Taking the first steps as a startup is a huge challenge and few succeed without mentorship and support. Assistance is readily available in the small country of Estonia with its vibrant startup ecosystem that includes startups, investors, mentors and NGOs.
Not many large companies operate a dedicated team for startup collaboration like telecom service provider Elisa - the flagship corporate startup HUB. Elisa is characterized by their quick decision-making and get-things-done attitude.
While it is a household name for mobile services, it is less known for its dedicated startup team Elisa UP that is “sails up” at mentoring startups and helping them grow through effective collaboration. Securing a customer base, joint sales and marketing as well as focus group studies vital to product development make up the springboard they create to bring innovative products and services to market.
Multiplying the results
Elisa UP was established three years ago with a goal to enrich the Estonian business landscape and to grow strong new partners. “First and foremost, we try to help our startup partners validate their product-market fit and find ways to build their business with potential clients,” said Kertu Popp, head of new services at Elisa. According to her the mentoring sessions are a truly gratifying part of the process, because the mentor gets a lot in return through inspiration from the forward-thinking young teams.
Maiko Arras launched an edtech startup Hoopy with Elisa in 2018 to help parents limit the time their children spend on mobile devices and make it educational. “Our collaboration with Elisa was very smooth. The service was launched in two months after our first meeting and we didn’t have to go through any complicated bureaucracy,” he said.
People with different skill sets from Elisa were involved in developing the service and Elisa UP team actively contributed to pivoting Hoopy before finding the product-market fit.
Elisa places great emphasis on addressing the real needs of their customers, says Artur Rihvk, product manager at data communication startup 1oT. “Elisa is a licensed partner of our SIM card management software Terminal, which enables their machine to machine customers to keep track of all their SIM cards in one place. The service is structured according to Elisa's needs and gives their customers new opportunities and flexibility that other operators do not offer to such an extent,” said Rihvk.
In cooperation with Elisa 1oT has introduced a unique solution that enables Elisa to stand out from its competitors and to stay one step ahead of the rest of the market.
Mentorship despite no shared market opportunity
Mentorship is provided also to those ambitious startups with whom a shared market opportunity does not necessarily exist. Since 2018 Elisa has been mentoring mobile car wash startup UpSteam, who recently expanded to Poland.
Their collaboration started out from the televised business idea competition Ajujaht, where the young and bright team came up 3rd. According to Martin Kristerson, the founder and CEO of the company, the harsh but fair words of Elisa Eesti country manager and CEO Sami Seppänen on the jury motivated UpSteam to set a clear target for global expansion. Kertu Popp further mentored the team on service development and PR activities.
According to Astrid Maldre, Elisa UP startup team leader, the startups are welcome to use all of Elisa's marketing channels and other means to bring joint services to the market. „Our monthly billing ratio with over one third of the people in Estonia makes it easy for us to price new products and services,” Maldre adds.
The experienced mentors of Elisa are active in many different startup programs, including Estonia’s largest new business idea competition Ajujaht. Recently, Elisa started collaborating with startup incubator Tehnopol to further support innovation in the sector.
Elisa Eesti is part of the Finnish telecommunications company Elisa Group, the market leader in both the private mobile customer segment and the paid TV service in Estonia and Finland.