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If you ask anyone around the world what they know about Helsinki you are likely to hear a few common themes. You might hear about Santa, hockey or quality of life, but you are almost certain to receive an answer about high technology. 

“Due to the Nokia legacy, Helsinki is well known as a digital hub and for its innovations,” explains Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, CEO of Helsinki Business Hub. “This view has been strengthened through the world’s leading high-tech startup event, Slush.”

There is a good reason for Helsinki’s reputation as a haven for innovation. It is a home for companies specialising in everything from mobile games and robotics to the IoT and healthtech. The Helsinki area hosts many corporate or regional headquarters of multinational companies, all forming a rich ecosystem.

Yet there is more to the greater Helsinki area than just technology. In fact, it has quite a few well-kept secrets.

“I wish more people knew that Helsinki functions as a city with no hiccups. Everything just works,” Niinikoski continues. “The city is one of the most liveable cities in the world according to various indices. It offers many advantages for companies that wish to invest in R&D. We have an ecosystem that supports innovation. Helsinki is the place that future solutions are born.


Small world, big talent

A number of organisations are dedicated to assisting companies set up shop in Finland. Helsinki Business Hub helps investors to invest in the Helsinki region and accelerate business growth in the area, as well as assisting potential companies with data, analysis, networking and advice, among other things. In addition, Finpro provides similar services in other parts of Finland. Huber Hu knows these services well.

Hu has plenty of experience getting businesses up and running. In Finland, he set up Huawei’s operations as well as initiated the Huawei R&D centre in Helsinki. He worked as a tech entrepreneur in the area and is now the CEO of Powervision Robot Europe in Helsinki.

“Finland is a small world,” Hu says. “If someone wants to set up a business in Finland I recommend they contact Helsinki Business Hub and Finpro at the earliest opportunity to get familiar with the Finnish business and tech system. Compared with a big country like China, this process is super efficient and transparent.”

Hu points out that the labour market is flush with high-quality talent, thanks to veterans of major companies like Supercell and Rovio, as well as the famous Finnish education system. Getting the right people is extremely important. He stresses to find a team leader who fits your working culture, has deep experience and connections to get the team in place.

Helsinki as a place for regional HQs

The Helsinki region is increasingly the place for multinational companies to set up their R&D operations, thanks in part to Aalto University, which is eager for corporate research partnerships. For instance, Finland is the ninth top European destination for Chinese R&D and is even higher in the ICT and electronics category. 

Bayer, a global company best known for its healthcare expertise, decided to put its Nordic headquarters in Espoo in 2011. Espoo is Finland’s second largest city attached to Helsinki. Together with Vantaa, these three form the Greater Helsinki Region. One of the reasons they chose Finland was the talent available – not only medical know-how but also procurement, legal and communications expertise. According to newspaper reports, Bayer invests around 60 million euros annually in research activities in Finland.

“The booming start-up bubs in the Helsinki region are fascinating to me,” says Bayer’s Miriam Holstein. “Even at the darkest time of the year, there is a lot of inspiring things happening, like Digital Silver Forum and Slush. Events like these provide excellent platforms to answer the needs of the future, being it ageing societies or digital solutions megatrends, and bringing the global players to Finland.”

Nissan is another major corporation which has chosen the Helsinki area to host its regional headquarters.

“Nissan has been present in the Nordics for 55 years. As a result, there is a tremendous sense of pride having our regional headquarters in Finland,” says Robert Lujan, managing director of Nissan Nordic Europe. “Our location allows us to tap a diverse talent pool when looking for new associates. When you factor in stable, local growth, a growing tech industry and the affluence of the area, Espoo is a very attractive location.”

Some companies have decided to move their entire headquarters to Helsinki, such as Nordea, the Nordic region’s largest financial group. Nordea was attracted by Finland’s membership in the European Union’s banking union as well as its stable and predictable regulatory environment.

Robert LujanSafe and international

The outward-looking nature of the Helsinki economy has made it extremely internationalised in recent years. Niinikoski points out that during the first half of 2017 ten percent of open jobs were English-speaking.

Lujan, an expat himself, claims that out of all the places around the world he has lived – including France, the UK, the Netherlands and Japan – moving to Helsinki has been the easiest. Getting necessities like residence permits, housing and mobile phones has been painless.

“I find the work-life balance in Helsinki has played a large role in my easy transition to the area,” Lujan continues. “It’s perfectly acceptable to work hard and then take time for yourself and your family. Frankly, it’s refreshing and I enjoy seeing our associates take advantage of the balance. It makes for a happier and engaged workforce. This philosophy has also allowed me to personally experience the local surroundings more than in previous roles I’ve had worldwide.”


Niinikoski hopes that any company looking for a European base will give her a call to see what Helsinki has to offer. After all, she says, Helsinki is not just a great place to work. It’s also a great place to live.

“Helsinki deserves the image of a metropolis, but in a fun and functional way,” she says. “The city is safe enough to let your children go to school alone. Think about that!” •


Text: David J. Cord

Photos by

Kari Palsila / Visit Finland