By @SimonCocking. Interesting interview with Marjo Ilmari Startup financing @ Tekes, Inspired by radical innovations, disruptive businesses and visionary leadership

What is your background?

Before joining Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, I pursued a career in management consulting and M&A advisory. I also have business development experience in telecom industry.

What is your current role? What is the aim for you, and at events like Slush?

As Tekes Director, I am in charge of Startup funding. Annually, we receive about 1,300 applications from startups. Our aim is to identify the best ones and help them to succeed. Slush has become a phenomenal event that attracts such a massive amount of startups and investors. The startups that have received Tekes grants or loans in their early stages, can leverage that funding to attract larger venture capital rounds. Lately, there have been many notable foreign investors who have said that Finland is the best place to find the most promising startups. With Tekes services, we want to enable and help the startups to scale to the next level.

How does Tekes help startups?

Tekes has well-designed funding services for startup companies in different stages of their development. Our funding starts with a smaller grant to help startups to define the customer need and the markets before doing research and development and scaling up the business.
We want to give a chance to as many promising startups as possible – and if they achieve the commonly agreed goals, they may receive further funding. Last year we funded around 700 startups.

What are the most common tips you find yourself giving to startups?

First of all, build an offering that matters and is valuable for your customers. Learn constantly from the customer feedback and pivot your business model when needed before scaling it to the global market.

In addition, build a team with diverse skillset right from the beginning. We want to see a team that has not only technical but also sales, marketing, business development and leadership skills complemented with skilled board members and advisors.
Finally, make your business easily understandable and appealing. Communicate your unique value story to the investors and know you KPI’s to secure sufficient financing.

What were your highlights from Slush?

Every year the Slush event has proven to be even better than the previous year. This year we saw an increase in the number of international startup companies operating outside of Finland that were interested in Tekes services and thinking about locating in Finland.
“Deep tech” companies with really strong core IP were well presented. We are looking forward to seeing even more research based startups emerging from universities.

What are the challenges for Finnish companies looking to scale out beyond Finland?

Finland is a small country – only 5,5 million people live here, so our home market is too small for any growth company. Our startups are international from the day one. They often have to look for larger VC funding rounds from investors outside of Finland. Our startup culture started to emerge about 10 years ago, so we have been on a steep learning curve. We are starting to have plenty of experienced serial entrepreneurs, which have learned their lessons and can make real breakthroughs.

What are the best approaches that you have seen by successful Finnish startups?

The most successful companies create a bold vision, and also understand that ultimately it is the execution that counts. They are really consistent in executing, and at the same time, keep learning from customers’ feedback and observe other startups to constantly stay ahead of the competition.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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