In late February, Alli Ottarsson will step out of a plane into the dense snow of the Finnish winter for a 90-day experience in an alternate reality, test-driving what his life could be like if he lived in Helsinki.
With him will be his fiancée and four-year-old daughter, as well as 14 other professionals selected to participate in a radical new scheme aimed at luring tech workers to the Finnish capital.
A staggering 5,330 people from around the world applied late last year for the free 90 Day Finn relocation package offered by Helsinki Business Hub.
The international trade and investment promotion agency will provide the 15 winners with airport pickup, orientation, cultural training, Finish experiences, remote work facilities, introductions to local business networks and all the documentation needed for a three-month stay.
They’ll also receive arrangements for housing and any school or daycare needed for accompanying children.
Expenses like airfare and lodging are not provided – it’s more of a concierge service – but if the test run goes well, all can get assistance applying for permanent residency.
Ottarsson, a video-games investor, says he applied because he’d become frustrated with the ballooning coronavirus numbers in Los Angeles, where he lives.
He hopes to use the welcome package to explore investment opportunities in Helsinki’s booming gaming industry as well as open up the family’s horizons and gain contacts while riding out the pandemic in one of Europe’s least-affected cities.
“My fiancée works in business as well, so we see this as an opportunity to really expand our network in the region,” he says.
Ottarsson is also “very keen on the cohort that’s going”, noting that it’s almost like an adult version of summer camp or study abroad.
“It’s something to break out of your normal social circles and meet new people.”
The 90 Day Finn initiative has generated lots of attention in recent weeks, helping to put Helsinki firmly on the map for global workers.
While only 15 winning candidates will ultimately make the trip, the city hopes the publicity generated by the campaign can lure even more people to help fill a talent gap and fuel its growing tech sector.
If it works, relocation packages like this could become a valuable new tool in the competitive race to win over foreign professionals.
Finland may have given the world open-source operating system Linux, telecommunications giant Nokia and even the SMS technology that powers text messaging, but it’s struggled to build a workforce to keep up with growing demand.
“We have a good schooling system and educate a lot of engineers and coders, but the demand is so big that it’s simply not enough,” explains Johanna Huurre, of Helsinki Business Hub.
“Also, we don’t believe that all the wisdom lives in Finland; having diverse international talent will help our best ideas fly globally.”
She says that, because Finland is not so top of mind for global talent, “we felt the time was right to do something different” that would offer a practical way to test-drive Helsinki.
“When people come, they tend to stay, so we needed to find an attractive way to get them here.”
The fact that Helsinki is a city of fewer than one million people in a country of less than six million may put it at a disadvantage, despite having a start-up ecosystem that’s now valued at $5.8bn(£4.2bn).
On the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), for example, the city ranks 31st in the world – well behind even close neighbours like Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Felipe Monteiro, an INSEAD professor and academic director of the GTCI, notes that it falls lower on the list because it’s a smaller city with less global influence, less tourist traffic and fewer headquarters of multinationals.
Joonas Halla, head of talent boost at Business Finland, notes that industries seeking workers at the moment include cybersecurity, space tech, health tech, gaming and quantum computing.
Those seeking jobs in, for example, data and analytics or software engineering can expect to earn up to €4,113 (£3,662; $4,960) per month with low competition for
Huurre says she was completely overwhelmed by both the number and quality of the candidates for the 90 Day Finn programme, 30% of whom were North American, with the rest scattered across every continent.
The majority (70%) were remote workers, while 16% were entrepreneurs, and 12% sought direct employment in Helsinki. There were also 60 investors, including Ottarsson.
Helsinki Business Hub has now created a database where unsuccessful applicants can leave their profiles for local executives to review.
After all, the aim is not just to get 15 people; Helsinki wants as many qualified candidates as possible to relocate.