In each place presentations and discussions with individual companies were focused around UKTI competitions, supporting digital businesses seeking to establish a presence in the UK. But with some similarities and some differences.
In both cities the companies which were strongest in identifying new opportunities and routes to market felt like a next generation of digital efficiencies – doing boring things well. The strategic vision of digital health and government services in countries like Finland and Estonia has generated a wave of new start ups ahead of a wider European curve – so patient records, site risk assessments and CRM may not be the most fashionable of sectors, but the businesses had grown rapidly and clearly had expansion prospects derived from exponential revenue growth in local markets (see Diktamen, Plan Brothers and WeLikeCRM). A recent Observer article on Silicon Valley talked of start ups seeking to squeeze ever more marginal niche products to consumers via mobile – these European companies could not be more different.
Activity in Helsinki revolved around Slush, now attended by 10,000 participants from a very small beginning just 5 years ago. Refreshingly it retains an independent atmosphere derived from the fact that it is still owned by the original student co-operative (although a note of warning: reports of Dublin Web Summit were that it was too busy, a victim of its own success?).
Slush reinforced an impression from previous trips to Helsinki, that there is a wave of creative tech / digital businesses emerging driven by a series of linked factors: each company seems to have an ex-Nokia employee using their redundancy package to seed invest; in addition the Finnish Government Tekes fund provides a level of well targeted strategic public support; and finally stellar deals around Rovio, Supercell and others is both attracting new finance and recycling exit wins into new investments.
In Turin there was less of a sense of confidence in the local market. Serious businesses presented clear goals, but overseas expansion seemed driven by necessity as much as perceived opportunity. It would be nice to think that the students at our venue, the spectacular Campus Luis Enaudi pictured above, will emerged qualified into a less daunting youth unemployment picture.
Finally a well deserved Aperol was taken (and the refurbishment of the hotel in Turin added a notable addition to my Flickr set of the “view from my hotel window”)……