My trip to Finland is coming to an end, and I’m leaving this country with a bit of sadness because I had a very good week here. These days I’ve got to learn more about the Finnish XR ecosystem and of course, before I leave, I want to share this knowledge with you.
Business Finland (an entity under the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy with the purpose, among many other things, of providing funds for innovation) has identified five industries on which to focus in the next years. One is defined as “engaging and immersive experiences”, or as people loved to call it until 6 months ago, the “metaverse”.
While I was at MatchXR, Business Finland revealed a first draft of the Finnish metaverse strategy, which has the ambitious goal of making Finland one of the global leaders for what concerns Metaverse by 2035. When I heard the year “2035”, I understood that the plan was a serious one for two reasons:
- Developing a new strategic sector for a country takes time, so anything promised for before 2028 would have sounded like bullshit. 2035 gives time to Finland to try to create a healthy ecosystem around XR technologies
- The metaverse, however it will turn out to be, will need many years to start taking shape, and a projection of 12 years seems realistic, maybe not to have Zuck’s full vision of the metaverse, but at least to have an intermediate version of it.
I was also quite happy to hear about a European country trying to have a long-term plan for the “metaverse”. After having hated that word so much during the hype, I was actually relieved to hear it again in a context about strategic planning and not inside the sentence “the metaverse is dead”. Kudos to Finland not to fall for the hype of the moment, but to be consistent in its purpose. In the presentation, it has been stated that Finland is probably the first country in Europe with this kind of planning, and I seriously hope that other countries will follow suit, so we can create a European ecosystem around it, with many countries supporting each other. It’s also important to notice that this planning has been made by a Nordic country… usually, Nordic people don’t speak much, so when they say something, it is valuable. I can’t say if they will succeed or not in their purpose (only time will tell), but I’m pretty sure they will at least plan and execute to try to make that happen. Announcing such a strategy means that some innovation funds will be allocated for the development of “metaverse” solutions, and this means money arriving at the XR ecosystem in Finland, which is very positive for the companies in the field.
I appreciated that the presentation of the Finnish metaverse strategy included a mention of values. For me, values are always important, because they show what are your foundations on top of which you build everything. The mentioned values were freedom, openness, trust, and well-being. More or less the same as Zuck’s metav… ah no. These are very good values, with which I would have liked to see also “privacy” and “safety”, but I guess they were considered inside the “trust” pillar.
Business Finland also identified three key sectors from which to start their metaverse efforts:
- Social Interaction
This again looks like a very practical approach that identifies the sectors where XR is providing the best results today: training, maintenance, medical, and remote collaboration. This choice seems very B2B oriented, probably because it takes what is very successful today, and today B2B is where the money is in XR. I say this because, for instance, I see no mention of “gaming”, notwithstanding Finland has some important gaming studios like Rovio. I think that while in the short term, this may make sense, in the long run, this strategy should pivot to a more consumer approach because the final vision of the metaverse is that we will all be part of it for the most part of our days.
After this high-level presentation, there were some demos and some introductions of XR startups. It is also interesting to underline that Finland, like many other countries, has programs to give benefits to companies that want to open an office there and create job opportunities for Finnish people.
At the end of the event, I spoke with some people there, and the overall impression was the same: even if some parts of the presentations were a bit vague (e.g. how to arrive at being a leader in 2035), the fact that there is this long term strategy is positive for the country, because it shows that there is the willing to invest in the ecosystem and in the promotion of the local XR companies abroad.
If this topic interested you and you want to discover more, you can check out all the needed info on the official website of the Metaverse Initiative: https://www.digitalfinland.org/
The Finnish metaverse strategy includes also events to promote local XR companies and one of these events, maybe the most relevant one, is MatchXR. MatchXR is the reason why I flew to Helsinki and it is marketed as one of the most relevant events about XR in the whole Nordic Europe.
I don’t know if this marketing claim is true, but having been there, I can tell you that it is definitely a nice event. The event offers two services: an Expo area, and a matchmaking service.
I’ve not used much the matchmaking service, so I can’t talk much about it. There is a website where you can set up your profile and then filter the attendees by some keywords, trying to look for the kind of person you are interested in collaborating with. Once you find the person you want to meet with, you can reach out to them, and organize with them a 1-to-1 meeting to be performed during the event in a dedicated area.
I’ve spent my whole time at the exhibition, instead. In the Expo area, you can find a good number of companies showing their XR products: some of them are big and known, like NOKIA, while others are startups in the field, like SeeTrue Technologies. The expo area is not huge like the one of AWE, but it is big enough to have products to see for hours. Looking at the pamphlet I’ve been given, I can count 64 exhibitors for this year’s edition, which is a very good number for a local event. Many companies are local ones, so either they come from Finland or they are anyway from Nordic countries. Probably a thing that would be nice to see in the long term would be more international exhibitors.
I was able to spot some interesting companies to talk with and try their products. And then, like in all the events, the real deal was going around, meeting people, chatting, and making new friends. On this side, we are not at the same amazing levels as AWE, where I spend basically all the first day in the corridors speaking with super cool people, but still, there is a good atmosphere.
The big problem of MatchXR is that the event lasts only 4 hours, and in this time is literally impossible to do everything you would like to do: you try 5-6 products, you chat with a few people, and the time is already up. This event should last longer, and I already suggested this to the organizers.
It is impressive anyway how this whole event is totally free for the participants. This year, more than 1000 people have been able to attend it and get in touch with XR technologies without paying a single Euro. Big kudos to the organizers of the Helsinki XR Center (HXRC) for setting up such a fantastic event that helps the promotion of local XR startups and of XR technologies in general.
It is cool that besides the main event, there are also small side events. The day before MatchXR I had an aperitif with the guys and gals at HXRC, and then later a drink at the party organized by FOV Ventures (a VC group focused on XR). After the event, we all went to a nearby bar to have an after-party while eating good food and drinking good cocktails. I made a few new friends during these networking events and I was very happy about it.
MatchXR always happens before Slush, which is one of the biggest events for startups in the whole Europe. In case you have a startup looking for partners, customers, or investors, Slush is the place to be. What I learned the hard way is that if you want to attend Slush, you have to plan for it way ahead because tickets usually go sold out.
Slush is also full of side events, some of which are meant to do serious work (e.g. side conferences), while others are for fun and networking (e.g. parties). Side events are what made Slush even more relevant than the main event alone: there are some people who say that it is more important to be at the side events than at the event itself. There is a dedicated page just to see all the hundreds of side events and filter them by many criteria (the search function is incredibly well made), and I suggest you search for them and plan for them way before going to the event, because also side events go sold out. Not all side events require a Slush ticket, so you can still enjoy them without spending a lot of money. MatchXR can be considered a Slush side event in some way, and also the Nordic gaming convention is.
My suggestion is that if you come for MatchXR, you should stay a few days more to attend either Slush or at least some of its side events, so you can have even more opportunities for networking and for finding collaboration opportunities. But again: please, plan ahead to do that.
There are various interesting companies in the greater Helsinki area, like Varjo, Nokia, and Rovio. If you come for one of these events, you could try to contact these companies for a visit. We attendees of MatchXR were able to visit Varjo and try the new headset, for instance.
In the post where I announced I was going to visit Helsinki, I was joking about the fact that I could not survive here. Well, actually I’m still alive and I have to say that I enjoyed a lot being here, it is a very nice city, and it is a bit romantic that it is all white because of the snow. I finally made snow angels for the first time in my life, and I couldn’t resist drawing some dicks in the snow with my finger, too (sorry, Helsinki people). I ate some good food and spent some time with some very kind and nice people.
Yeah, it’s cold… and because of that, I also got a cold and still feel unwell. But at the end of the day, it was worth it. If you go, just take with you a thermal shirt and thermal trousers and you will be fine outside, while inside it is usually warm enough. Also come with some shoes with a good grip on the sole, so you don’t risk sliding on the ice, when there is some. Bring also some medicines for the flu, because you may end up getting sick like me 🙂
As for the language barrier, many people speak English here, so I had no problems in general. I admit I sometimes bought some food at the supermarket without having a single clue of what it was because everything was written only in Finnish and Swedish, but it’s part of the game when you go to a foreign country. I’ve not been poisoned, so I guess the thing they sold me was eatable. I also learned a few new words in Finnish, and especially two new bad words which will be useful in my future trips 😀
I just want to briefly thank everyone who contributed to making this trip so interesting, and give a special mention to some people who helped in a particular way: Jussi, Tiina, Damon, Janne, Ida, and Aleksis. Kiitos, you’re amazing!