The Startup Foundation is led by its board of currently eight individuals working within the startup ecosystem in Finland. Every member of the board represents skills and know-how from specific fields in the ecosystem, ranging all the way from science-based innovations in universities to investing in startups as an early-stage investor. The board is led by Janne Snellman, whose daily work revolves around gaming as the COO/CFO of Supercell, a Finnish gaming company.
To understand better how the Foundation’s board functions, we asked six scintillating questions from Janne covering the purpose of the board, the Foundation’s biggest goals, and its plans for the next decade. Enjoy the read!
1. Admittedly, you’re at the center of the Finnish startup ecosystem. You’ve been part of the Foundation’s board for the last three years, of which one year as the Chairperson of the Board. On top of your board duties, you work as Supercell’s COO/CFO. What led you to startups?
My experience with startups started in 2001 when I was one of the co-founders of mobile gaming company Sumea Interactive, which was later sold to and known as Digital Chocolate. At the start, my day work was still as Legal Counsel for an IT company and I worked evenings and nights at Sumea as external counsel and I joined the team full-time in 2003 when mobile gaming went from black and white screens to more mainstream entertainment. We had no idea that the market was going to later grow explosively after the introduction of the iPhone and Apple Appstore.
I’ve always been sort of a jack of all trades in every team I’m in. I think it was that same quality that led me from Digital Chocolate to Supercell in the early days of the company – doing all odds and ends to build the company forward.
I joined the Foundation board three years ago and followed Moaffak Ahmed as Chairperson from the start of 2020. For the past decade or so I’ve been angel investing and sparring startups, so the move to Foundation’s board and later as Chair felt an exciting step to help the whole ecosystem.
2. The Foundation is the non-profit owner of Slush, Junction, The Shortcut, Wave Ventures, and one-third of Maria01. How would you describe the function and purpose of the Foundation and its board for the community?
Shortly said, to help our community thrive. Our most important task is to ensure the teams at Slush, Junction, The Shortcut, Wave Ventures, and Maria 01 can do what they aim to do. This help ranges from making sure that the background operations – such as accounting – are flowing smoothly to selecting the boards in each company. We also strive to keep the community intact, making sure knowledge flows from one team to the other.
In practice, the Startup Foundation and its board work as the supporter in the background and a middle-man where needed.
Ideally, the Startup Foundation board can work as a sounding board for the team’s plans and vision. As with any board, the most beneficial thing we can do is ask really good questions that can guide the teams forward.
3. The year has been quite challenging for the Foundation community, where most of the teams had to pivot from offline events to other projects. Give us a big picture of how the Foundation faces challenges like these, and what is the winning strategy for the future?
For the past year, we’ve been honing our strategy with the Foundation board. We wanted to find the best way to find and enable the potential that exists in the Foundation community and the broader Finnish ecosystem.
Our first focus is on making sure our community keeps on thriving in the future as well. For instance, this year with Covid-19 has shown us all how much volatility the event industry has. In challenging moments like these, the Foundation wants to be in the position to be able to offer financial assurance for the future, enabling the teams to have the freedom to focus on their work. It’s also years like these that showcase how important a strong, supportive community around you is – something we hope to strengthen even more in the years to come.
Secondly, we want to support new initiatives and projects in the ecosystem that benefit the community as a whole. We are currently looking into grants and hopefully will soon announce more on that end.
4. The Helsinki startup ecosystem has been talking about the critical need for talent for quite a while now. Slowly but surely, the conversation has moved into the wider public. Attracting talent to Helsinki is one of the most important goals for the Foundation in the next few years – but how exactly could that goal be achieved?
First of all, Finland is a great country to live in as soon as you can get in. The most prominent issue is the access for which we need to create fast tracks for highly qualified talent. If a talent wants to relocate here – which itself is not a given – we should make the process as easy and quick as possible. The ideal situation would be to have one place where a person moving to Finland gets all the required paperwork and approvals in a few days or max in a week.
5. One of the other big goals for the Foundation is to enhance and embrace diversity in the startup ecosystem. How does the Foundation support and see diversity?
The fact of the matter is that our startup ecosystem needs and thrives from diversity and inclusion. For the Foundation, diversity means supporting a new image of a startup founder that can come from all walks of life – you don’t need to be a young man from the Aalto University to start a successful startup.
To make sure the local Helsinki founder pool is diverse and inclusive, we should also take a look at the teams building startups. Our goal is to support projects that embrace and enhance diversity with their team, operations, and mission.
6. What are the next plans for the Foundation in general? Where is the Foundation standing in, let’s say, five years?
We want to act as the voice in public for Finnish startups – everything we do should aim to develop the environment for startups and scaleups further. We believe that a virtuous circle of growth entrepreneurship can be built based on current success stories. The Foundation will do this by supporting the right projects to grow the ecosystem further and vocalizing actionable goals in public policy discussions. Our core mission is to support this ecosystem’s growth, and I hope that the Foundation will continue to do that for the next decades to come.