March 1, 2024

Could this Finnish seaside city be the next Scandinavian deeptech hotspot?

While the heart of Finland’s startup scene beats in the capital of Helsinki, the city and seaside resort of Oulu is a significant player. We take a look at why the city is popular with deeptech entrepreneurs

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emlyon business school
Oulu, Finland

While companies like Nokia used to dominate the tech scene in Finland, the ecosystem is now moving closer towards sectors like AI, quantum computing and innovative recycling technology. This new focus is helping the country’s startup ecosystem to grow — in the first half of 2023, Finnish startups raised €549m

But while the heart of Finland’s startup scene beats in the capital of Helsinki, the city and seaside resort of Oulu is a significant player. Its startups and scaleups have reached a combined enterprise value of €3.8bn — including healthtech unicorn and smart ring startup Oura, which raised a €100m Series C round in 2021.

We looked into what makes the Finnish seaside city attractive to budding entrepreneurs. 

Inspiring students 

According to Dealroom, there are 416 startups in Oulu, many early-stage and in deeptech, including battery energy storage startup Cactos, which raised a €26m early VC round this January, and AI startup Cerenion which is building software to monitor brain function in intensive care, which raised a Series A in 2022.  


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.

It's really the place for the evolution and innovation of mobile tech.

Outside of 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 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.

“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,” Moore tells Sifted. “Oulu was where the first 5G call was made, and they are currently working on the 6G protocols. It's really the place for the evolution and innovation of mobile tech.”

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.

“I want [the students] to explore how technologies being developed in Oulu could contribute to a more sustainable future,” he says. 

Emilie Zhuo is an emlyon student studying for her MSc in in Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She 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”. 

“The institution, renowned for its emphasis on cutting-edge technologies, opened up new avenues for me to explore the technical foundations essential for today's startups,” she says. “The expertise and support provided by Oulu Business School were crucial in equipping me for a future where I aim to meld tech solutions with sustainable business models.”

A "Northern Silicon Valley”

As well as public funding, there are opportunities to meet with VCs in Oulu. Butterfly Ventures, for example, has offices in Oulu and is a seed stage deeptech investor founded in 2012. 

As a nation of study, Finland has a lot of benefits beyond the climate and cultural experiences.

Giulia Antigiovanni, who is also studying for her MSc in Global Innovation & Entrepreneurship  at emlyon, says Oulu is becoming a "Northern Silicon Valley”. She says the entrepreneurial spirit permeates every facet of Oulu's ecosystem, evident in the abundance of events, incubators and accelerators in the city, connected entrepreneurs and investors.

“These resources serve as catalysts for innovation, providing aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools and support needed to turn their ideas into reality,” she says. “It's a vibrant ecosystem where entrepreneurship and investment in young talent reign supreme, offering an abundance of opportunities and public investment initiatives tailored to empower and propel the next generation of innovators towards success.”

This drive to equip young people with the tools they need to build the next big businesses is at the heart of why Moore wanted his students to study in Finland.

“As a nation of study, Finland has a lot of benefits beyond the climate and cultural experiences,” he says. “It's perhaps one of the most innovative countries out there in terms of infrastructure, and business policies.

“They've created infrastructures whereby there's a one-stop-shop for investors coming in wanting to set up in Oulu, [and they've tried] to make it simple and seamless for the potential investor or entrepreneur.”

Learn more about the MSc in Global Innovation & Entrepreneurship programme here.