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Circular economy, metals and entrepreneurship combined as a postgraduate course for the first time

Pitch training and the pitch competition were the highlight for many participants.
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After Midsummer, a happy group of postgraduate students were smiling in the sunshine in Otaniemi. The group consisting of chemists, metallurgists and environmental scientists from various European countries had come to attend the last stage of the postgraduate course. During the three days of Summer Camp and Idea Camp they finished off their project assignments for businesses, attended expert lectures and were given pitch training.

Circular Economy Entrepreneurship in System Integrated Metals Processing (CEE SIMP) was organised for the first time last spring. Courses combining the circular economy, processing of metals and entrepreneurship have not been available for postgraduate students before. Twenty students from ten European countries were selected to the course. In the beginning, they worked together in virtual teams, and finally met each other in person in June. During the days they worked together, the participants learned to understand how the use of materials significantly effects the economy, politics, social matters and the environment in today’s global markets.

Pitching was something new

Businesses gave students assignments in which they had to consider business ideas related to residues formed in the processing of metals. A short and convincing presentation of the business idea had to be given in the pitch competition in front of an experienced jury consisting of business partners. The work of the winning team was related to waste produced in the manufacture of steel, which is currently transported to landfills. This waste contains coal, iron and zinc, and cannot be used as such. The group’s solution was to use a method that extracts zinc from the sludge. The chemicals used can be recycled, so hardly anything is wasted. The remaining mixture of coal and iron can then be reused as raw material for iron.

Antti Pietiläinen, a member of the winning team, thinks pitching was one of the best things the course had to offer. ‘It was also good to get to discuss real-life problems of businesses in our multidisciplinary group. Our own thinking easily becomes stuffy if we always look at things from the same point of view. Now I had a chance to discuss my thoughts with representatives of other disciplines. The course boosted my own thinking.’

The winning team will receive business coaching from EIT Raw Materials partners in the autumn and the members of the team will be able to develop their possible business ideas further.

More to come

Several study techniques and environments were used in the course. Work in virtual teams started well and students from different backgrounds engaged in diverse discussions during the course. Professor Ainomaija Haarla, the leader of the course, says it was great to see the groups develop into teams so quickly, although their first meeting had not really been until June.

‘I'm really satisfied with the results of the pilot project. There was a distinctly entrepreneurial atmosphere in the pitch competition when the teams were presenting their pitches to convince the expert jury. The performances were excellent, especially as this was the first attempt at pitching for many of them and the pitch training had only been given the day before,’ says Ainomaija Haarla enthusiastic.

The course was funded by EIT Raw Materials, which is an innovation community of the mineral industry and funded by the EU’s Innovation and Technology Institute EIT. The course was granted funding for two years, and the funding for next spring was increased so that 30 students can be selected to the course. 

‘There is also money available for teaching from external sources and, if we are successful, there will be more money to increase the number of students accepted on the course. I am very proud of this for the Aalto community,’ says Ainomaija Haarla pleased.

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