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Will Cardwell

In the footsteps of Pioneers

What do Peter Thorwerste (1649), Karl Otto Fazer (1891), and Gustav Paulig (1876) have in common? For one thing, they created some of the most powerful and long-­lasting companies in today’s Finland (in the parentheses are the foundation dates of their respective companies).

Add James Finlayson (1820), Georg Franz Stockmann (1859), Nikolai Sinebrychoff (1819) and you get companies that in 2015 conservatively account for 35,000 jobs and over 5 billion euros in revenue. So they all qualify as part of the club of great Finnish businessmen and industrialists.

Except none of them were Finns, at least originally ­ in other words, they were immigrants.

Fast forward a couple hundred years. Finland clearly needs a few more modern iterations of these stories. While it is the most innovative country in the world according to the World Economic Forum, it is also the slowest growing of the top 10 most innovative countries. What is the problem?

I have a hypothesis. It may not be that popular yet, but I think it will prove out over time. Finnish firms tend to be pretty homogenous. While Finns are great as entrepreneurs and managers ­and the skills for pretty much any role are out there in the Finnish community ­ most co­founding teams in Finland are made up of Finns (and even 30­50 year old male Finns). Which drove me to start collecting a list of today Fazer’s, Paulig’s and Stockmann’s ­ the immigrants who have founded growth companies with a chance to grow to be significant employers in Finland in the not so distant future.

Thus far I have discovered 54 companies aspiring to be global growth companies that are immigrant co­foundered during the last 3 years. They span nearly 30 countries. My best estimate is that they have brought in well over 20m euro’s of Finnish and foreign private investment already, and account for well over 250 jobs.

Here is my point. If you consider that over 40% of Fortune 500 companies today are founded by immigrants or their children, and that due to digitalization more than 40% of 2025 S&P 500 list (a US benchmark of “normal listed companies”) have not been founded yet (based on the book “Exponential Organizations”), then it is not a stretch to believe that at least a few of the companies from this list of ambitious immigrant­founded startups will have a huge impact on Finnish employment in the coming 5­10 years.

So perhaps the Finlayson’s, Synebrychoff’s and Thorwerste’s of the future will have names like Olawale (Irofit Oy), Singh (Callstats Oy, Santacreu (Puzzlephone Oy), or Novatny (720 Degrees Oy), and THEY will be the cure for Finland’s growth crisis.

Anyone who can add to the list of Immigrant-­founded startups, please visit here.

Will Cardwell is a partner at Courage Ventures group, an integrated advisory and seed funding firm based in Espoo. He will talk about global growth using global talents and stories from Finland at Twinkle 2015

Will Cardwell

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