A business angel helps companies succeed

An angel investor provides startup companies with more than just capital, says business angel Riku Asikainen.

‘Business angels provide startup companies with capital, their own competence and contacts. Later on, entrepreneurs are usually most grateful for the networks that they developed with our help,’ says Riku Asikainen, who has been a business angel for 15 years.

‘If I can introduce a large company with a startup that is interesting from its perspective, the startup can then sell its own services or products to that company, The larger company also benefits because a new contact increases its understanding of the market.’

Asikainen was involved in establishing the Finnish Business Angels Network FiBAN in 2010. In 2013–2014, he chaired the FiBAN board. With nearly 500 members, FiBAN has twice been selected as the best business angel network in Europe.

Idea sparring, risk sharing

According to Asikainen, a business angel also needs other investors with whom to spar about ideas and share risks and whose networks can be utilised.

‘Rather than me investing 100 000 euros alone, it would be better if five of us invested 20 000 euros each. Then the company would benefit from the competence and larger networks of all five of us.’

Asikainen says that a single angel investor cannot meet all of the companies that apply for funding. That's one reason why it's important to have a common place to collect project flow.

‘We hold 10 pitching events each year, to which we invite the companies that submitted the best funding applications during the previous month. This means 10–12 companies, with 3–5 (nearly half) of them receiving an offer from our group. So, if you get that far, you're very close to being funded. But that is just the beginning,’ explains Asikainen.

FiBAN's angels represent all parts of Finnish business life. They invested in a total of 238 companies in 2014. This included companies from 15 different sectors, ranging from basic industry to agriculture. Approximately 10–20% of all the companies that apply for funding are approved, a figure that Asikainen considers high.

Investments in 36 companies

Riku Asikainen describes his career as being a fairly ordinary business angel story.

‘I became an entrepreneur at the age of 18, and I did quite well. After selling my third company, the Lukiolaisten kirjakauppa book store, I founded a similar company in France and later sold it, too. It's now the largest book store for high school students in France.’

Asikainen has been a business angel since 2000, and has already invested in 36 startup companies.

‘That's a big number, but you have to remember that I started young.’

According to Asikainen, fast-growing companies are often found between different sectors or at the interface of traditional business models.

‘I'm curious about what's going on in the world and that suits business angel activities very well. I think it's fun to consider business models and look for reinforcements for startup company teams.’

Asikainen also invests in companies that may have no turnover. That's one reason why some of his investments have failed over the years. He exits companies that have grown well after five to eight years.

‘Trial and error is a part of this business – otherwise you haven’t taken enough risks. You just have to learn to live with uncertainty.’

No reason to envy other places

‘The Finland of today is a positive environment for entrepreneurs,’ says Riku Asikainen.

‘Of course, there's good reason to discuss regulation here, because the world is mutually dependent and increasingly complicated and that increases the level of regulation. But we must also be careful not to lose the benefits of regulation.’

Asikainen believes that we shouldn't spend too much time envying other places: ‘Finland is a great country because things work here.’

For example, he praises the entrepreneur education provided at Aalto University, the resulting vibrant activities and business accelerators.

The predictability of things is good in Finland, and Asikainen encourages people to maintain that quality. However, he also mentions that in the long run international markets are the ones that will be important for us. Growth can only come from there.

Riku Asikainen is not a pessimist. He believes that things are being done better and better all the time in Finland.

‘However, we shouldn't rush into things. Miracles do happen, but they need enough time to happen.’

Riku Asikainen graduated with a master's degree in economics from Helsinki School of Economics in 1999. He has been an entrepreneur since 1988 and a business angel since 2000. Asikainen is one of the founders of the FiBAN business angel network and has invested in 36 companies. He is a founding member of the Startup Foundation and has often served as a Startup Sauna Head Coach.

Riku Asikainen is also active in the university community. He received the School of Business's Alumni of the Year in 2014 and he plays a strong role in university fundraising.

Four tips for startup entrepreneurs:

  1. ‘Talk about your idea to several different organisations and people.’
  2. ‘Sell your idea to customers before you have a product.’
  3. ‘Work with a group that gets things done and stays together.’
  4. ‘Think carefully about what you're really good at, and then compare it to the market situation.’

Text: Leena Koskenlaakso

Photo: Kira Leskinen

The original article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 15.

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