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Slush 2013 – showcasing the best of Finnish start-ups

Johanna Eiramo discovers what's hot in the start-up world at this year's conference in Helsinki...


Mid-November in Helsinki was the perfect stage for 5000 people to gather indoors and address a subject each one is passionate about – the start-up scene. Slush 2013, originally created by the Mighty Eagle himself, Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio Entertainment, brings together start-ups and entrepreneurs. It has grown from an initial gathering of just over a hundred people into a major international event.

Gaming was still the biggest pull for the crowds, manning the Black stage during both days, but there was a lot of attention on healthcare. Tuula Tiihonen and Ville Koiste from Sitra spoke about the paradigm shift about to take place in the healthcare sector: “The tools and services for diagnostics are becoming so advanced, that some can be done at home and others by a nurse. The doctor’s role will become more consultative, assessing diagnostics and the patient’s medical history and making decisions based on them,” Tiihonen explained.

“By the same token,” added Koiste, “preventive healthcare services are booming and gamification is helping to introduce social sharing and motivational tools to services and apps that help people exercise at a right level, stick to a healthier diet or exercise their memory for a nimble mind as the years go on.”

Both agreed that healthcare start-ups especially might find future success by co-operating with each other. Perhaps this is already a rising trend, since during the healthcare product launches on Thursday, The You app by Health Puzzle mentioned that it gathers data from services such as Fitbit, Moves and Beddit, all Finnish start-ups and some present at Slush as well. The You application is taking a holistic approach to well-being – the product being launched in autumn 2013 promises to tackle not only the motivation for taking care of your physical well-being, but your cognitive health as well. The company is currently accepting applications for beta testers of the product, but the product launch date has not been set yet.

From frustration to successful app

Diabetes and obesity are just two of the serious health hazards that Finnish start-ups are tackling with products and services. Sensotrend, an early stage start-up, is looking to simplify the tracking of the daily data that diabetics need to know, such as blood glucose intake and the amount of carbohydrates eaten, and use that to keep diabetics better informed about their health on a daily basis. The Wellness Foundry, on the other hand, has created the MealLogger, an online nutrition service for anyone who wants peer support and professional guidance to achieve personal nutritional goals.

Elsewhere, 20 companies took part in the Demo Showcase, demoing their products to a panel of investors and start-up mentors of the highest calibre. The healthcare sector shone in the Demo Showcase with BetterDoctor picking up the 10 000 euro prize. The company is tackling the complex problem of finding the right kind of doctor among the approximately one million in the United States, who all accept varying degrees of the 1500 or so insurance plans available. BetterDoctor is building an online service platform, which collects information about doctors by area of expertise, location and the insurance plans they accept.

Ari Tulla’s idea for the platform was born out of a personal frustration with trying to find the right kind of specialist to accept his insurance plan. He and co-founder Tapio Tolvanen discussed the problem and decided to take a leap of faith by accepting the severance package made possible by Nokia and starting to build the prototype with the money.

BetterDoctor invites clinicians to be part of the service, which is free for users. Doctors are verified and screened for clean malpractice and discipline records. Service users can leave reviews of the doctors they visit. Since the beginning of 2013 and securing US$2.6 million of seed funding, the user base of the service has grown from 100 000 to over one million monthly users.

The start-up scene knows no boundaries

This year’s Slush bore testimony to the growing regional co-operation between the support organisations of the start-up ecosystem. Russian Skolkovo Innovation Center, a high technology business area near Moscow, brought a host of start-ups to their stand, while pitching and presenting start-ups also represented Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Belarus, to name a few. Tangible proof that the regional co-operation isn’t just words was provided with the announcement by Finnish retail analytics company Walkbase of their 3 million euro funding round with Russian SBT Venture Capital and former Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.

Sitra invests in companies in multiple industries, but the underlying ethos of the companies should be sustainability. This can mean promoting health and well-being, solving social problems, improving material and energy efficiency, speeding up the smart use of natural resources and/or promoting an ecological way of life.

When choosing an investment target, Sitra looks for a solid plan for financial returns, but also for skilled management and competitive technology, products or services. Investments typically range from 300 000 to 1 million euros with which Sitra looks to get a minority ownership of 10-30 per cent in the first financing round.

Johanna Eiramo