The annual startup festival Slush brings together founders, top-tier speakers, and investors to showcase the future of the startup ecosystem in Finland and beyond.
This brought Business Turku to Helsinki at the turn of December this year. We met up with startups and entrepreneurs who have roots in Turku and learned about their journey to Slush, their goals at the event, and their plans for the future.
Slush is famous for its spectacular laser shows and lively music that introduce world-famous speakers to various stages across the venue. But the real action happens behind the scenes at a dedicated one-to-one meeting area where entrepreneurs and investors can talk business. All of our interviewees were busy networking with new business partners, but we found a few minutes to chat with these local innovators.
Maketrade is a Turku-based company that aims to make online marketplaces safer. For example, when buying a games console on an online marketplace, the buyer and the seller can let Maketrade handle the payment process. The money exchanges hands only after the trade is completed and both parties are satisfied.
For Maketrade, Turku is where it all began. They took part in a Business Turku accelerator programme and have utilized the free office spaces scattered around the city center: the SparkUp community space and Konttori, the entrepreneurial hub run by the University of Turku. “We appreciate the synergy and the networking opportunities these spaces offer. We don’t have to spend money on finding places to work, meet, and network,” says Maketrade co-founder and Boost entrepreneurship society chair Leevi Mäkikalli.
Turku’s higher education institutions make the city a hotspot of student activity and innovation. According to Mäkikalli, the city is packed with people with the drive and ambition to achieve great things. That’s why Maketrade has big plans for the city’s future: they want to make Turku the Finnish capital of circular economy. And with Slush, they are already looking towards Helsinki and beyond.
After a stint in Helsinki for bioinformatics research in the early 2000s, Ashwin Sivakumar has built a global career transforming healthcare solutions, culminating in this latest business venture FuOHealth. In 2023, he and his family relocated to Finland after taking part in Startup Call, a Business Turku contest offering international startups a fast track into the local startup ecosystem.
Thanks to Startup Call, Sivakumar received support with all the necessary permits and the relocation process. He also got to join the BusinessUp growth programme and use the Werstas co-working space. This year, he has split his working time between Werstas and the open SparkUp community space, located just across the road from each other.
“I think the biggest strength in Turku is the ecosystem, the types of people you meet every day. It’s very supportive. I love that the events in the startup community bring together new and established players,” Sivakumar says.
At Slush, the entrepreneur is looking to build connections with forward-thinking investors in the health tech sector – and to learn from the expert keynotes as well, of course.
Federico Basurto’s TeachersPro is a virtual platform that enhances teacher training and evaluates its effectiveness. After building up the business in the Turku region (he works in the tech cluster at the center of the city and lives in the neighboring municipality of Lieto) and attending the yearlong LevelUp growth programme, Basurto is now looking to expand his business at Slush.
“I’m here to meet new contacts, new leads and new partners, collaborators. I think Slush is the right place to be and to try to locate these people, because everybody is in with the same mindset, that’s why everybody’s here,” he says.
Basurto also took the stage himself at Business Finland’s open side event discussing the life of international startup entrepreneurs in Finland. The panelists (Basurto, Saleem Qureshi of Lincoln Method, and Natasha de Koker of JUSTICE4.0) agreed on the importance of community building: it’s always beneficial for new entrepreneurs to become an active part of the startup ecosystem, wherever they are.
And thankfully, according to Basurto, the city of Turku provides a great environment for settling down and building your personal network. “For me it’s a great city – not too big, not too small, the services are reliable and it’s very easy to get around. That’s important because nobody can do everything by themselves. A good ecosystem is crucial,” he says.
Also stopping by Business Finland’s Happiness Lounge was Jaakko Partanen of NAICC. His business offers an alternative to traditional IT consulting, with faster and more effective development sprints.
Partanen is another alumnus of the eight-week BusinessUp programme that helps companies get started on the right track. Each startup team is coached by their own mentor, with peer support and international mentoring contacts to provide new points of view and greatly expand the entrepreneurs’ networks. Partanen thanks the programme for not only providing up-to-date information on all aspects of company financials, but also indirectly landing NAICC valuable leads for future collaboration.
The startup is still in its early stages, making new contacts and exploring its opportunities. “Considering that this is our first Slush event, we’re mostly here just to check out the atmosphere. Of course, we’re keeping our eyes open for any potential business partners and we’re always ready to seize the opportunity,” Partanen says.
Codease, a low-code platform for application development, also settled down in Finland as part of Business Turku’s 2023 Startup Call round. Managing partner Çağlayan Yılmaz Karslı praises the programme for helping the company expand across Europe.
“We’re so lucky that our application was successful, and we got to participate in Business Turku’s growth programme,” she says. “Startup life is like a rollercoaster, but now that we got to meet with so many people and became part of a bigger network, I can say it has been an excellent experience for us.”
The personalized support associated with Startup Call has given the Codease team peace of mind when settling down in a new environment. “You can feel everyone is really supportive. Even if you don’t know the culture and there are challenges, you can rely on new partners and mentors to make everything comfortable. If you want to get your business ahead, Finland is the best place, I think,” Karslı says.
Codease is already planning for Slush 2024, using this year’s experiences to explore partnership opportunities and prepare for investor meetings.
Turku University of Applied Sciences
Alongside the various startups from the Turku region, many local institutions were also present at the event. This includes Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS), taking part in the nationwide Metaverse Initiative created in close cooperation with 400+ members of the Finnish tech ecosystem and a group of some of the strongest Finnish corporates and SMEs including Nokia, KONE, Varjo and Dispelix.
According to TUAS’ Mika Luimula, the vast majority of today’s metaverse development work is focused on the consumer market. TUAS sees the potential of metaverse applications in education and the technology industries and invests greatly in the research and development of these capabilities. Luimula believes Turku is just about ready to become the center of B2B applications in the metaverse space.