Startups find new way and means to grow with Vigo

Someone may have a great business idea. Someone else may have the funding. And yet another has the startup expertise. Just like in cooking, all of the ingredients must come together to make the perfect dish.

Simplified, this was the idea behind Vigo, a new type of acceleration program which complements Finland’s acclaimed innovation ecosystem.

Vigo takes the most promising startups, helps them with early stage funding and helps them find the right Vigo Accelerators. The Accelerators are private entrepreneurs, who offer both their money and their talent, becoming co-entrepreneurs in the startups.

“Different Accelerators have somewhat different working models depending on their focus, but typically they take quite an active role in the companies,” says Aila Maijanen, Senior Adviser at Tekes. “For instance, they could help reshape the business model and strategy. Most of the Accelerators are run by experienced serial entrepreneurs.”

Watch video about Vigo's story

Nurturing potential

The startups are an extremely diverse bunch – robotics, gaming and solar energy are just a few of the industries represented during the six-year program.

Once a company was accepted into Vigo they applied directly to the Accelerator of their choice. The Vigo Accelerators have each their focus as well. Helsinki Ventures is an expert on digital East Europe, for example, while Newentures focuses on leading industrial technologies, especially clean and disruptive new technologies.

In total, 154 companies have gone through the program with the help of 14 Accelerators. A number of participating companies eventually enjoyed major exits. Draw Elements was purchased by Google, Pryte was bought by Facebook, and Supercell, the creator of the megahit game Clash of Clans, sold a stake to SoftBank for several billion dollars.

Room to grow

Often one of the largest problems for startups - along with the potential lack of experience - is funding. Vigo helped these young companies navigate the early period and grow until they were ready for international market and venture capital.

"Each accelerator also had a Tekes advisor to help them learn about Tekes funding options," Maijanen continues. "They also had access to apply for partner Finnveras venture capital funding."

Public financing could take the form of grants, loans and investments while private financing was typically equity. The total funding package during the Acceleration Period was normally between 1 and 2 million euros.

Ready for VCs

A key point in the program was to introduce the startups to international investors. That was a great success: of the €372 million raised in the program, over half came from private foreign investors. Some of the biggest names in international venture capital were involved, such as Accel Partners, Sunstone and London Venture Partners.

"The main target was to increase private investments and foreign investments," Maijanen explains. "We met the goals of the program about two years ahead of schedule."

The Vigo accelerator program has run its course, but its activities and brand have been adopted by the Finnish Business Acceleration Network FINAC, which is a national association dedicated to drive the growth and quality of the Finnish startup and SME ecosystem.

"Along with all the accelerators, we welcome startups, companies and individuals who are interested in accelerator models and operation to join as members in FINAC," says Marit Tuominen who is responsible for the FINAC operations.


Text: David J. Cord


Eeva Landowski