"My first visit to Finland was in 1992 and there really was no start-up scene to speak of," says Todd Wiebusch, CEO of CHMG Capital.
"I've been coming regularly since 2005 and have noticed tremendous improvement in the calibre of the teams and their ideas, the private and especially public resources available to support start-ups, as well as the increased sophistication and organisation of the participants in the start-up ecosystem."
Wiebusch came to Slush, the premiere start-up and high-tech conference in Northern Europe. He met entrepreneurs, politicians and experts, and even volunteered to help aspiring businesspeople by acting as a coach and judging their pitches.
"This was my first Slush, so I wasn't sure what to expect – but my first impression is 'Wow!' It was huge, but they still managed to make it very relevant, interesting, educational and organised," he says.
Many side events happen in parallel with the main conference, and Wiebusch picks out several for praise. He went to an event for Russian companies sponsored by Helsinki Business Hub, a breakfast with American ambassador Bruce Oreck and HealthSpa, and a pitching session with entrepreneurs from Africa.
"Or course, the best part of Slush was meeting with a number of interesting companies, some of which we've been following for a couple of years now," he says. "The depth, diversity and relevance of the speakers were also very impressive. I wish I'd had more time to hear more of them, but there are definitely some I'll watch (and a couple I'll re-watch) on YouTube. Finally, I love the entrepreneurs and their enthusiasm."
Wiebusch's company primarily invests in the health care and wellness sectors, and he is pleased at the dynamism of these industries in Finland. Yet there are other industries which have caught his attention, like mobility, education and clean technology. Many of these have specific Tekes programs to help them grow, such as Bits of Health, Learning Solutions and Green Growth.
"Tekes really seems to have evolved in a positive direction since I've been coming to Finland," Wiebusch says. "They are much more 'market' focused, and they seem to have developed a sophisticated approach to working with start-ups and the ecosystem by partnering with companies that are actually able to attract risk capital, which signifies real investor interest and potential."
He says that for Slush 2015 he plans to stay a bit longer after the conference so he can immediately follow-up with the companies which interest him.
"It was a great conference, and I'll definitely be back next year."
Text: David J. Cord
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