Whenever a paper mill is shut down in an obscure village in Lapland, TV cameras rush to the scene, politicians establish a task force to “create jobs” to the area, and newspapers run spreads and op-eds to reflect on this unexpected disturbance in the Force.
When Finnish wind and solar power startup The Switch was sold to the US with 190 million euros, leading business magazine Talouselämä started to inquire weather the company should now pay it’s public TEKES funds back, since there might be a euro or two of taxpayers’ money in the owners’ wallets now.
“Anywhere else these guys would have been treated as heroes in the media. But here they are treated like enemies of the state”, serial entrepreneur Steve Blank scolded Finnish Editor-in-Chiefs at a working lunch at Aalto Venture Garage on Friday.
Present were the likes of host Hannu Leinonen of Kauppalehti, Tapani Ruokanen of Suomen Kuvalehti and Eljas Repo from Arvopaperi. The purpose of the luncheon was to discuss the significance of the grassroots startup phenomenon to Finnish society.
“Mårten is still pissed”
As a journalist I’m all for questioning the use of public money. But is there a pattern here we should be aware of? At least the young entrepreneurs at Aalto Garage who work their butts off to create jobs in this country (and to become obscenely rich) feel their cause has not been understood in the media.
And it’s not only the young. Mr Blank said that co-creator of MySQL Mårten Mickos, who now lives in the Silicon Valley, is still bitter to the Finnish media for how the exit of his company worth 700 million euros in 2008 was treated.
“My personal job is to have Mårten Mickos come back to Finland. He’s still pissed. These guys have created jobs. They are the beacon of hope.”
A digital Helsinki Spring
Mr. Blank thinks that the return of the first generation startup champions as heroes and business angels to Finland would flourish the grassroots of the Helsinki startup Spring. This requires an attitude change in the Finnish media.
Why, then, does the Finnish media not get the Helsinki Spring? Steve Blank offered a very good starting point in offering an explanation: the media simply doesn’t know of it.
Mr Blank referred to Helsinki Spring as viral phenomenon like the Arab Spring. It spreads through social media without geographical borders. The youth immerses itself digitally into new information, ideology and perhaps most importantly, borderless markets and finances.
I’m not surprised that the media in Finland doesn’t realize this. Following social media is not part of Finnish journalists’ routines. Twitter, where Helsinki Spring was evident early on, is alien to most journalists in Finland. Senior journos have even taken strong opinions against social media. As significant societal changes – the racist wing of the True Finns being an excellent example – increasingly rise through social media, this attitude is a real problem.
A true ideological revolution
The second reason Steve Blank offered for the resistance for the Helsinki Spring in the Old Guard of mainstream media is spot on, too.
We’re looking at a true ideological revolution, something that the angriest of birds, Mighty Eagle of Rovio Peter Vesterbacka called greater in significance than the previous generational uprising in the 1960’ and 70’s. And the old instinctively resist what the young do, even if what they were doing was money.
“Your children are going to do stuff that you are going to hate”, Mr. Blank advised the Editors.
“A good number of them are going to be capitalists. They’re not going to go to concerts, do drugs or come to the summer home with you. They want to go to incubators, start coding and run startups.”
What a frightening scenario!
And how were these tidings received by the Editor-in-Chiefs? Tapani Ruokanen from Suomen Kuvalehti, an inquisitive mind and author of several history books, put the phenomenon in perspective. He said that in Finland, the definition of success for his generation was to move from the countryside to cities for university education and get a steady job in a government agency. Now things are radically changing.
“Now everything is on your shoulders”, he said and looked at Ville Vesterinen, Mohamed El-Fatatry and Kristo Ovaska at the table.
He asked the young entrepreneurs to call him anytime and keep him updated.
Now that’s a good start. Perhaps we will also see reporters of Suomen Kuvalehti getting their faces on Twitter and feet on the streets of Helsinki Spring?
Text: Taneli Heikka