“Finnish tech ecosystem needs diversity, and it isn’t all about gender” – Ekaterina Gianelli, Inventure
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“During my career I’ve constantly focused on learning and building new things – getting out of my comfort zone. I think many of us are too afraid of failing – we don’t start that business we’ve been thinking of, or take that position in a completely new industry. But failure and struggle are often what transform and improve us, so we need to start loving those struggles.”
Ekaterina Gianelli is an Investment Director at Inventure, one of the most active early-stage funds in the Nordics. Gianelli was born in Moscow, where she studied International Economics at the Lomonosov Moscow State University before throwing herself into the Nordic’s tech scene.
Some of the things she is passionate about are entrepreneurship, technology, and design, as well as adding more diversity to the tech scene.
Falling into the Nordics
“I am very curious, and I have a habit of falling into things, be it technology, design or venture capital. I think you should try new things and figure out along the way if you enjoy them, and if not – pivot”, Gianelli says.
“It’s important to have faith in your ability to figure things out. ”
While completing her Bachelor degree in Russia, Ekaterina worked for Volkswagen-Audi Group, but discovered that the slow pace wasn’t her cup of a tea. So, it was time for her first personal pivot – she set off to Finland to do another degree in Business Administration.
After settling in Finland, Gianelli joined a small service design agency, Fjord, where she did everything that was “dumped on her”. At the time, Fjord was a small company employing about ten people in Helsinki. After dealing with general admin stuff, Gianelli moved into handling the company’s operations and managing Fjord’s project portfolio and resourcing.
“I fell in love with the people of Fjord, and I wanted to see if I could help them scale. And that turned to be an exciting journey.”
Fjord was expanding, and Gianelli had a chance to see how scaling a company works in practice. In four years of working there, she helped the company open multiple offices around the globe and reach more than 300 employees. In 2013, Fjord was acquired by Accenture Interactive.
The best about my journey so far is the people I’ve worked with at every stage of my career
“I’ve always been given a lot of trust and autonomy, and I did learn so much from each of them. So if there is one thing you could optimize for, I’d say go with the team.”
Fjord was a consultancy, and the business model didn’t allow for rapid scaling. Gianelli wanted to experience how one can build a business in a more scalable way, so she joined one of the hottest non-gaming Finnish startups at the time, Kiosked.
Back then, not many knew what working in a startup meant. Neither did Gianelli. “I’ve never had a desire for one specific role, and being involved in everything was just perfect.”
Kiosked was growing rapidly at the time, and had employees with over 20 different nationalities across the offices in Finland, the UK and the US. Gianelli was working with sales and product teams, making sure the clients were satisfied with the product.
“Working in different operational roles helped me understand entrepreneurs better. Nowadays, I can relate to their struggles and help remove some of the obstacles they face daily. There is nothing like seeing entrepreneurs achieving their dreams and getting out of challenges much stronger than they were before.”
Step back and let entrepreneurs run the show
It was a LinkedIn message that changed everything for Gianelli. Sami Lampinen, the Managing Partner of Inventure, reached out to her and asked if she wanted to meet. They were looking for a person with operational background to join their team, and Ekaterina’s profile matched.
“I had only a slight idea of what I’m signing up for, and had not thought of becoming an investor previously”, she adds. The more she got to know the Inventure team, the more she liked them. So after some months she decided to take on the new challenge.
Inventure is a Nordic technology fund that invests in seed and early-stage companies. At the beginning of 2018, the team announced its newest fund of €110 millions. Some of the notable exits of Inventure include Beddit (acquired by Apple), Rightware (acquired by Thunderssoft) and Noona Healthcare (recently acquired recently by Palo Alto-based Varian), which was led by Gianelli herself.
Since Ekaterina joined Inventure four years ago, the team has grown to eleven people with offices in Helsinki and Stockholm and, most importantly, became a lot more diverse.
“It’s my responsibility to make a difference”
According to Gianelli, the issue of diversity goes way beyond gender. She dreams of a more diverse venture capital scene in terms of education, professional background, nationality, and age.
She is passionate about changing the situation as she has seen teams with different backgrounds perform better.
“When discussing new investment opportunities, it’s important to bring different views to the table. My background from the design industry has helped me a lot. There are many tools and methods designers are trained to use. Many of them come handy during the investment process.”
During the past years, Inventure has been hiring people with different backgrounds. “Changes take time, but we’ve been taking first steps. And we can already see that diverse team leads to diverse dealflow”, she adds.
Ekaterina has practical advice for those who want to diversify their teams. “If you wait for people to apply, or limit your search to people in your network, you will struggle. Look beyond the network. There are a lot of brilliant people out there, who probably haven’t thought of applying. Focus on the opportunities they get by joining your team.”
Gianelli is determined to push not only Inventure, but also the whole Finnish tech ecosystem to the next level. “We should rethink the ways we attract and reward talent. If we want to build globally successful companies, we need to welcome global talent. We are the ones to do the legwork; there is no other way.”