Porvoo carves a space in the crowded startup market

Educators and entrepreneurs hope links between students and businesses will help develop the city into a startup cluster in its own right.

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File picture of Porvoo Old Town in winter / Credit: iStock

Porvoo might be a late entrant into the startup marketplace, but new initiatives around entrepreneurship and education aim to put the south coast city firmly on the map.

Although just 50km separates Helsinki from Porvoo, the capital city and adjacent Espoo – Finland’s second largest city – dominate the country’s startup scene.

With a concentration of research, development, funding, incubators, offices, universities and talent in the Helsinki-Espoo area, it’s easy to see why students from Porvoo, or international companies, would choose the capital area over a picturesque seaside city.

Porvoo however, is starting to see a change in attitudes and culture designed to attract new startup talent.

“If there is a startup company and they’re thinking of starting in Porvoo, the costs are much cheaper, and there’s a cost advantage compared to Helsinki and Espoo” says Darren Trofimczuk, who lectures on international business, aviation and tourism courses at Haaga-Helia’s Porvoo campus.

Another advantage Trofimczuk explains, is that with a growing number of students from Asia, Finnish companies have local expertise on hand when they want to look at strategies for breaking new markets in China, South Korea or Japan. Expertise that comes at a fraction of the cost of big name consulting firms.

But one “game changer” he says, would be a train link from Provoo to the capital city region. It’s lacking right now, and although the motorway is fast – Trofimczuk drives it every day to and from work – he thinks better transport options would bring even more international companies, startups and students to the town.

“If they had a train link it would change instantly. Porvoo is a very nice place, it’s one of the most beautiful places in southern Finland and there’s lots of tourists who go there just to see the old town. It’s just that getting there is a bit of a disadvantage compared to Helsinki and Espoo. It will always be seen as a negative” he tells News Now Finland.

CoSpace Startup & Tech Hub sign / Credit: News Now Finland

New startup hub launched

One local businessman is trying to single-handedly stop the tide of students who study in Porvoo, but then leave to launch their own startups in Helsinki or Espoo.

Petter Larsen is the brains behind CoSpace Startup & Tech Hub which opened its doors in February, a first for the city. It aims to become a focal point for young startups, offering an affordable space, and a chance to network and collaborate with other companies or entrepreneurs.

“Southern Finland is larger than only Helsinki and Espoo, so when you think about being here in Porvoo, I’ll drive to Arabianranta in half an hour, when it takes half an hour to get there from Munkkiniemi by bus as well. So it’s pretty much as an area, almost part of the same” says Larsen.

He’s transformed a forgotten corner of an old Porvoo department store on Rihkamatori with modern desks, high speed internet, a lick of white paint and a bar.

“We have everything in Porvoo from the infrastructure to the culture, so I think it’s more of a story about branding, you have to brand Porvoo as something more, for startups” he tells News Now Finland.

Larsen has a track record of innovating in Porvoo. The new tech hub was designed as a budget-friendly extension of Larsen’s existing business, the co-working offices at CoSpace, just across the street.

When CoSpace opened in spring 2017 it brought high-end amenities that had been lacking in Porvoo, with a stone-walled sauna cabinet; a cigar room replete with burgundy leather Winchester chairs; conference facilities and office space.

“We wanted to offer something to companies which have been five and ten employees. But now we want to offer something even cheaper with high quality solutions but maybe not as many services, and that’s why we opened up the tech hub” he explains.

“We wanted to have so much more to offer to startups, and also to students”

Porvoo businessman Petter Larsen (centre) meets with visitors at CoSpace Startup & Tech Hub, February 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Student collaboration the key to Porvoo’s startup ambitions

It’s the possibilities of collaboration between education and private companies that both Larsen and Trofimczuk see as the most exciting development in the city.

“We’re doing a lot of collaboration now with Haaga-Helia School of Applied Sciences, and also with [vocational education college] Careeria in Porvoo […] one thing we want to do is support networking between companies and schools, because our CoSpace customers would be very willing to have more collaboration with students” says Larsen, who will be bringing coaching, angel investors and pitching events to CoSpace to help foster those links.

“It’s very early stages right now, because Espoo and Helsinki are known in Finland as tech hubs, and Porvoo is not really on the map” says Haaga-Helia lecturer Darren Trofimczuk.

“CoSpace is just a start, but the ideas and enthusiasm is there” he adds.

A pitching event in 2018 brought 55 startups to Porvoo to showcase their ideas. It’s what sparked Petter Larsen to develop his new startup and tech hub in the city.

“That means there is a real demand, people want to start new companies, and we want to lower the threshold to establish a company. We want to make it easier, and we want people to fear becoming an entrepreneur less, if they believe in an idea”.