Happy Independence Day 2017 Finland!

With the unique Slush 2016 tech event of last week now behind us here in Helsinki, Finland sets out to celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017.

Independence day celebration being about history and looking back on our accomplishments, 100 is a very nice round figure for not only reflection on the past – but also to contemplate where we want to go next.

It goes without saying that there is a major cultural paradigm shift going on for our country, and as for the rest of the world, perhaps too. Over the next one hundred years, Finnish companies, like others, will have to make services and products that put the needs of the customers first, without compromises.

The global stage, especially the digital, is a very competitive one.

Finland has a long tradition of approaching product and service design from a technological standpoint. Perhaps this is a key element in what originally placed Nokia cellphones, as well as many other innovations, firmly on the global market. But equally importantly, we tend to base our design on the needs of our customers, as well as to approach industrial design and IT from a Nordic aesthetic standpoint.

Take the Iittala products, spatial design by Alvar Aalto, Visit Finland’s brand, and the Helsinki-Vantaa airport as prime examples.

For me, this year’s independence day celebration incorporates mixed emotions, as our current government seems to emphasize values that differ from many things that I most value in Finnish culture.

Finland is currently facing heavy cuts of budget on the overall education and cultural sector, and the startup spirit of the Slush event seems to have not hindered our decision makers from reducing the education budgets in Finland to the bare minimum.

However, without our education system and most Finns in the field of IT and design being professionals with a polytechnic institute or university level background, we would hardly be able to host such amazing events as Slush and we would certainly not have witnessed the success of Finnish design and technology globally.

Independence day celebration here in Finland also being largely about fighting the Russians during the Second World War it is a very curious fact that in the ongoing crisis in Middle-East – caused chiefly by the absurd and offensive politics of the United States – is a cause of little or no concern for many Finns – even so much so, that a small minority of us Finns would present racist attitudes towards refugees fleeing from war.

With that being said – I am very happy about being born a Finn and here, as there are still many heavy issues to tackle in many other places in the world.

Finnish women won the right to vote a hundred years ago, and Finland, in fact, was the very first country in Europe to grant women that right.

Equality between the sexes and equality among people from different backgrounds being a key element in how our parents built this country, I wish we as Finns could promote these kinds of values more, both in our own country as well as globally.

About Slush and the Helsinki Startup Scene

The annual startup event Slush, held in Helsinki, has become well-known as one of the most hip ones worldwide.

And Slush has been growing exponentially. In 2011 the event had 1,500 attendees, in 2012 the number raised to 3,500, and the year after that to 7,000. Two years back, in 2014, the amount of attendees was about to double and the event had to be relocated to Messukeskus Expo and Convention Center.

Last year, in 2015, the event attracted over 25,000 visitors.

This year, the program of Slush will focus, more than ever, on stories from world-conquering founders of successful tech companies, such as David Helgason, Co-Founder of Unity, Ilkka Paananen, CEO & Founder of Supercell, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, CEO & Co-Founder of Klarna, Niklas Zennström, Co-Founder of Skype & Founder of Atomico.

According to the Slush blog, a new survey on around 700 founders of successful startups confirms the notion that hotspots in the Nordic countries are increasingly gaining reputation as best places to found a startup in Europe. In this survey, as in many others, Berlin and London naturally dominate the charts.

However, in this survey, Stockholm and Copenhagen are ranked among the Top 10 of best cities to found a startup, with Helsinki as a close runner-up.

Maria 0-1, or MariaZeroOne, a brand new startup hub, opened downtown Helsinki with a cool opening party yesterday. I attended the event, and was able to get a sneak-peek preview of the premises. As many of the key players in Helsinki ecosystem have now moved in to Maria or are about to move in soon, this venue is likely to become one of the largest and most inspiring of the Nordic startup hubs.

The hub spans across former Maria hospital area, with the renovation project still going on. The refurbishing of the buildings will continue into 2017.

By the end of the year, Maria will be the new home for 60 start-ups, as well as for many selected investors and accelerators. A few big investors have premises there too, including Superhero Capital and Butterfly Ventures.

“Maria 0-1 will be the centre for events and players driving the growth, as well as being a supporting community for new growth companies,” says Voitto Kangas, director of the venue. “We want to create the meeting point where the ambition will meet the latest technology know-how as well as the drive to succeed internationally”, he explains.

It is now two months until the next Slush event in Helsinki, with the registration still open. With many well-known VIPs from Silicon Valley such as Steve Jurvetson, Caterina Fake, Arielle Zuckerberg, and Ankur Jain also joining Slush this year with direct flights from San Fransisco organized by Finnair, it is no wonder the hype is huge.

Jenni Kääriäinen, Chief of Design at Slush, has been part of the Slush organization since the beginning. Kääriäinen works hard to visualize the soul of Slush for a flock of thousands of visitors every year. For many years, the venue has been decorated and furnished much like a giant rave party, adorned with lasers.

In the Slush blog, Kääriäinen recently revealed that this year, the Slush participants who enter the venue will walk in Messukeskus under a thousand dreamcatchers. This choice made as for the main interior decoration theme of the event seems to me like a very well chosen one.

Read more about Slush and register for the event: http://www.slush.org/