Meiju Sundelin switched from Nokia to a career in wellbeing. Her company Happy Health operates from a basement space at Merimiehenkatu. Next to Meiju is her yoga colleague Magnus Berg Appel.Meiju Sundelin, a former Nokia engineer, has established a wellbeing enterprise.

Setting up your own company is more popular than ever in Espoo, where a third of the budding entrepreneurs with a background in IT are ex-Nokia employees.

Meiju Sundelin from Espoo decided to jump rather than wait to be pushed when Nokia, her employer, announced in summer 2012 that they would have to let 3,700 people go from their unit in Finland. Accepting a voluntary redundancy package, she applied for support from Nokia for setting up her own company.

In the capital region, Espoo was the worst hit by the redundancies at Nokia, with the city’s unemployment rate jumping from six to over eight per cent during the year preceding last September.

A majority of employees who lost their jobs were highly educated professionals, which partly explains why more people than ever have decided to start out as entrepreneurs in Espoo, Sundelin among them.

Sundelin’s new business is a far cry from her old job. The engineer and expert of strategy projects has transformed into a wellbeing coach, who combines yoga with Reiki therapy in her services.

“Wellbeing issues have always been close to my heart. Already long before leaving Nokia, I attended courses and obtained information on wellbeing,” explains Sundelin in cellar premises in Punavuori, in central Helsinki.

Through the windows of the dimly lit yoga room, you can see the feet of people traipsing down Merimiehenkatu.

The bubbling of a coffee machine and the ringing of a phone carry to the yoga room from the corridor through a separating curtain but do not distract Sundelin, who is looking for the right position on a yoga mat.

The only aspect of her new career that is reminiscent of her time in Nokia is that the 34-year-old Sundelin markets courses to the employees of large corporations.

“My goal is to make companies more efficient by boosting their employees’ energy levels and reducing the number of days spent on sick leave,” she explains.

People went first, then phones

• The largest cooperation negotiations at Nokia in Finland resulted in the loss of 1,400 jobs in April 2011 and 3,700 in June 2012.

• In 2011, Nokia established a bridging programme to help people set up their own business.

• The sale of Nokia’s mobile phone operations to Microsoft was confirmed at a general meeting on Tuesday 19 November.

One in ten ex-Nokia

Roughly a thousand new companies will be registered in Espoo this year, but a large number of them will not provide new jobs, existing only on paper, operating as part of a larger business.

Just under ten per cent of the new entrepreneurs are ex-Nokia employees, a figure that is growing rapidly, according to Erkki Pärssinen, managing director of EnterpriseEspoo, an organisation offering advice and services to local companies. Out of new business owners with a background in IT, more than a third used to work for the mobile phone giant.

Pärssinen estimates that EnterpriseEspoo will help over 400 new companies get off the ground this year, compared with 350 last year.

During the peak years, EnterpriseEspoo has helped with the setting up of up to 450 start-ups but the end of this year seems to break all the records. Pärssinen believes that at this rate the figure will be close to 500 next year.

“It’s unlikely that large companies will be hiring a lot of new employees in the near future and the people who lost their jobs in 2012 will be coming to the end of their earnings-related unemployment allowance. I’m sure quite a number of them will be looking into applying for start-up money for a new business,” speculates Pärssinen.

Sundelin did not qualify for the state start-up funding as she received support from Nokia. Even though the funding helped to kick-start the business, getting the company up and running has still required a great deal of work and patience.

“I’m sure all entrepreneurs need to take their time organising all practical matters and getting the ball rolling. This autumn has gone pretty well,” says Sundelin, a year into her new career.

Sundelin’s venture into a new field may be unusual but not quite as exceptional as it seems at a first glance.

“Engineers are less likely to change their direction totally but on the other hand women are braver in this regard than men,” Pärssinen sums up.

The wellbeing coach has a relaxed attitude towards her big career change.

“This felt like the right move at the time but I was not left with any antipathy towards a corporate career either so I can see myself getting back into that at some point in the future,” says Sundelin.

© Helsingin Sanomat