Business Planet heads to Finland to see how one business is blooming after it got the financial support it required to weather the COVID storm.
GardenLiving is a thriving horticulture business. Based near Helsinki, the company is a specialist in plants and garden products, and offers a host of bespoke services, including landscape design, garden maintenance and revamping.
The company brands itself as the first green lifestyle concept in Finland and this year business is booming. But 12 months ago, when the pandemic struck and lockdowns came into force, things weren’t looking so rosy.
"That was a very bad time,'' admits the company's founder Eva Wuite.
"In March, all the orders to the restaurants were cancelled and suddenly at the same time I had to pay all the bills for the start of the gardening season. So everything was coming in, and I had to pay bills.”
Just like hundreds of thousands of small business owners across Europe, Eva faced a liquidity crisis. Thankfully, she was able to get back on her feet and pay the bills with an EU-guaranteed loan via her bank Finnvera - something she insists was very straightforward to obtain.
Bouncing back better
Eva’s loan was made possible after the European Investment Fund was able to unlock eight billion euros to encourage banks to lend.
Johanna Marin-Hyppönen, a senior advisor for the Enterprise Europe Network at the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce, says there are currently a number of EU schemes to help small and medium sized enterprises through the pandemic.
“In fact, there is a lot of help available for SMEs interested in EU-funding possibilities. For example, the Enterprise Europe Network provides companies advice on EU-funding and helps the companies to find suitable funding instruments for their business.”
More recently, the European Union's €750 billion Next Generation EU recovery fund - which involves the European Commission borrowing from financial markets - aims to help Europe’s pandemic stricken economy bounce back stronger.
"The EU´s recovery fund will bring possibilities and additional funding for European SMEs, especially regarding the twin transition, in other words, the green and digital transition. Part of this funding is channeled to companies through different EU programmes – and these programmes will have higher budgets and they target the renewal of SMEs," says Marin-Hyppönen.
As for GardenLiving, despite a hugely challenging year, it’s hoping to capitalise on blossoming demand.
“Despite the initial problems we still grew last year [by] 12 per cent. People stayed more at home and they wanted to improve their gardens and homes. And luckily this year we have noticed that the companies also have started investing in plants again, and we aim to grow [by] 20 percent,” explains Eva.