Startup support meets research excellence
Helsinki offers a wide range of public-sector support mechanisms for health & life sciences startups. The ecosystem is designed to help companies all the way from their initial research phase, through finding investment, and ultimately to international growth.
For funding, the first port-of-call for entrepreneurs is often Finland’s government-run growth agency Business Finland. Between 2015 and 2023 the organisation provided almost EUR 230 million in support to under 6 year old startup companies with health & life sciences projects. In 2022, the support amounted to EUR 28 million.
Business Helsinki helps entrepreneurs to get started in the capital region. The organisation provides advisory services on establishing a business, and introduces founders to the right innovation hubs. Business Helsinki can also identify suitable pilot projects that startups can participate in.
Many startups grow out of projects conducted within Helsinki’s tight-knit research community of Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and Finland’s national research institute VTT. The innovation flow is continuous: Between 2020 and 2023, closer to 30 health and life sciences projects stemming from these institutions received research to business funding from Business Finland.
Many startups grow out of projects conducted within Helsinki’s tight-knit research community of Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and Finland’s national research institute VTT.
Juha Paakkola is the Director of Health Capital Helsinki, another public body supporting the local ecosystem. He says the broad digitisation of Finland’s health data makes the country a compelling location for researchers.
“Finland has an extremely strong database of health records, electronic patient records, as well as an enabling legislation for the secondary use of healthcare data in research. This provides an excellent basis for companies looking to develop advanced solutions for healthcare, including those that use artificial intelligence,” says Paakkola.
HUS Helsinki University Hospital – which provides secondary care to almost two million citizens of Finland – collects all its patient data in a single data lake. CleverHealth Network is a co-development ecosystem connecting HUS researchers and companies to develop joint innovations of this data.
Paakkola acknowledges that Finland’s health & life sciences ecosystem is younger and smaller than similar clusters in Sweden and Denmark. But he maintains this absence of legacy opens Helsinki up to more diversity in terms of the research that startups conduct.
“The other Nordic countries have strong ecosystems built around massive companies operating in specific fields. A lot of innovation gets pulled in those directions,” says Paakkola.
“Here in Finland we have more of a blank slate for entrepreneurs, so we see startups exploring a range of different verticals.”
“Finnish biobanks are another strength. We have fewer biobanks than other Nordic countries, and Finnish biobanks have common collaboration ecosystem Fingenius, making the access easy for researchers,” he adds.
As the startups in the Helsinki ecosystem represent many different sub-sectors of health and life sciences, there’s a lot for investors to choose from.