Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre was bursting with young people, many of them wearing the startup business uniform: jeans and t-shirt. The Slush event, this year larger than ever, was opened by Prime Minister Alexander Stubb. He emphasised that politicians don't have anything to do with the birth of the Finnish startup phenomenon.
– This has been accomplished by Finnish entrepreneurs, he declared.
The Slush event now getting under way brings together under the same roof 15 000 people, 1 500 startup businesses and around 750 investors.
Aalto University Changing the game: The Academic Entrepreneurship panel considered the role of universities in the economic development of society and promotion of well-being.
Aalto University can with good reason be called the home of Finnish enthusiasm for startups.
The Slush event has grown massively, and is run by students. The organising team have met each other through the student-run Aalto Entrepreneurship Society and through the startup-promoting Startup Sauna, which is based in Aalto University.
The team is well-known to panellist and seed-capital investor Inka Mero, who acts also as a coach with Startup Sauna. The month-long Startup Life, which takes place twice a year, is a crash course in academic entrepreneurship. Those chosen for the programme take a visit to Silicon Valley and learn about marketing, presentation skills, legislation and acquiring funding.
– Companies participating in the programme have acquired already over 40 million Euros worth of funding, Inka Mero noted.
The Slush event, which has developed in Aalto University, finally became a front-page story in 2014. Swarming through the corridors of the Conference Centre are not only entrepreneurs, but also politicians. News of lay-offs from large firms has led many to turn their attention towards small businesses.
– New jobs are being created in startup businesses, Mero confirmed.
Aalto University encourages students to take risks
Universities are a natural arena for knowledge-based entrepreneurship. The meeting of the business world and the academic world is not however always problem-free, notes Dean Alfons Sauquet from ESADE Business School.
Entrepreneurial activity involves taking risks, which is not a natural vocation in the academic world.
– The Spanish firm Zara is the only European firm that has made it into the Fortune 500 listing in the last 25 years, Sauquet explained to the audience at the panel discussion.
He suspects that if Zara's founder had gone to ask advice in the beginning from business school researchers, hardly anyone would have encouraged him to found a clothing company which has risen to be one of the largest in the world.
According to the Academy of Finland's Vice-President for Research Marja Makarow, a desire to take risks is rare also in Finnish universities. Risk-free Tekes projects are shown by research to be a more agreeable way for university students to work cooperatively with businesses, compared to the alternative of commercialising research findings through startup businesses, for example.
The exception, however, confirms the rule. Makarow praises Aalto's willingness to take risks right from the grass-roots level upwards. A vivid example of this is Jesse Nieminen, who told his own story to the panel's listeners.
Mr Nieminen, who recently completed his studies, started at Aalto in 2009, before the entrepreneurship boom. Already in the first phase of his studies he made entrepreneurially-minded friends. Many of them choose as a minor subject the new Aalto Ventures Program, which supplied them with good skills for applying their studies in their work as startup entrepreneurs.
Finally, participation in the 2013 Summer of Startups programme sealed his career choice. Niemien founded the business Viima Solutions together with two university friends. Now the software for customer feedback visualisation is ready for use, and the business has received its first paying clients.
Participating in the panel discussion were seed-capital investor Inka Mero, Aalto University graduate and entrepreneur Jesse Nieminen, Academy of Finland Vice-President Marja Makarow and Dean Alfons Sauquet from ESADE Business School in Spain. What would they do to promote academic entrepreneurship?
Aalto Academic Summit week – 16th to 20th November 2014
The seventh session of the Aalto University international Academic Summit will tackle from multiple angles the question of universities' social impact. The sessions will be attended by an international cohort of innovation experts from both the business sector and academia.
Photos: Mikko Raskinen (upper), Lasse Lecklin