A sign reading “Not a hospital” greets you as you enter the newish start-up hub of Helsinki, Maria 1-0. The first time I walked under the sign, my instant thought was how many people have come here to seek treatment – the hospital was only closed a few years ago.
The possible hospital-creeps, however, disappear as you enter the colourful reception, and when the friendly office denizens tells you that there is no need to be afraid – nobody wants to operate you there.
After fully getting inside the building, you feel completely at ease The Starter restaurant is filled with bubbly discussion, and the delicious lunch-time smells vanish the last drops of doubt.
Erika Halonen, the Chief Experience Officer of Maria 1-0, says: “My favorite thing in Maria is, well, it’s nothing concrete, but the atmosphere. There is energy, different happenings all the time, interesting people. There is no stiffness, it’s very relaxed.”
Erika works in team of seven to keep Maria running. Her background is in Circus arts, marketing, and business administration – all of which she finds equally helpful in her current position.
Weird, brave, and ambitious
The old hospital building was transformed into a startup hub for “the weird, brave and ambitious” after the City of Helsinki wanted to have a Startup hub of their own in the central area. Espoo, the neighbouring city, has been an innovation pioneer since the developments in Otaniemi, consisting of university campus area and the quite famous Startup Sauna hub.
The history of the building is visible when you walk through the rooms, with old signs telling visitors which particular body parts were treated and where – but instead of patients waiting and nurses running around, the rooms are now crowded with tables, and the distant sound of keyboard clicking fills the air.
With their 10 000 square meters of space, Maria 1-0 is the biggest startup hub in the Nordics. With over 80 startups and 450 total members it sure feels quite buzzy. The first startups moved in in August 2016, and already one startup has “grown out”.
“The point of Maria is to foster startups who are scalable and want to grow out from our spaces.”
Work in progress
Maria is still work in progress, and there are renovations going on all over the place. Not all of the companies have even moved in yet. Halonen says that the development won’t end with the finalization of the current renovations.
“We have plans to expand. There might be enough space for the startups like it is, but there are ideas developing for companies in different stages, and a few additional services. There are other buildings in this area as well.” Halonen says and smirks.
As a weekly user of the space, the incompleteness is visible. Construction noises you hear almost everyday, but in a way one gets used to them. Lates concrete development from the user point of view was the long yearned addition of screens into meeting rooms.
And yes, sometimes people come in thinking it’s still a hospital. As recently as February, someone came and asked for laboratory results.