A Land of Opportunity
Oskari Kariste bridges the gap between Finland and Southwest Florida.
Oskari Kariste at an M Room barbershop.
Courtesy of Oskari Kariste
In 2011, Finland-born Oskari Kariste traveled to Naples on a whim to plan his next business more for Ilme Advertising, a full-service marketing firm he founded in 1996. From then until now, he’s grown it to 30 international employees and seen it named the best Finnish agency of its kind to work for, not once but four times.
At the time, he felt Ilme, which has two locations overseas, may heave reached its growth potential in Europe.
Like any love story with Southwest Florida goes, Kariste found the beach and never looked back. He felt it was the right place to expand the business and in 2014 moved it, and others he was conceiving, to the Naples Accelerator. Now that he’s settled in locally, Kariste is ready to discuss the potential each of his companies pose in Naples and beyond.
Kariste, who serves as Ilme’s chairman, plans to build the company’s U.S. headquarters in Naples and add 10 local employees within the next year (it currently has two and is hiring five). As the only marketing agency in Finland to own an American branch, according to Kariste, the company can help European businesses break into our country’s market and vice versa. He’s currently working with 10 overseas firms who want to base their U.S. headquarters in Naples, he says.
“We are not only helping the local economy grow by helping the companies here, but we are also importing our companies overseas to the U.S. market, which I think will be highly beneficial to the local market,” Kariste says.
But Ilme is just one of three of Kariste’s local businesses.
Local Greens uses Finnish greenhouse technology to produce fresh living herbs and salad mixes year-round. The system uses 95 percent less water than open farming and the technology does not yet exist in the states, Kariste says. He plans to eventually franchise the company and even take it global, but the first 2.5-acre project will be stationed in Naples. Kariste expects to employ 20 people for each facility and develop the first location before 2017. Projected sales are $10 million per unit.
His third project, M Room, is the largest barbershop chain in Europe. As co-franchisor of the company’s U.S. brand, Kariste plans to house M Room’s permanent American headquarters in Naples and, by the end of 2017, have at least 10 Southwest Florida locations. The first shop at Fifth Avenue South opened in October, and two other Naples locations— at Mercato and Park Shore Plaza—will follow by the end of the year.
Each shop will employ six to seven people, Kariste says, and should reach $350,000 to $550,000 in sales per year.
Kariste was just 18 when he started Ilme, and says the 20 years of experience has helped him successfully branch out with his newer endeavors, particularly by being willing to give up some control.
“For the first 10 years, I was the very typical entrepreneur. I was the leader of the company, I was the face of the company and every- thing was coming back to me,” he says. Now, he often lets his team members take the reins. “Many entrepreneurs, they think they are the best at what they are doing. They don’t want to give the freedom and flexibilities and trust to the people who are working for them. But once you do that ... things go the way people around you do them, and most likely the company will start growing because you are not making all the decisions,” he says.