the Nordics and Baltics isn't the same as it was in 2007 when we started amateurishly covering startups. Back then entrepreneurship was seen as the last resort of getting employed. The ecosystem needed boosting.
A lot has changed since. Startups have become mainstream and many of the Nordic and Baltic countries are living a true golden age in terms of this. Politicians are competing for publicity in the face of entrepreneurs, startups are competing for visibility and investors are competing for possibilities in investing in the next best thing.
Something that hasn't changed, that should change - is the view of our own industry. We need to become ever more critical as more people choose this path. Entrepreneurship isn't a shortcut to riches, fame or world domination. Far from it, it's a really hard road many will lose a lot of money on. More importantly, some may lose their belief in changing the world and even in themselves.
It's a long rant, but this is something of a larger trend I have observed. Let's become more critical of ourselves here in Northern Europe. Let's raise the bar and fucking earn the title of startup Mecca of Europe without ever having to validate that in the future with Silicon Valley professionals.
Northern Europe - you need to earn this. You will prevail.