Greater Helsinki joins world’s top clean technology startup ecosystems

Greater Helsinki has been ranked among the world’s top 25 clean technology, or cleantech, startup ecosystems in the recently released Global Startup Ecosystem Report: Cleantech Edition. The report was compiled by the esteemed startup research and policy advisory organisation Startup Genome.

“Helsinki is doing well especially in startup experience, which includes for example longer-term early stage funding, showing a 10-year trend. The ecosystem of the greater Helsinki area is excellent for innovation which is reflected in the count and dollar amount of its early stage investments, and it can also scale up and recycle the funds back into the ecosystem,” says Dr. Farshad Fahimi, Director of Data Strategy at Startup Genome.

Developing clean and smart business is important to Helsinki

Helsinki’s aim is to be carbon-neutral by 2030, which makes the promotion of clean and smart business an important goal for the City. The City is not alone in seeking solutions, however, as a network, or ecosystem, comprised of various operators is also involved. In addition to the City, the cleantech ecosystem includes operators such as commercial operators, partner universities and small and large companies.

“The startup field in Helsinki has shown great resilience during the pandemic. The flow of venture capital to Helsinki-based startups is continuously increasing, and more and more companies choose Helsinki as their home. Helsinki’s high ranking in Startup Genome’s report shows that our cleantech ecosystem is high-quality and also easily withstands comparison with larger cities,” says Director of Economic Development Marja-Leena Rinkineva from the City of Helsinki.

A particular element that makes the Greater Helsinki startup ecosystem stand out is the City’s frequent role as an enabler of cooperation and experimentation. In many other countries, the development of the startup field is led by the government and is therefore more rigid.

Helsinki seeks clean and smart solutions to global problems

Cleantech, or clean technology, refers to products, services, processes and technologies that promote the sustainable use of natural resources and prevent or reduce negative environmental impacts. Cleantech industry operators develop solutions to globally significant problems.

“The City’s key mission is to serve its residents, companies and entrepreneurs. Major global challenges are directly linked to the companies’ and residents’ ability to cope. Helsinki wants to be at the forefront in meeting these challenges, which makes it only natural that we support companies that seek smart and clean solutions,” says Head of Unit Tommo Koivusalo from NewCo Helsinki.

The services offered by the City for companies are always based on the companies’ needs. The City’s experts have a grassroots presence in the ecosystem, and there is active dialogue. Helsinki also serves as a testbed for numerous pilots. Cleantech projects vary in size from small and quick pilots to extensive EU projects. In recent years, Helsinki has supported startup companies in taking steps from preincubation and pilots to accelerators and scaling their operations into viable business.

The diversity of Helsinki’s cleantech industry is demonstrated by the wide range of services and projects. Of the City of Helsinki’s own business incubators, Urban Tech Helsinki is focused specifically on cleantech companies, while NewCo Accelerator has been successfully boosting startup growth for more than a year. Campus incubators linked to local higher education institutions will soon be incubating new solutions on several different campuses. Additionally, the innovation fund is used to implement joint projects involving both large and smaller companies. There is also close cooperation with commercial operators and operators such as Forum Virium.

Circular economy allows materials to circulate for as long as possible

Helsinki is involved in different areas of the cleantech industry, ranging from the electrification of the transport system to sustainable energy solutions. In practice, Helsinki has assumed a major role in the promotion of the circular economy. Circular economy refers to keeping materials in circulation for as long as possible while also retaining their value.

Helsinki has brought operators in the industry together into a circular economy cluster, and there are already several companies focused on the industry in Helsinki. One of them is the packaging service RePack, which makes it possible for online vendors and their users to return and reuse delivery packaging. In a way, RePack applies the container deposit and refund system to e-commerce. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the growth of e-commerce has accelerated globally, while packaging waste has piled up to new heights.

RePack gained its first customers in 2014, and the service is currently used by a total of roughly 200–300 online shops in Europe and North America. RePack’s customers include several well-known brands, such as Makia, Gina Tricot and Finlayson.

RePack’s CEO Jonne Hellgren says that the company has been involved in many ecosystem services over the years through operators such as NewCo Helsinki and Forum Virium.

“I don’t even recall all the services we have used, there have been so many! As a whole, Helsinki is involved in the startup field to a surprising extent and has created good conditions for innovative companies. It is important for the City of Helsinki to have employees who are well-versed in the development of companies at different stages of their lifecycle and who share their expertise. We have also benefited from international experts’ interest in Helsinki as a place. Almost all of the employees we have hired are international.”

The Greater Helsinki startup ecosystem does not rely on the game industry

Helsinki’s high ranking in Startup Genome’s recent report on the cleantech industry shows that the success of Helsinki’s startup ecosystem does not rely solely on Helsinki’s globally well-known expertise in the game industry and that work is instead being carried out across a broad front. In addition to cleantech and the game industry, Helsinki is also home to broad expertise in areas including education technology, healthcare and XR technology. Over the years, the startup field in Helsinki has grown more diverse and competitive in both European and global comparisons.

In addition to the comparison focused on the cleantech industry, Helsinki has had success in other comparisons, including Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem 2021 (GSER) report, published in autumn 2021, in which Greater Helsinki was ranked as one of the top emerging startup ecosystems in the world. The GSER report is the most comprehensive and widely read startup survey in the world.

Startup Genome is the world-leading innovation policy advisory and research organisation for governments and public-private partnerships. Its mission is to promote the success of startups and the performance of ecosystems around the world.

The full version of the Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER): Cleantech Edition is available for download (in English) on the Startup Genome website: https://startupgenome.com/report/gser-cleantechedition

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  • Kimmo Heinonen

  • Leading Specialist, Team Leader
    City of Helsinki
    Economic Development: Innovations and New Experiments