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June 13, 2014

Ex-Nokia employees are shaping Finland’s next tech revolution

Analysis: Has mobile gaming taken the baton from Nokia?

By Ben Sullivan

Despite Nokia’s handset business demise, and the Finnish firm’s recent merger with Microsoft, ex-Nokia employees are continuing to play a vital role in Finland’s technology scene.

Speaking to CBR before the Hello World Open Coding championships, Ville Valtonen of Reaktor said that the company employs many ex-Nokia employees.

"Yes. Some of them are obviously tech guys – developers, they were developing MeeGo phones," Valtonen said.

Reaktor, based in Helsinki describes itself as a creative technology company, and is currently at the heart of a blossoming mobile gaming scene which saw a 2013 revenue of almost €1bn, and a total value of over €2bn.

Valtonen said: "We also have software platform developers. Some of our data scientists come from Nokia as well. A couple of guys from the Nokia store, analytics and personalisation. There’s probably some more as well."

The affect of Nokia’s absence cannot be underestimated in Helsinki. Between 1998 and 2007, the mobile company accounted for a quarter of the country’s growth, and it used to make up 20% of Finland’s GDP.

Nokia employees have also spilled out into the numerous mobile gaming startups based in the country of 5 million as the result of Nokia’s job cuts in the 2000s and its Microsoft merger. Through the Nokia Bridge scheme, a platform which was set up to aid departing Nokia employees kickstart their own startups, a new crop of businesses started where ex-employees were given a seed capital of up to €25,000 per employee or €150,000 per startup. Jolla, the smartphone firm, is one of these successful Bridge projects.

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Nokia workers also exist at Rovio, the creator of Angry Birds. The firm pulled in a total revenue of €156m in 2013, employing 800 workers. It’s just one of Finland’s most recent success stories, where nearly half of all its revenue comes from successful flogging of Angry Birds merchandise. Supercell, the creators behind recent mobile gaming hit Clash of Clans, sold a controlling stake of its business to Japan’s Softbank late last year for €3bn.

It is clear that the global surge in smartphone and tablet use, whilst not turning in Nokia’s favour, has helped many Finnish companies turn a profit. The massive mobile gaming hype, partly aided by Finnish government funding agency Tekes which ploughed €350m into Finnish startups in 2013, also marks part of a larger digital shift in the country which has to think globally to stay above the water.

Markku Velinen, a member of Finnish coding team Resocar, which placed third in this week’s World Coding Championships, told CBR: "Hopefully [Finland] will increase in all of aspects of technology. I think coding and programming is really important for everyone. Not everyone is going to work in technology, but I think it’s useful if everyone at least knows a bit about what it is all about.

"I think that Finland is pursuing that, and the Finnish mobile gaming industry is blooming so much. We all hope it continues."

There are currently over 200 gaming studios in Finland, with over 50% of those having started in the last two years. The tech expertise that Nokia cultivated over the past few decades may well be the saving grace of a country that has always played on an international field. However, these global companies in such small countries which support few and rewarding jobs must flourish and survive for the sake of the whole country. If they don’t there could be shaky times ahead for Finland’s local economy.

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