Juho Kinnunen

The secret sauce

How increasing business complexity brings startups and corporates together.

Startup and tech spectacle Slush once again gathered entrepreneurs and startups under the same roof with top international investors, executives and media in Helsinki in November last year. Within the past few years, Slush has grown to be the leading conference in its class around the globe drawing a total of 15.000 visitors from 100 countries this year. For the entrepreneurial-minded this is the place to be. And increasingly so for large corporations as well.

What is so defining about Slush, is the energy, passion and drive inside. The economic downturn stays outside the doors of this spectacular where strobe lights, lasers and steam amalgamate with the tech-savvy business crowd. Inside, you are surrounded by numerous startup exhibition stands, as well as stages where keynote speakers from the world’s top companies, like Skype and Flickr, share their stories and points of views on business. The hungry entrepreneurs tackle everything from the global immigrant crisis to the niche of streamlining internal project management. We also saw larger companies showcasing their latest development, like Nokia’s 360-degree cameras improving the virtual reality experience.

Accelerating complexity in tech and business environment

Entrepreneurs around the globe are encouraged not to fear failure and to become the best in what they do. As investors are looking for scalable business opportunities that are desirable, feasible and viable, the representation at Slush this year truly indicates that startups are aiming even bigger and higher. For instance, the top four finalists of the Pitch 100 Contest included companies that aim to transform access to emergency and medical data, provide real time satellite imagery for global monitoring, and transfer data through LED light instead of traditional Wi–Fi.

This level of ambition challenges and aims to disrupt existing markets making the operating environment increasingly complex. Digitalization dissolves the lines between traditional business fields: For example, a mobile app for payment solutions in electric vehicle charging is not competing only with other payment methods, but potentially also with banks, card payment providers, transportation providers, mobility services, even with smartphone manufacturers, mobile operators, car manufacturers, and traditional gas stations. Put different user motivations and expectations on top, and the mess is ready. At Fjord, we call this Liquid Expectations.

Fjord’s very own Co-founder and chief client officer, Mark Curtis, was also seen on stage talking about Designing for Impact in Tech, and touching upon Living Services. As Mark emphasized, to provide meaningful services that meet users’ liquid expectations, there’s an increasing need to organize, interpret and transform “data, contextual information and content to change what we see and do in real time around us.”

Navigating in this type of complexity, yet being able to provide clear, simple and meaningful experience for your user can’t be solved by technology alone. Design thinking is a must. Or actually, design doing is a must. Being able to turn the complexity into tangible interactions desired by users, enabled by technology and run as a healthy business – one of the guiding principles in Fjord Trends 2016.

Large companies increasingly involved

This year it was noticeable that big companies were ever more involved in the startup scene. Tech giants were displaying their latest developments, whereas large consultancies were involved either through innovative student collaboration, promotional booths or event sponsoring partnerships. Not to mention the amount of visiting company representatives from other large companies absorbing the upbeat atmosphere. This seems to indicate three types of interests I call absorbing, attracting, and acquiring.

With absorbing I refer to companies’ motivation to learn from startups – what they are doing and how. Corporates pursue to suck that energy and apply similar kind of methodologies in their own work. Attracting, in turn, is about companies branding themselves as entrepreneurial minded and seeking potential future talents for recruiting purposes. Traditional companies need to change their operational agility in the ever more digitizing business environment. Thus, attracting young talent with strong entrepreneurial mindsets and a close connection to current digital trends is very appealing. Thirdly, big companies must be looking for startups that can become potential suppliers for them. In a best-case scenario, these potential suppliers have a promising business model that is worth investing in – even acquiring.

Best of the both worlds

Only few startups will hit it big. This is why it’s extremely positive to notice big companies being eager to collaborate with the startup scene. By combining their vast existing networks and capabilities with startups’ passion and fresh ways of working, it is possible to make the collaboration extremely fruitful and successful. Hopefully, the collaboration also increases conversion from design thinking into design doing. Startups offer hands-on practices and large companies provide strategic competence to make those practices widely scalable. Maybe these are the key ingredients for the secret sauce to succeed in the increasingly complex business environment.


Watch Mark Curtis present Living Services at Slush in the video below:

Interested in learning more about Slush? Click here.

Want to see top-class keynote speeches yourself? Click here.

Eager to get familiar with Fjord Trends 2016? You know what to do.

Thanks to Tatu Vienamo (Visual Designer), Nikke Perttilä (Creative Technologist) and Juska Teittinen (Service Design Lead) from the Fjord Helsinki studio for discussions and sharing your own insights on Slush 2015 with me.


Juho Kinnunen

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