Start-up founders joining Finnish relocation programme want to grow Hong Kong brand

·4 min read

Hong Kong-based start-up founders Tanya Lee Moralez and Dominique Moralez have been chosen to join a 90-day programme to experience life and work in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

The couple, who founded Tencent-backed Mineo, which matches investors and founders during early-stage investment opportunities based on shared values and common goals, and their two young children are set to relocate to Finland next month, ahead of the programme's in-person start in August. They are the first residents from China to be chosen for the yearly scheme, which is called the 90 Day Finn programme and was inaugurated last year.

"What attracted us to to the programme from our business perspective was the opportunity to extend the business to the European Union and to have a solid foundation in the European Union. And obviously having that be in the Nordics came with additional benefits, seeing it is one of the most transparent business ecosystems in the world," Dominique Moralez said.

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The programme gives entrepreneurs and other talent from all over the world a chance to relocate to Helsinki, and helps with finding housing, day care and schooling for children. It also provides introductions to business networks and assists with setting up a company in Finland.

The scheme will also help successful applicants gain longer term residence permits if they choose to stay beyond the 90 days. All related expenses, however, are the applicants' responsibility.

As a top business hub in Asia and a major gateway to the huge mainland Chinese market, Hong Kong is used to attracting talent from across the globe. Recent developments, however, may have reversed this trend, with thousands of Hongkongers leaving the city following Beijing's imposition of a sweeping national security law (NSL), which is perceived as having eroded Hong Kong's freedoms, as well as stringent Covid-19 containment measures that have been criticised by foreign business groups and viewed as a hurdle to doing business in the city.

Finland is among EU member states that suspended extradition agreements with Hong Kong in 2020, after China imposed the NSL on the city.

A number of observers have warned that the city was at the risk of a brain drain.

The Moralezes, however, view their move to Finland as their contribution to growing the Hong Kong brand beyond the city, and as acting as a bridge between companies in China and the rest of the world.

"The global pandemic has accelerated the transformation of a new work model, where physical locations may not be as significant as before. So, I do think we can work from anywhere and with our agility to bring our business into the global arena, we would love to become an inspiration for other start-ups," Tanya Lee Moralez said. "Being from Hong Kong doesn't mean we can't be global citizens."

Beyond the business opportunities that the programme offers, including networking and introduction to both public and private sectors, exploring collaborations, introductions to investors and corporates, "which are amazing", the key influence for the couple was what Finland is known for. "It's known for commitment to everything from family and work-life integration to excellence in education all the way from preschool to university," Dominique Moralez said, adding that the family's relocation to Finland was likely to give their children "a unique and healthy experience in their early education and family life".

It also helps that the Finnish capital, just like Hong Kong, is at the doorstep of abundant nature. Helsinki has beaches, islands and forests, and "there's a whole lot more snow", he added.

Finland's programme is just one of many options for Hongkongers seeking better opportunities elsewhere as they consider the city's increasingly uncertain future. The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have similar programmes that roll out the welcome mat for Hongkongers looking to emigrate.

For example, since the launch of the UK's fast-track residency scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders in 2021, about 123,400 Hongkongers have applied for the programme, according to the latest numbers released by the British government.

In December, Finland's regional government of South Karelia launched a similar programme, specifically seeking green technology professionals from Japan and Hong Kong.

Two Hongkongers, one a sustainability manager and the other an associate director at a local architecture firm, have been chosen to join.

"Our programme's goal is to cultivate more business, research and people connectivity between South Karelia/Finland and Hong Kong," said Jyri Lintunen, project manager and senior adviser, Asian relations for the regional council of South Karelia. "We don't see this as a brain drain from Hong Kong, as such," he added.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.