In going from Finland to Florida, an entrepreneur found more than sunshine. He also found big opportunities.
Finland native Oskari Kariste brought along the mindset of a serial entrepreneur when he landed in Naples for a vacation at the start of the new decade. The sunshine, ocean views and breezes soon led him to decide Naples would be just the place to initiate business ideas swirling around in his head.
Kariste has since launched four companies in Naples: Local Greens, Mroom, Northstart and Naples Shell. He's also continued as chairman of Ilme Advertising, a company he started at 18 and 20 years later has expanded to offices in Lahti and Tampere, Finland, and now a Naples office. The agency does $3.5 million a year in sales, and the expansion into the U.S. as the Finnish marketing agency to plant the flag here has got a lot of “traction in the media in Finland,” Kariste says.
Step back: Kariste says learning to share executive responsibilities, a professional development that led him to give up operational control of Ilme and instead focus on his Naples startups, has been the biggest entrepreneurial lesson he's learned. “Starting the company at 18 I did not have an education or experience,” he says. “So it was a big learning curve in understanding how to work with people. When I stepped aside from my CEO position from Ilme and moved here, it gave me an opportunity to grow even more. It helped my companies here grow and helped my ad agency because under new leadership real growth started to happen.”
Go green: Local Greens reverses greenhouse technology developed in Finland to grow leafy vegetables in a warm climate during the prolonged winter darkness. Local Greens can grow its produce in a cool climate even in Florida's hottest months, Kariste says. He bought 15 acres in Naples on which he will build a 2.5-acre, $8 million greenhouse. Local Greens' produce should be in supermarkets next year, he says. Florida food retailers, he adds, are eager “to buy from someone able to give consistent quality all year round.”
Other interests: Mroom is a high-end barbershop with a European men's club ambiance, complete with a bar. You buy a yearly membership for a few hundred dollars and get all the haircuts, manicures and facial massages you like for the year, he says. Kariste is the U.S. franchisee of the European chain and has recruited Ed Rensi, former CEO of McDonalds USA, as a senior adviser.
Kariste has a pair of locations open and two more to come soon. From there, Mroom will expand up Florida's west coast. “I expect by 2020 to have 200 of these in Florida,” he says.
NorthStart helps companies in Finland get started in the United States. He is helping seven Finnish companies set up shop here so far. Naples Shell provides luxury vacation rentals from a roster of eight homes.
Better way: The main difference between being an entrepreneur in the United States and in Finland, says Kariste, is lower and fewer taxes. A U.S. entrepreneur, he says, puts time and money into a business that creates jobs for people, who then pay taxes instead of getting heavily taxed on the business itself, like in Finland. “Here you are able to do that in an encouraging way,” he says. “I just love it.”
Aspirations and motivations: “I admire the companies that can change the industry,” Kariste says. “Oftentimes that means those companies make a ton of money and are happy to invest in new companies. Very strong companies with very strong cultures can change an industry.”
AT A GLANCE
Entrepreneur: Oskari Kariste
Companies: Ilme Advertising, Local Greens, Mroom, Northstart, Naples Shell
Years founded: 2011 to 2016
Revenue: Ilme Advertising, $3.5 million annually; each Mroom location $350,000-$550,00 annually