Finnsanity in action

Who knew that November in Helsinki could be so cool & hot – and that Finns have become so savvy in marketing, wonders long-time SLUSH-goer, entrepreneur and author Roman Kikta.

I visited SLUSH for the 10th time this November and returned home to Dallas, Texas, energized. Meeting young entrepreneurs and hearing their ideas is always so much fun and rejuvenating. This time, however, I was thinking about the source of all these promising innovations which included Artificial Intelligence (AI), Web 3.0, Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, quantum computing, metaverse and virtual reality. In Finland, it may be something a little bit different than what you might think.  

In the US, a common motivation for a startup entrepreneur is the financial reward to make a truckload of money — and most freely admit that. In Finland, I always get the sense that — while money is nice — there’s something much deeper at work. The Finnish entrepreneurial mindset is about creating solutions to improve human life and happiness. I call this “Finnovation”.

"The Finnish entrepreneurial mindset is about creating solutions to improve human life and happiness."

Finland has now been crowned the happiest nation on Earth five times in a row. That got me thinking: is happiness the core driver behind all these companies and all this innovation? Could it be that happy people are the most creative, open-minded ones? Is this the secret sauce of this Nordic innovation nation?

Of course, there’s more to building thriving ecosystems than just being happy. I’ve studied other nations known for their innovation prowess — be it USA, Israel, South Korea or Singapore — and they’re all great in their own way. Still, none of them can touch the level of collaboration that the Finns have been able to reach. In Finland, innovative ecosystems are created through unprecedented cooperation between companies, universities, and investors.   

Atmosphere from Slush 2022 eventSlush opening show in November 2022. Photo: Susanna Lehto/Business Finland

In addition, Finland has the best primary and secondary education systems in the world, according to the UN Education Index. While most Americans and other countries see the educational system as one big Darwinian competition, the Finns see it differently. 

The Finnish education system is about creating a happy, harmonious, and healthy student and learning environment. One that fosters cooperation and not competition so that students can focus on the true task at hand — learning and growing as human beings. As Finnish writer Samuli Paronen said: “Real winners do not compete.”

"The Finnish education system fosters cooperation and not competition so that students can focus on learning and growing as human beings."

Nowhere is this “Finnovation” more apparent than at SLUSH, which is one of world’s leading events for startup companies, entrepreneurs, and investors, attracting 12 000 inquisitive minds, including over 4 800 startups and entrepreneurs, 2 600 investors, plus students, academics and corporate executives. 

I’ve been coming to SLUSH every year since its infancy, and I’m always struck by the sense of community at the event. There’s just this overwhelming notion of everybody coming together. Again, this year, we heard stories about successes and challenges –all of this empowers the SLUSH community to grow, to go forward, to reach ever higher.

SLUSH, to me, is a beautiful celebration of collaboration and learning – and that is just so intoxicating it keeps me coming back every year. I remember back in 2009, when the event was at Kaapelitehdas, SLUSH was a smaller, more timid affair back then — but the spark was already there.

Just think about it. If you want to launch a startup event in Finland, conventional wisdom favors spring or summer, to make use of that “Midnight Sun” vibe. Helsinki in November — often cold, dark and windy — is a tougher sell. But what do the pioneers of this event do? They pick November and choose to highlight the seasonal misery by naming the event SLUSH, in tribute to the sorry excuse for snow that Helsinki natives know only too well.

Conventional wisdom is not always right. A little dash of Finnish creative craziness — let’s call it Finnsanity — can go a long way!

Roman Kikta
Guest writer Roman Kikta