After 10 weeks of hard work, the first class of Nordic Startup School has now graduated. Out of 14 startups, 11 finished this program run by Startup Tampere. All the participants got to pitch their ideas in Nordic Startup School’s Demoday, and eventually one of the teams was selected to be the winner of the trip to the Capital Factory in Austin, Texas.
“This was 10 weeks of hard work for us mentors, too”, started Tomi Terentjeff, one of the mentors, in his Demoday opening speech. The program included over 50 hours of coaching and homework, with more than 50 mentors and coaches. Terentjeff’s main message was to encourage Finnish startups to think bigger.
“We wanted to help connecting the Finnish startups with the world”, he says. “But usually the problem with the Finns is, that we are too modest and don’t think big enough. Everyone will eventually fail at some point, so it’s better to do it fast, get over it, learn something from it and move on. That’s how you get better.”
The buzzing city of Tampere
Teppo Rantanen, representative of the city of Tampere, agreed with Tomi. He stated that Tampere is the best place to start business in Finland right now – or maybe in the whole Europe. The city is growing and lots of buzz is going on.
“Our biggest age group is 24-year-olds”, Rantanen said, reminding about the potential of the young people. The city also has more than 50K students.
“We want to attract people from all over to world to come here, so we do our best to make everything possible to help people succeed in Tampere”, Teppo Rantanen continued.
Greetings from Silicon Valley
“I haven’t been to Tampere for a few years”, said Pekka Pärnänen, one of the mentors. He was delighted to see how everything was moving forward. He moved to USA 23 years ago, and after a few mandatory missteps he found his game in Silicon Valley.
“In my opinion, Tampere shouldn’t try to be the new Silicon Valley”, Pärnänen said. “It’s more important to build bridges to Silicon Valley and all over the world. Create something of your own, don’t try to copy anything.”
Nordic Fit Mama goes to America
The Demoday culminated in choosing the winner, and Riina Laaksonen will take Nordic Fit Mama across the Atlantic (Read also the press release article by Nordic Fit Mama). Nordic Fit Mama is basically a fitness service designed for mothers. Laaksonen, a mother herself, comes from entrepreneur family, and her grandma was an entrepreneur and mother of five at the age of 25.
“I don’t see entrepreneurship as something I do, it’s something I am. It’s an identity”, Laaksonen says. Fitness and well-being have always been close to her heart, and she wanted to follow her passion and do something meaningful. Even with limited resources, she feels gratitude every day for being able to actually help people.
The selection for the best startup in Nordic Startup School felt awesome, even absurd. It was also a surprise, but Laaksonen said she also participated to win. “Whatever I do, I always give 100%”, she says. The most important thing Laaksonen got from Nordic Startup School were the contacts. She emphasizes the importance of peer support, because startup scene can be quite turbulent and crazy. Also the great mentors gave her new perspectives and ideas.
“I tend to think, that if I get one valuable idea from somebody’s teachings, it’s worth it. In Nordic Startup School they kept coming all the time”, Laaksonen says.
Laaksonen is looking to internationalize more and more. She is already operating in Finnish, Canadian and Irish markets, but she is targeting to add at least one more country to her tally before the end of the year. One of Laaksonen’s dreams already came true this year, as she found an investor who met her exact criteria. She also wants to continue and scale her collaboration with Business Finland, so Nordic Fit Mama could help more mothers around the world.
Another selected winner was Revonte who got rewarded of the best pitch by their CTO Otto Chrons. Their team is is building revolutionary e-bike system.
The Prospects prosper
Nordic Startup School had originally nine full-time participants and six prospects, who were quite an early stage of their lifespans that they needed to go for an extra mile to prove their business cases in order to get to meet the mentors one-to-one. One of the prospects was HILLA Entertainment. They develop, produce and license fun event concepts by combining elements from traditional sports and e-sports. Founder and CEO Robert Niva really enjoyed the Nordic Startup School.
“I made some great new contacts with the fellow entrepreneurs, but also learned a lot from all the visitors and advisors”, Niva says.
He also thinks that the pace was right. Weekly sessions for 10 weeks made it possible to process the new information and return to notes. Niva praises the pitching lessons too, especially Elina Aalto and Tomi Kaukinen had great energy and expertise. He also was pleased with BookBeat, introduced by mentor Tomi Terentjeff. It was a really valuable tool to check out all the book recommendations.
Niva says the participants were also in touch via social media, and when they met again in Demoday, they were already planning the next get-together. HILLA Entertainment had a great reception in Demoday and before that. The investors also liked their plans for internationalization. Last fall Niva was traveling around Europe in various sports and licensing events and made some valuable connections. This year they are looking to collaboration with international partners and at the same time HILLA Entertainment is constantly developing their concept and products.
Another successful prospect was Zealbots, an automatic search platform to help students in universities. Gnanavel Mutharasu, CEO and Founder of the startup, thinks Nordic Startup School was fantastic.
“I feel like Nordic Startup School was an opportunity of a lifetime. It provided us with many new contacts and also cleared our vision and market plans”, Mutharasu says.
He especially values the things he learned from more experienced founders, who have done this for years. Zealbots is going international and heading to Chinese market this year as well. Mutharasu says they are aiming to reach 100K users this year.
New batch coming
For the first class of Nordic Startup School, the work doesn’t end at Demoday. The alumni network will give support in the future and all the connections the participants have created will help them grow into global market. The application for the next batch is active from July 27th to 22nd of August. The second Nordic Startup School will be one week longer, and the Demoday is held at Slush. If you have any question beforehand and you are interested to participate, check out the Nordic Startup School website and apply.
Who are we?
Nordic Startup School is a program organized by Business Tampere and Golden Gateway, in collaboration with city of Tampere and a joint 6-city project called 6aika – Ecosystems of Growth: Enabling the Growth of Companies through Collaboration.