Rubicon Forum 2013: building the rails for Russian business people on their way to Finland.
HELD on 28 and 29 November at the central Finlandia Hall congress building in Helsinki, Rubicon Forum 2013 gathered 240 attendees, the great majority Russian business men and women potentially interested in expanding their commercial activities to Finland.
A few obstacles down the road
The first morning session was dedicated to discussing the ups and downs of establishing a Russian-funded company in Finland. According to the experiences shared by Russian entrepreneurs who have already succeeded in finding their way into their neighbour country, the landing process can present certain complications due to a long market entry and project pay-off period; an increasingly competitive atmosphere; and high production and contribution costs.
According to Olga Torri, a Russian entrepreneur who has been running her own company in Finland for more than a decade, one of the reasons why it is so difficult for Russian business people to find how to proceed in Finland is the absolutely different legal framework. “Sometimes it’s very scary,” observes Torri, who was one of the attendees at the Rubicon Forum. ”Also, we have a border and all kind of custom-related difficulties. Thus, we need to establish some kind of railways in order to roll smoothly: problems can only arise when there is not enough information and the person doesn’t know what to do.”
Helsinki Times contacted one of the speakers at the Rubicon Forum 2013, Victoria Krasilshikova, Chief Operations Officer at KidsReview.ru, to hear how her company successfully entered the Finnish market.
Briefly explain your business concept and company background.
KidsReview.ru (Kids Friendly Media Oy) is a guide to kids-friendly events, places and services for busy parents. It is a website and mobile app, specifically channelling information between kids-friendly business and families with kids.
Currently, KidsReview.ru is focused on helping Russian-speaking parents to discover the worth-visiting kids-friendly places in Finland (and all of Europe). In the future, we plan to make the service available in English.
Why did you decide to expand your business to Finland in first place?
Finland is the closest and easiest to reach (by car or train) European country from Russia. Finland has an attitude for stability and transparency, a history of success with IT start-ups, the circulation of the Euro, and, what is most important to us: Finland is the home of Moomin. The kids-friendly philosophy of the country is something that we want to breathe in and spread. We feel that the respect with which kids and their families are treated in Finland is key to growing confident and able citizens for the world.
What were the main obstacles you had to overcome to get established in Finland?
We expected to find a trodden path for IT start-ups in Finland, but actually found it very hard to launch our Finnish company. Our business is virtual, we have no tangible assets and opening a bank account was painful, we needed to show a lot of supporting evidence that we were not some sort of Russian mafia.
Handling IP rights also seems an unexpected issue: it is hard to locate lawyers who have experience of working with IP rights, especially when it comes to cross-border deals.
Would you also have a positive message (and valuable tips) to inspire new Russian business people on their way to Finland?
There is a Russian saying “the eyes fear, but the hands do”, meaning that many tasks end up being not as difficult as they first seemed. As you go along solving issues, you also learn a lot. The Rubicon Forum organised a trip to the Technopolis in Espoo and it was like a breath of fresh air for us. Such a vibrant atmosphere of international collaboration and innovation!
We feel that starting a business in Finland can give Russian start-ups a global reach. It can give access to an international crowd of experts, thoughts and ideas.
More info: www.kidsreview.ru
”In certain parts of Russia we have the same cuisine, the same climate and sauna!” Torri adds, raising her voice over the bell tone that announces it’s time to take a seat at the conference room. ”There is not such a huge cultural barrier to overcome. That’s why I believe Finland is the best country for Russians to start a business abroad. It would be very difficult to do business with Japanese people: you have to train yourself on how to express your feelings, and understand their body language. What is absolutely all right for us could be insulting for them.”
There are around 240,000 Russian-speaking citizens in Finland.
“What Finland can offer to Russian companies is access to markets [referring to the Nordic countries and the EU], access to skilled people and a very stable operational environment. Apart from this, and also encompassing the list of advantages, we find other factors such as an optimal innovation climate and very strong public support for R&D projects,” said Tuomo Airaksinen, Executive Vice President at the government agency Invest in Finland.
“One of the major things to be considered is that now there are a significant number of Russian companies already operating in Finland, so they can have peer to peer discussions. How the first Russian companies entered the Finnish market, that’s the best lesson to be learnt,” Airaksinen states.
”Four years ago we started to think about how we could make the Russian business community more visible in Finland and, also, how the Kotka-Hamina region could gain more benefits out of Russian investments,” says Hannu Karavirta, Chief Executive at Cursor, organiser of Rubicon Forum.
“We have to keep in mind that new actors will bring new activities and jobs opportunities along with them,” Karavirta adds, before explaining that Cursor has been working with Russian companies for more than 10 years already. With such a long history in the field, connecting the Rubicon approach to their extended network was achieved in a natural way. “Our first mission is to clarify the main needs of the company who reaches out to us.”
“Russians are impatient,” Karavirta explains with a smile, when asked about the main differences in the way of doing business on each side of the border. ”Finns, on the other hand, like to plan more carefully and wait until everything is perfectly ready to operate. But, once Russians have made up their minds, they want to see things moving fast!”
Celebrating its second edition, this two-day-event was organised by Cursor, a development company operating in the Kotka-Hamina region (Southeastern Finland), with the support of Helsinki Business Hub, the investment promotion agency for the Greater Helsinki area and leverage from the European Union (EU).
TEXT & PHOTO: EVA BLANCO