Two things prompted this post. First, our interview with Lifeline Ventures' Timo Ahopelto, who recently published his fictionalized account of his experiences growing startups, and the fact that I just picked up a Kindle. With books on our mind, now we're hunting for startup books every entrepreneur should read, from the old classics to any sort of new and quirky book. So spin around on your swivel chair, eye your bookshelf and let us know:
What books should every entrepreneur read? What books have positively impacted your business? Since we're focused on the Nordic and Baltic countries, are there any written in your native tongue that stand out? List away in the comments below, and we'll put it all together for a post later.
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Mikko Silventola, partner at Annia Capital.
I landed to the Middle East a few months ago and I have already seen lots of networking events and buzz about entrepreneurship and especially new start-ups. 95% of UAE's companies are SME sized and hire 40 percent of the country's workforce. These companies are the ones that grows the local economy and employs the new star employees besides the travel industry and tourism.
Start-ups seems to be everywhere in the Europe and USA but also in the Middle East. In Dubai you notice it in the public and private sector. Dubai Government has established many supportive and regulatory entities such as Dubai SME 100 competition. Du – the Largest telecommunications company operating only in UAE has their own start-up TV-programme called ”The Entrepreneur”. Dominating financials entities such as Abraaj Capital and others are running conferences and platforms to entice entrepreneurship. Big publishers are launching Start-up magazines. Successful entrepreneurs are heroes in Dubai.
Despite all these facts and efforts, at the moment, there seems not to be many successful case studies as a result. Maybe it's still too early, maybe angel investors are more interested in acquiring 100% of IPs rather than supporting young entrepreneurs, we shall see.
Europe's a mess right now. Even Spain has been put on European tax payer life support and more countries could be in the queue for aid. Some falsely believe that the aid itself is something that would pull Europe out of the looming recession. But looking at things on a global level, we don't believe Europe is as strong as it could be. Growing companies are the best way to help and we're producing far too few of them on average.
Furthermore, the state of things in Europe regarding businesses isn't too bright either. Fragmented national policies are not helping entrepreneurs opening businesses in multiple locations, nor is immaterial property legislation where it should be to help protect businesses from illegal use of their work.
For this Friday we thought it would be good to spark some office debates about the state of entrepreneurship and how people on the grass roots level could help to alleviate it if not solve it altogether.
Earlier in June AaltoES organised a highly inspiring week full of events that hopefully sparked numerous other discussions elsewhere on the status of entrepreneurship in Finland (the event being focused on Finland and taking fully place in Finland). Founder's Week, as it was titled, saw four world class entrepreneurs debate and promote entrepreneurship in numerous panels of which I had the privilege to moderate one.
The panel discussion was titled around "Making Helsinki the startup hub of Europe". We touched on numerous topics during the debate, but almost all points came down to the fact that most issues related to successful entrepreneurship are related to the incredible people who build the companies.
In April we did a bigger story on Danish entrepreneurs' movement against what they called the iværksætterskat, or Entrepreneurs' tax. The tax got its nickname by levying an additional 25% on any shareholder with less than 10% ownership of a company, which is typically a startup company.
This made the marginal tax rate roughly 67% for any investor or entrepreneur who fell into the bracket, making it extremely difficult for Danish entrepreneurs to attract capital, exit, or keep up with their taxes whenever they received an investment. Now, the Danish government has put in a proposal to finally remove the tax, after being in place since 2010.
As a woman in the startup community, Dalia Lasaite says she hasn't encountered any serious obstacles due to her gender, and even suggests the opposite: "Starting a company is always hard, whoever you are. But I find that women actually get more visibility and stand out easier as the tech community is made of men - so this is the advantage of being a woman entrepreneur."
Lasaite got into entrepreneurship in 2007, right after finishing her studies. After a bit of brainstorming co-founded the ride sharing website Geogoer, which seems to have closed down. At this time she was only working on the project part-time while simultaneously starting to work at an asset management company. But after playing around with that project for a while, the team got an investment from the Difference Engine accelerator, and Lasaite quit her corporate job.
A network worth mentioning that's playing a large supporting role in getting women interested in digital entrepreneurship is Future Female, Helsinki-based network of likeminded women who are inspired by new ideas and the world of digital opportunities. Future Female is for women, who work, use or are interested in technology.
The organization operates as a platform for women to mentor, share, learn, connect, contribute and enable the next generation of excellence via informal and interactive get-togethers, workshops and seminars. They pride themselves on being a friendly and easily approachable network, balancing business with pleasure. There are no age or title limits, you can come as you are.
Allan Martinson, one of the most best known and experienced investors from Estonia (currently the founding and managing partner of MTVP), has cast concern about the amount of new accelerators and different support programs for startups. He states a valid point, that if every town and your brother has an accelerator they will fail to attract critical mass to support their functions. Martinson states that Baltics really need one big accelerator with strong financing and a strong team to make a splash in the global pond of startup activities.
There really cannot be too much discussion around this topic, and therefore we have included Allan Martinson's original statement from his public Facebook status below.
Editorial note: This is a guest post by Andor Jakab from Hungary. In fact, this is a cross post from his blog. The post outlines well many of the challenges early stage entrepreneurs face. Even though things aren't quite as bad here in the Nordics and Baltics, it's good to understand the realities. Towards the end, we also talked to Jakab about the recent laws and changes in the country regarding its future. It's a chilling read and a reminder to us all.
I could hire 12 people with €760 net salary, but I don't. I tell you why. You could work for my service provider company in a nice office. It's not telemarketing, it's not a scam. You would do serious work that requires high skills, 8 hours daily, only weekdays. I would employ you legally, I would pay your taxes and social security. I could give such a job to a dozen people, but I will not, and here I explain why.
Do you dream about creating your own digital startup but lack the business know-how to get everything going? Then an international master’s degree programme in Design and Development of Virtual Environments (DDVE) may just be the thing for you.
DDVE is a new inter-discliplinary initiative at the University of Tartu in Estonia that combines three key study areas; design, business and ICT. Taught in English, the two-year programme provides students with advanced skills in entrepreneurship for creating innovative digital products and services.
The path to becoming an entrepreneur anywhere is wrought with obstacles. Most of the concerns come down to money and time but if you happen to live outside of your home country you also need to think of visas. One often hears horror stories about getting an entrepreneurship visa to the US. Here is my experience with Finland.
The story starts similar to many foreigners: I moved to Finland from the safety and comfort of my home country because of my girlfriend. I was lucky enough to find work despite my non-existent Finnish in a big international company. All was good until I started being more and more interested in entrepreneurship. Besides, things at work were not going so well, there was a lot of hushed-up talk about job cuts.
Finland has one of those peculiar western cultures where failure isn't tolerated. Failure isn't tolerated socially nor is it tolerated in the society at large. One of the most common outcomes of starting high growth businesses is that most of them go bankrupt. This means, that failure is at the core of high risk entrepreneurship. This is something that hasn't been accepted in Finland and the National Fail Day (in Finnish), celebrated today, is the first public awareness act to change this.
Editor's note: This is written by a Finnish entrepreneur Riitta Raesmaa, who wanted to cast her voice about her home country. We're glad to publish similar articles from any other country in our region - please get in touch with us, if you'd like to get your content published. This post was originally published at Riitta Raesmaa's personal blog.
Something exceptional is happening here in Finland. However I think that the foundation for that has existed a long time, only to wait its time to come. And it seems that the time is here and now. Let me explain.
I am a startup entrepreneur and I am considering myself very lucky that I have had the opportunity to follow somewhat amazing chain of events happening in the startup scene of Finland. The young crew from the Aalto University, so-called Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, has worked hard for two and half years, and finally this week they publicly proved that their vision and the actions taken truly are a very powerful force.
Tech start-ups come up with great ideas and build brilliant products but often lag behind marketing them. Main reason for that is usually lack of resources: entrepreneurs would rather spend their limited funds on developing a product than on marketing it. However, most agree that it’s important for your product to be known and talked about. We talked with one the main PR gurus in Finland Christina Forgård (founder and Chairman of the Board of Netprofile) who shed light on the world of PR and shattered some common myths and misconceptions.
Who do today's men look up to as role models? According to a recent survey by AskMen, it's entrepreneurs! Out of over 2,000 surveyed men, more then a third (35%) identified famous entrepreneurs as their role models. The article explains the trend with two main things: men consider wealth and freedom key to happiness. Entrepreneurship can offer both, especially if you succeed. Interestingly enough, almost as many respondents identified themselves as their own role-models, which is consistent with another trend the article identified - men's eagerness to start companies has been trending upward since 2001. Thus, we have to thank the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg for making entrepreneurship cool even in the mainstream.
When you mention startups, funding, mentoring and networking are the most essential ingredients needed by each aspiring founder. There are great ideas waiting to be put into practicality and the only thing that keeps them from shooting from their roots has been the absence of incubators and accelerator programs. Things have been changing and a number of startup accelerator programs and incubators have surfaced, this is where ideas are carved into reality, founders are provided guidance, the essential tips to direct them towards success and the ever needed funding.
The three largest parties to gain power in last night's Finnish parliamentary elections have dramatically different political agendas. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, employment and entrepreneurship is one of the areas with the fewest differences overall. However, there are differences and depending on how the new government will be formed - these might have significant effects on entrepreneurs and their incentives as well. Below are some of the key areas of change these three parties are trying to achieve (from an entrepreneurial point of view).
Russian firm, Yandex is waking up to assist startups with funding with the initiation of Yandex.Factory. Yandex.Factory is a startup investment program that will provide funding to startup projects in Russia as well as those from the International arena and this investment is by no means small.
We at ArcticStartup heart the Garage48 event for all the rush and enthusiasm that comes forth in the 48 hours of pure innovation. But the weather at the events here in the Nordics and Baltics was perhaps just a bit too cold and needed some equatorial treatment, which is exactly the treatment Garage48 will be getting. Garage48 has announced that they will be holding 5 events in Africa.
Students in Finland have come a long way in a few years. Last night, Finland saw one of its most impressive events in support of growth entrepreneurship - all organised by a small group of passionate students. What makes this all the better, is that the event was covered by numerous national media and the panelists at the actual event included the hotshots of Finnish business environment; a mix of very influential business people and a group of startup entrepreneurs. The event was called "Finland Post Welfare", questioning the things Finland should work on to sustain its welfare status. It was put together by Aalto Entrepreneurship Society.
We live blogged the event last night in English as the event itself was held in Finnish. As it's not the best use of anyone's time to suggest that you go through the logs - we'll do our best to summarise the event in this post.
How or why do you expand into new markets? There is one simple word that justifies all this; opportunities. Emerging markets might have the uncertainty of ensuring a successful startup or a business venture but they have all the room for growth over time. India, for example has become one of the fastest growing economies and in my opinion a hub to be of all innovation. Guess this is exactly what has been identified by the Estonian Development Fund when they announced a call upon entrepreneurs, universities and investors to explore business opportunities in the worlds second most populous country.
Finland will be having its parliamentary this April. Naturally, entrepreneurship and welfare are on the agenda, but one aspect of entrepreneurship that has been missing is the lobbying of growth entrepreneurship. On 21st of March, Aalto ES will be putting together an event together with a whole bunch of organisations to promote growth entrepreneurship for the candidates running for parliament. The event is controversially called Finland Post Welfare.
Soon the Nordic summer will be over, and then the ice cold winter only gets closer day by day. So what is an adventurous entrepreneur to do? Well, how about going to Bali, live in luxury villas, and join 15 young, successful, fun and adventurous entrepreneurs?
This is exactly what Project Getaway is all about, and during September and October this year, we have organized a trip, which is designed to be a "dream come true" for any entrepreneur.
Founding a company does not equal to selling your soul to the devil. It is the best way to move your science forward.
This is what I try to convince the most brilliant scientists to believe in.
The best researchers became researchers as they love to make new science and are really good at it. Business is seen as a distraction to science, something to stay out of. It is evil -- either a prime one or a necessary one. Of course I am exaggerating, but at the same time I am sure that many scientists find themselves thinking along these lines - at least for a moment sometimes.
In Finland, we think he’s a fool who thinks he’s better than everyone else, disrespects the rules and is probably Finnish-Swedish.
Entrepreneurs are the same. They are opportunists and idealists. In its original French, the word means: somebody who will attempt to create something.
On one hand it’s a risky, lonely and difficult endeavor. But on the other hand, it’s thrilling, challenging and potentially offers great returns (value, jobs). I believe we Europeans, and especially in Finland, spend too much time focusing on the former and not enough on the latter.
Nordic media, take note. Finland is notorious for its lack of entrepreneurs. A collaboration between student-run associations from the top 3 schools in Helsinki (Aaltoes, Hankenes and Hues) has raised 50,000 euros in public funding, to encourage students to create startups during the Summer.
Summer of Startups will take place during July and August and will provide 750 euros per month in funding to each team member, regardless of their school or country of origin. This is the first time such a program does not take any equity, unlike programs such as Y-Combinator, Techstars, or Startup Bootcamp Denmark. The goal is purely educational, in order for students to try entrepreneurship without having to fear from failure. Stanford started a similar initiative called SSE Labs, which will run from June 15th-Sept 15th.
Disclaimer: I am the main coach of this program.
I watched a terrific TEDx video from Edmonton where entrepreneur Cameron Herold shares his advice to parents around the world for raising your kids with entrepreneurial thinking. He himself did not do too well in school and was left questioning at a very young age; "why are our kids raised in this manner?".
Cameron Herold has very pragmatic advice for parents and other viewers alike. For example, instead of giving children weekly allowances, which in his opinion teaches the kids that incoming money is taken for granted, he tells his kids to go around the house and look for things that need improving. Once the kids notice something that can be done better, they come back to their father and start negotiating on the price for that job. This way they'll always have to realise the opportunities, defend their point of view why it needs improvement and create the setting for a small project. Fantastic!
The debate on the tax code for entrepreneurs in Finland is becoming more surreal by the day. The origins of the debate lie in the tax code working group set up by the Finnish Parliament. This group, headed by Martti Hetemäki, is to devise a new tax code for areas such as capital gains, options and carried interest for VC funds. The biggest verbal and rhetorical battle is waged around the double taxing of dividends in non-listed companies.
Just as with any tax code, the more transparent and simple the tax code to understand, the better it incentivizes people to invest in a risky and uncertain future. The tax code should make it easier to see how the future plays out for businesses, not make it more difficult. All the scenarios the working group is considering are rather complex and won't help the state of entrepreneurship in the country.
Are Nordic countries particularly entrepreneurial? How do our societies perceive entrepreneurship as a career choice?
The perception already exists that the Nordic countries are among the most innovative in the world. The two most recent and comprehensive rankings supporting this belief came from the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Boston Consulting Group, both published in April 2009. The first of these studies ranked Japan as the most innovative country in the world, while in the second Singapore was at the top of the list. Nevertheless, Finland and Sweden ranked in the top ten for both reports, while Denmark and Norway also ranked impressively.
The Future Just Arrived - Grey Area Is Developing A New Kind Of Mobile Gaming Genre From The Ground Up
Grey Area, a small startup operating in stealth mode, is gearing up to change the cityscape for everybody. I get back to how they are going to do this later in the post, but the story of how this startup came to be is equally interesting.
I first met the guys back in OpenCoffee Helsinki what must be more than a year ago. I remember Mikko Hämäläinen telling me how they were exploring possibilities to set up a company with two of his friends, Andreas Karlsson and Teemu Tuulari, from Ericsson. All three had started at Ericsson in 2003-2004 and met when they were put in the small team with the task of developing an Ericsson network node.