• Friday, December 08, 2023
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Entrepreneurs: If in doubt, innovate (2)


 Valley). The fashionable argument now is that Nokia’s decline is “the best thing that ever happened to this country.”

The new Finland is particularly proud of its booming video-games industry, including successful companies such as Rovio Entertainment, the maker of Angry Birds and a leading supporter of the Start-Up Sauna, and Supercell, the maker of Clash of Clans. Supercell’s employees are what you would expect: men with beards and ponytails who take time out from their computer screens to show off their collections of action figures.

Ilkaa Paananen, Supercell’s CEO, points out that Finland has spent years preparing for its current success. Helsinki started to host a festival for gamers in the early 1990s. Today, the festival is so popular that the organisers have to rent the city’s biggest ice-hockey stadium, with room for 13,000, and still turn people away. Kajak University offers courses in video games. Finns have a comparative advantage in the four things that make for great games—blood-soaked story lines (all those sagas), bold design, ace computer programming and what might be politely called “autistic creativity.”

The arrival of the iPad and its apps allowed the Finnish industry to break out of its frozen ghetto. Mr Paananen says he now has the wherewithal to build the “company of my dreams”. Screens on the wall display how Supercell is doing against its rivals in real time. The games-masters talk about IPOs and “massive growth curves”. The company recently moved into new headquarters which, poignantly, used to be Nokia’s R&D centre.

The mood reflected in the summer of start-ups can be found across the region: investors everywhere are looking for new opportunities and bright young things are running companies in converted warehouses. Hjalmar Winbladh, one of Sweden’s leading entrepreneurs, says that the atmosphere has changed completely since he started out in business in the early 1990s. Back then people like him were oddities.

Today, fashionable young people worship successful tech entrepreneurs such as Niklas Zennström, the co-founder of Skype, and Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, the co-founders of Spotify. Mr Winbladh says that his biggest problem is to attract young talent from other start-ups. They all shudder at the thought of spending their lives in big organisations.

Nordic governments recognise that they need to encourage more entrepreneurs if they are to provide their people with high-quality jobs, and that they can no longer rely on large companies to generate business ecosystems on their own. They are creating government agencies to promote start-ups. They are encouraging universities to commercialise their ideas and generate start-ups. They are telling their schools to sing the praises of entrepreneurship.

Many of the region’s most interesting entrepreneurs operate at the low end of the tech spectrum, often to help parents deal with the practical problems of combining full-time work and family. Niklas Aronsson, co-founder of a company called Linas Matkasse, has applied IKEA’s do-it-yourself model to family dinners. He delivers bags containing all the ingredients needed for a meal, chopped up and ready to cook – a perfect solution for people who are short of time but prefer not to bring up their children on take-away pizza.

Monica Lindstedt, founder of Hemfrid, is also in the business of selling time. She has turned her company into a house-cleaning giant, applying professional management to domestic cleaning and turning it into an employment perk. Hemfrid has persuaded the government to treat house-cleaning as a tax-deductible benefit, like a company car. It has also convinced companies that this is a great way to reward their employees and free them from domestic distraction. Hemfrid now has 10,000 regular customers and 1,326 employees, 70 percent of them born abroad.

Nordic entrepreneurs are also reinventing retirement homes for baby-boomers. A Finnish private housing association, Asunto Oy Helsingin Loppukiri, has built a housing community in the suburbs of Helsinki that is dedicated to the idea of helping people help themselves. The residents took an active part in designing both the buildings’ common areas (which include saunas and exercise rooms) and their individual flats. Most of them own shares in the company. It tries to offer a balance between independent living and community involvement.

Courtesy: The Economist