Oulu: Scandinavian hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship

Category: AI Europe Startup
Posted by Lea Hogg

While the Finnish capital of Helsinki is often seen as the heart of the country’s startup scene, the city and seaside resort of Oulu is emerging as a significant player in the deeptech sector. With a combined enterprise value of €3.8 billion, including healthtech unicorn and smart ring startup Oura, which raised a €100 million Series C round in 2021, Oulu’s startups and scaleups are making their mark on the global stage.

The shift in Finland’s tech scene from companies like Nokia to sectors like AI, quantum computing, and innovative recycling technology is helping the country’s startup ecosystem to grow. In the first half of 2023, Finnish startups raised €549 million, indicating a vibrant and thriving startup culture.

Oulu, with its 416 startups, many of which are early-stage and in deeptech, is contributing significantly to this growth. Startups such as battery energy storage startup Cactos, which raised a €26 million early VC round in January, and  AI  startup Cerenion, which is building software to monitor brain function in intensive care and raised a Series A in 2022, are testament to the city’s innovative spirit.

These startups are supported by BusinessOulu, a public entity of the City of Oulu, responsible for connecting entrepreneurs to companies and companies to investment. It hosts a one-year incubator programme and established Startup Station, a coworking and event space for startups.

Leading the way in deeptech excellence

In addition to BusinessOulu, the city’s educational institutions bolster the offerings for new companies. Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oamk) offers pre-incubator and incubator programmes, and the University of Oulu offers services for the development of research-based innovations, company collaboration, and business development.

Oulu’s prevalence as a major ICT hub made it a natural choice of location for Rickie Moore, Program Director of the MSc in Global Innovation & Entrepreneurship at emlyon Business School in Lyon, France, to offer his students for a study abroad semester. Moore highlights that Oulu has over a thousand ICT companies with over 20,000 employees, a leading business university, and it’s the number one for R&D investments in Finland.

The overseas semester of study for emlyon’s students consists of academic courses, business visits, and immersion in the business environment beyond social and cultural activities. Moore said he wanted the students to understand what is particular about the Finnish and wider Scandinavian ecosystems.

Emilie Zhuo, an emlyon student studying for her MSc in Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is currently in her semester at Oulu Business School. Zhuo says choosing Oulu for her studies was also a decision influenced by the distinctive vibe of Finland’s startup scene. With a reputation for fostering innovation — exemplified by trailblazers like Nokia — she says Finland offered a perfect backdrop for “melding entrepreneurship with technology”.

Oulu’s rise as a deeptech hotspot is a testament to the city’s innovative spirit, robust support systems for startups, and a strong focus on cutting-edge technologies. As more entrepreneurs and investors turn their attention to this Finnish seaside city, Oulu is well-positioned to continue its trajectory as a leading player in the Scandinavian deeptech scene.

 

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