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Tech Nordic Advocates brings cross-border collaboration to Helsinki

The Nordic region is increasingly being considered by entrepreneurs as a place to establish a tech startup

The 2017 Tech Nordic Advocates (TNA) summit heard how entrepreneurs in the Nordic region are increasingly considering setting up tech startups closer to home.

TNA, a private network of startups, investors, large IT firms and policy-makers, recently held its annual get-together in Helsinki, Finland.

The event gathered together participants from the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as the UK, to mark TNA’s two-year anniversary. Launched in 2015 as an offshoot of its UK equivalent, Tech London Advocates (TLA), TNA now has 700 members, known as advocates.

TNA’s aim is to drive Nordic and Baltic tech sector growth, promote cross-border collaboration and increase the regions’ visibility internationally. These were also the topics of discussion in Helsinki.

TNA founder Jeanette Carlsson has seen a clear change in the maturity of the regions’ startups in recent years.

“Before, there was an assumption you had to go to London or Silicon Valley straight away. It is still the case up to a point, but now there is so much more activity in the individual startup hubs at home that it isn’t the first reaction,” she told Computer Weekly. “That is a good sign.”

Maturity was also the word used by Neil Murray, founder of the website The Nordic Web, speaking at the event.

Although growth in the number of Nordic investments has started to level out, he noted the investments are larger and of better quality. Furthermore, Murray mentioned that global tech giants acquire a Nordic company every six weeks, on average.

“The argument that you can build a billion-dollar company from the Nordics and Europe is stronger than ever before,” he said. “Also, we are seeing investments made all over the Nordics, not only the capital hubs. The money is being dispersed and it is a healthy development.”

Read more about Tech Nordic Advocates

But bottlenecks exist. Murray said he would like to see more major international venture capital firms turn their attention to the Nordics. Currently, around 80% of investment comes from inside the region.

Another issue raised several times at the TLA summit, including in a panel led by event sponsor Airbnb, was finding the right talent and the huge demand for it.

For example, in Sweden the shortage of IT specialists is expected to reach 30,000 by 2030, and Finland already has an acute need for 9,000 university-educated software developers, according to the Finnish Information Processing Association.

Collaborative working

It is issues like this that TNA wants to help tackle. Its work is organised into 12 advocate-led working groups focused on IT and tech areas relevant to the Nordic and Baltic countries. Largest among them is fintech, with 320 members signed up so far.

“A large portion of fintechs are still small and at an early stage, so networking and finding partners plays a major role,” said Janne Salminen, head of the working group and CEO of Helsinki Fintech Farm. “Regulatory challenges are another aspect where they often need help [from partners].”

Growing its network is also key for TNA, which is now part of the Global Tech Advocates umbrella brand launched in November 2017. Carlsson would like to see Nordic and Baltic advocate numbers soon reach 1,000.

“The number one observation from today is we have leaders representing every single country in the Nordics and Baltics,” said Carlsson. “People, whether leaders of startup hubs or working groups or business members, have come from all eight countries to be at the summit, and that underscores my point about [there being real] appetite for collaboration.”

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