GreenMobility launches Helsinki’s first electric car sharing service

The Danish start-up GreenMobility arrived in the Finnish capital as the first and only electric car sharing service on the market. Starting out with 25 Renault Zoes in December, GreenMobility is looking to expand their fleet to 200 by the end of 2021 adding new zones and growing their local team as they strengthen their position within the local transportation offering. While some might say these goals are ambitious, GreenMobility is convinced that Helsinki provides all the framework and potential needed to reach them.

GreenMobility was founded in Copenhagen in 2016 as one of the only European vehicle sharing services investing entirely in electric cars. The service works via mobile app and is extremely simple to use: book a car, once within range the vehicle can be unlocked and you’re good to go! The fee is all inclusive, so customers need not worry about charging or parking fees. The company vision has been international from the start, and prior to the Finnish launch GreenMobility was already available in 6 cities: Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark, Malmö and Gothenburg in Sweden, Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium. Expanding to Helsinki was in the talks since early days.

Helsinki Business Hub is the Helsinki whisperer for international businesses

It all started in 2017 and Helsinki Business Hub was along for the shared electric car ride from the very beginning. Launching a service such as GreenMobility’s requires quite a bit of setting up, and a knowledgeable and well-connected partner is a huge asset. In 2019 collaboration intensified and the service was launched on December 15th. Helsinki Business Hub was key in providing business and market insights and connections to potential partners as well as help and guidance with soft landing services, financing and recruitment.

“For a shared electric car service, it’s crucial to not only understand the business and how things in Finland work on a general level, but also to really understand the city. HBH was a really valuable local partner for us. They helped us determine our operational zones and assisted us with establishing the company, recruitment and finding the right kinds of partners like Helen for charging infrastructure and local garages for maintenance needs. They always answer fast, and they are always ready to assist and guide on all business-related matters!” International Project Manager Daniel Thorius describes.

Helsinki – forward-thinking, ever-growing, warmly inviting

As a Danish company it makes sense to have a strong foothold in Scandinavia’s largest cities. However, Helsinki was an attractive choice for more than geographical reasons.

“The city has a green agenda, and it is investing strongly in sustainable mobility options to reach its CO2-neutrality goal. Marketwise, the local sharing economy is booming, and the sharing community is already big in Helsinki. Digitally, Finland is wonderfully advanced and establishing a company here is fairly straightforward. Also, the local start-up scene is quite impressive, so we’re in good company,” Thorius explains.

GreenMobility joins the ever-growing number of MAAS service providers Helsinkians have grown accustomed to during the past few years. Thanks to shared electric vehicles – such as scooters, bikes and cars – and modern taxi alternatives gaining popularity, not to mention excellent local public transportation services, residents of Helsinki are being offered more and more mobility alternatives by the quarter. According to Thorius although service providers and products vary, the ideology behind these services is similar:

“It’s really a question about completing public transportation, not competing with it – GreenMobility is a supplement, not a substitution! Our concept works best when public transportation works well. Because in the end, we all have the same goal: to decrease private car use. People in Helsinki are used to these kinds of digitally operated transport services. The more choices there are, and the more accustomed users are to these options, the better it is for all us. In Helsinki it really is possible to live without a car, and we’re all working to make that choice more appealing.”

From small launch to big goals

Currently GreenMobility’s car sharing service offers 25 electric vehicles, and the start-up employs 5 people, including both full-time staff working at the local office, and part-time street crew responsible for vehicle maintenance etc. While original plans were more grandiose, the company ended up choosing a soft launch due to the pandemic taking its toll on mobility. Thorius sees the easy-going start as an opportunity:

“A smaller launch definitely has its advantages. We get the chance to familiarize ourselves with the area, the market and the customer base, tweak our service, and then scale up in an informed manner.”

Regardless of the scale of the launch, by no means is GreenMobility taking it slow. The company plans on reaching a fleet of 200 and a staff of 10 by the end of the year. The start-up is adding new zones to their map, and the electric car sharing service might well expand to include at least some industrial and airport-adjacent areas in Vantaa in the very near future.

“We have proven the concept in similar cities where it works really well, so we are very confident in the Helsinki area. So far, we have been greeted well and engagement has been good. In fact, we have already extended the reach of the service to include new zones within our first month. Although people are moving less right now, customers appreciate that they can socially distance themselves, but still choose an environmentally friendly and practical mode of transport. For others, this is a great opportunity to try out an electric car,” Thorius elaborates.

Read the original case story on Helsinki Business Hub web page.

Varjo: virtual and mixed reality accelerates the global digital transformation

Finnish company Varjo, founded by four former Nokia and Microsoft employees, is a pioneer of the ongoing transformation enabled by virtual and mixed reality.

Varjo’s human-eye resolution VR and XR headsets are designed for demanding professional use and are the leading products in their field. Varjo’s headsets are already used for training astronauts and pilots, in the design of many of the world’s top car brands as well as in medical imaging and university research projects around the world.

– For example, a car designer can make changes in CAD software and immediately see what the car’s stitching looks like on the seats or what font size fits the instrument panel best. The iteration cycle can be reduced to just minutes, says Urho Konttori (photo), Varjo’s Chief Innovation Officer and one of the company’s founders.

In the next few years, immersive virtual reality will be increasingly used for training car and professional vehicle drivers, defence sector training, and for teleworking in companies. At the same time, as the high-resolution headsets become available to consumers, people’s perceptions regarding the possibilities for entertainment and different kinds of experiences will be revolutionized.

PROTOTYPE SPARKED AN AMBITIOUS STARTUP

– In the summer of 2016, we were getting to know Finnish startups and the world outside the giant companies. With the CEO of Umbra 3D, we thought that video-based mixed reality could be an interesting opportunity for the future. I made a quick prototype in a couple of days. He thought that this prototype would be the future of mixed reality, and asked if I could show it to the investors, says Konttori.

Finnish early-stage private equity investor Lifeline Ventures immediately recognized the potential of the product.

– We presented the prototype, and 20 minutes later, walked out with a million euros, feeling a little confused, with a request that we should have a founding team ready in one week.

Varjo’s cooperation with Business Finland started from the get-go when the small startup was developing the core technology for its product.

– From the beginning, our attitude was to operate as if we were a world-class company. The quality level had to be of the same standard, both in terms of external visibility and internal operations. As soon as an innovation was born, it was protected. The first patents were filed with the US Patent Office when the company was a couple of months old, recalls Konttori. Business Finland’s first-year support package was vital for us. The company would have gone bust without it.

MEDIA VISIBILITY BOOSTED THE FUNDING ROUND

Another Nokia colleague, Jussi Mäkinen, was recruited to lead Varjo’s marketing before the A-series financing round. The strategy was to make a big media splash when the funders were ready to push the button.

– We hired a top PR agency that got us interviews with CNN, the New York Times and MIT Technology Review, as well as visibility throughout the technology press. We had great articles saying, ‘A Finnish startup shows us the future of virtual reality’. It was fairly easy to complete the financing round after that, says Konttori.

Varjo selected Nordic EQT Ventures as the lead investor from about 20 investor candidates. Varjo received EUR 8 million in cash and, almost at the same time, a EUR 6.7 million loan from Business Finland.

– EQT funded the product development, validation and testing, and the loan took us straight to the next level in operations. Otherwise, we would have needed a new financing round in six months or had to give a lot more shares to the investors. The loan gave us the courage to move forward faster and stronger.

INTERNATIONAL BREAKTHROUGH

During a development phase that lasted about a year, Varjo’s personnel grew from 15 to more than 50. The startup’s Series B financing raised about EUR 27 million and brought Niklas Zennström, the founder of Skype and venture capital firm Atomico, to Varjo’s board. Siemens’ venture capital firm Next47 also participated in the round which Varjo used to finance the factory production of its first devices. The VR-1 headset, launched by Varjo in early 2019, received an enthusiastic reception, and the breakthrough was reinforced by the success of the VR-2 and VR-2 Pro headsets. And now with VR-3 and XR-3 headsets published in December 2020.

– At the end of the year, we launched the XR-1 Developer Edition headset, which in a way was the culmination of what we set out to do at that first investor meeting, says Konttori. The seamless combination of the real and virtual worlds delivered by the 10.000 dollar XR-1 headset even made an experienced CNET journalist cry: for him, testing Varjo’s headset was the first time that VR looked good enough to replace television and everyday screens.

BUSINESS FINLAND STRONGLY INVOLVED

In summer 2020, Varjo used Business Finland’s corona funding to produce a series of webinars to support its customer relations work. Business Finland also helped Varjo find a partner to prepare its EU Horizon 2020 funding application, which resulted in more than two million euros in direct support.

– Business Finland has been involved since the beginning and helped us to grow from a small unknown startup to the world’s leading VR and XR equipment manufacturer. It’s quite an incredible achievement, says Konttori, who thinks that Business Finland’s operating model is unique in the world.

– When I talk to startups at our level – whether Swedish, American or British – they are always stunned that such a support network exists and that Business Finland’s loan financing can be almost as much as the capital investment raised by the startup. For example, a loan of EUR 5-7 million is of huge importance to startups. It is a unique factor that helps to scale Finnish companies to the global market.

NEW DIMENSIONS AND IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES

According to Konttori, the fourth information technology revolution is now underway, where VR and XR headsets are entering the world of work and everyday life alongside mobile computers, offering new dimensions and methods of use.

– In the future, you can transport yourself to any museum in the world or enjoy any ballet performance from the best seat in the theatre. In about five years, the technology will be ripe enough for the transformation to really take off, Konttori predicts.

The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has not weakened investors’ confidence in Varjo, whose turnover has by now increased substantially. The company’s Series C financing round, completed in August 2020, raised EUR 45.7 million. At the same time, Varjo has been strengthening its reseller network in Europe, Asia and North America. The startup’s rapid growth so far is just the beginning.

– We first set out to solve the most difficult challenges for large corporate clients. Next, the intention is to do the same for smaller companies and to expand the customer base considerably. Also, we would not have set out to build an accessible brand if the goal was not to scale the company significantly along the way.

Read the original case story on Business Finland’s website.