Entrepreneurship stories: Building your EdTech startup in a new country

Geetali Dewan from Starklass pitching
Geetali Dewan from Starklass pitching

Already a regular at Helsinki Education Hub, Geetali Dewan has participated in the EdTech Incubator Helsinki -program and works on a weekly basis at the co-working space. She’s familiar with most of the other entrepreneurs in the community, hosts her business meetings at the offices and knows her way around the coffee machine. A typical startup founder you could say, but diving deeper, all the entrepreneurs have their own stories, challenges to overcome, and tips and tricks to share.

For Dewan, the journey started back in India, as the idea of leaving the day-to-day life and relocating to one of the top startup ecosystems in the world had been brewing for a while. Among the possible destinations, Dewan heard a lot of positives of Finland. As a society, it’s one of the most secure and stable, and the ecosystem is growing and making headlines.

Starting a business in a new country on the other side of the world might sound like a huge challenge. It takes a lot of effort, planning, and some risk-taking as well. Still, Dewan made the decision and took the risk, ending up in Finland, to start her EdTech company named Starklass. The goal is to revolutionize and democratize learning in countries with fewer opportunities, by helping learners study in their own language, whatever it may be.

Before relocating, I got in touch with Business Helsinki, and they offered me personal guidance and advice and helped me map out which competences and qualities to highlight in my application. The business advisor was like a teacher to me and helped a lot, and this level of support is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and that’s why I chose Helsinki.”

Despite the support, moving to a new country isn’t something that necessarily comes easy, and many different uncertain variables may cause worry. Ambition and motivation still drove Dewan.

Among my main concerns was, of course, money. Back home in India I had a good salary and savings, but in Finland they wouldn’t last as long. It was a huge risk to leave everything, but I wanted to take a step into the unknown and start my own company.”

According to Dewan, the process for acquiring a startup-visa was straightforward, and moving in itself was hurt-free, but the bureaucracy with setting up your business required time and work.

The people at Business Helsinki gave me a presentation of the stuff I needed to do, and I set out to registering at the DVV, getting banking details, applying for a grant, and registering my company. Still, everything is systematic, so I think the bureaucracy is better here than back home, she laughs.”

Don’t hesitate to ask for help

Looking back at her first months in Helsinki, Dewan thinks that she would have needed a more compiled material handout for newcomers. The path for relocation is straightforward, but you can get lost between the different departments.

I wanted to do all the necessary things myself and not rely on too much help. People were referring me to all different kind of officials and departments, and I got somewhat confused. Now I understand that there is a pre-made and clear path for the bureaucracy when relocating and starting up a business, and the problems occur if you miss a step.”

One big hurdle I faced was that registering the company was done completely in Finnish – if anything, this is the part I would change. Luckily, I got help with the translations.”

Nowadays she can warmly recommend the Business Helsinki material bank for anyone looking to set up a company in the Helsinki-region. There are extensive guides on establishing a company and funding, and different events for learning entrepreneurship.

The EdTech Incubator guides your innovation on the right track

Already back home in India, Dewan had researched the EdTech Incubator Helsinki as an interesting program to potentially join. Once relocated, Dewan was advised by the experts at Business Helsinki to take advantage of the opportunity and join the Incubator. After settling for a few months in Finland, the application was sent in, as the Incubator program seemed like the optimal venture for developing the new company. Featuring thematic weeks in for example business planning, marketing and sales, and pedagogical impact, the program offered the needed steps forward.

Joining the Incubator and integrating to the Helsinki Education Hub community has been very easy for me, everyone is always ready to help and answer questions. “

Dewan is also an engineer and has a master’s degree in business management from India, but she points out that the Incubator program teaches a completely different, more concrete skillset, which is valuable when becoming an entrepreneur. In addition, you gain access to an extensive network of professionals and stakeholders.

The Incubator program helped me pivot the business model already at an early stage and find out what we really want to target.”

One of my favorite memories from the Incubator is the day before our demo day. My pitch was a total mess, and I made the personnel sit down with me and work on my pitch for hours. Because of all the help and practice I got my pitch went really well. And now, I just recently placed in the top three in a pitching competition!

It’s the community that makes you feel at home

Besides trying to assimilate to local customs and routines, the one single thing that has helped Dewan feel welcome and integrate the best is the community at Helsinki Education Hub.

Anytime when I have a problem or an obstacle, I can find the answer at Helsinki Education Hub. You might not know in beforehand, but there’s always someone who has been through the same and can guide you, or at the least refer you to a person who knows the answer.”

The Helsinki Education Hub co-working space at the heart of Helsinki is a center for EdTech professionals from all over the world. In the latest Incubator batch, there are representatives from four continents, and all the Helsinki Education Hub events run in English. 

I would recommend Finland and Helsinki Education Hub for anyone looking to actually grow their startup efficiently in a great environment. You have to be ready to make sacrifices, but it will be worth it.”

Going forward, Dewan is looking to grow her company. Starklass is looking for funding and is developing their application to a concrete product, with potential pilots and users already in the funnel. In five years, I want to capture the undermined markets in Asia, Africa, and Europe, she explains.

My plan is to go to places where there is illiteracy, inequality, and challenges. Everybody who wants education should be given education, and it should be of the same quality as in Finland.”