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Experimentation, risk-taking, seeking the new – entrepreneurial mindset permeates Aalto

You don't have to be an entrepreneur to think and act entrepreneurially. For Aalto University employees, entrepreneurial mindset means not shying away from difficult tasks and daring to try something new.
Minna Tuusa and Anu Honkalinna.
Minna Tuusa (left) ja Anu Honkalinna find plenty of examples of entrepreneurial mindset in her own work. The key is to think about the big picture: how to promote the organisation’s goals as effectively as possible even with limited resources.

Entrepreneurship comes to mind readily when people talk about Aalto University’s student start-up ecosystems or research-driven technology companies. But entrepreneurship at Aalto is a much broader phenomenon. 

‘I see a lot of entrepreneurial attitude in Aalto employees. There’s a more permissive environment than at many larger companies,’ says Minna Tuusa, a human resources development specialist. She’s responsible for recruitment and employer branding at Aalto and is the HR partner for the Communications Department.  

Tuusa finds plenty of examples of entrepreneurial mindset in her own work. The key is to think about the big picture: how to promote the organisation’s goals as effectively as possible even with limited resources. 

‘I’m involved in a team, where new initiatives are welcomed and encouraged. One idea I brought up was a welcome gift for new employees. The idea was taken forward, and now all new employees receive an Aalto Kit – an Aalto hoodie and a water bottle.’

Tuusa also came up with the idea of a having trainee programme in Communications, together with Communications Director Laura Aalto. They quickly realised that the programme was worth spreading to other departments. 

‘It wouldn’t make sense to have a trainee programme in just one unit. Now a programme for new graduates in different fields will start in the spring term, and the first trainee periods in autumn 2024. Six-month or one-year trainee periods can be offered in different fields, such as IT or communications,’ says Tuusa. 

Seeking out challenges 

Tuusa says an entrepreneurial mindset involves looking for opportunities and development targets but also taking on challenges. ‘Of course, you encounter a lot of challenging situations in HR work. If I identify one of these issues, I don't let it go; I go after it.’

Many traits of entrepreneurial thinking come naturally to people, says Tuusa. Some people have more curiosity, perseverance, forward thinking or a sense of urgency to get to grips with things.  

‘Entrepreneurial thinking can also be learned if the environment supports it. If the people around you and your teammates lead by example, the entrepreneurial mindset will spread. You can make a difference with your own attitude, and a secure environment gives you the courage to take risks.’ 

Entrepreneurial mindset and action have been strengths of Aalto’s community throughout its existence, says Kalle Airo, Head of Entrepreneurial Mindset. ‘Entrepreneurial thinking and action originally developed as part of the student culture long before we merged the three universities into Aalto University. Many of the 'impossible' things the student unions have accomplished are good examples of that,’ says Airo.  

At Aalto, entrepreneurial mindset broadly means using this approach as a tool to achieve your own goals – taking the driver’s seat in your own life and work, says Airo. ‘For staff, entrepreneurial mindset is seen as being driven to set and achieve their own work goals. Even our university strategy is a living document that we’re constantly updating in a very entrepreneurial way.’  

Entrepreneurial mindset is a tool to achieve our goals 

At Aalto, entrepreneurial mindset has been consciously disseminated and reinforced, woven together with radical creativity and sustainable development solutions.  All our entrepreneurial activities also aim to promote sustainability.  

‘We’ve given space and resources to the entrepreneurially inclined and stayed out of the way. We’ve also integrated entrepreneurship into teaching in other areas and staff training – not as an end in itself but as a tool to achieve our goals. Of course, we also teach start-up and other entrepreneurship courses,’ says Airo. 

According to Airo, entrepreneurship in the broad sense makes Aalto more attractive because the university is seen as a productive and diverse community. ‘Otaniemi in general and Aalto in particular are the promised land of deep tech and start-ups. This attracts people from all over the world who are particularly enthusiastic about technology entrepreneurship.’ 

Many students and staff members at Aalto are also enthusiastic about entrepreneurship in the narrower sense of starting and growing a business. The various student organisations and the university both offer a wide range of support for such goals.  

Helping make a difference 

Spinoff Investment Manager Anu Honkalinna is a lawyer by training, but entrepreneurial mindset comes naturally to her because of her career background. She was attracted to the start-up world when she was leading legal teams for large insurance companies earlier in her career. Before coming to Aalto, she mentored start-ups and growth companies, founded fintech companies and ran a start-up accelerator.  

‘I have a great passion for helping teams that I can see are doing good for the world. I see this as my dream job, using Aalto's great science-based solutions to save the world,’ says Honkalinna. 

Honkalinna defines her role as simplifying the commercialisation models for technology transfer and building an ecosystem around spinoff teams. In other words, she helps deep-tech companies emerge from Aalto’s research. ‘The teams excel in technology skills, and sparring and mentoring can be provided for everything else. I'm looking on the Aalto side to see what entrepreneurial tools already exist, what's there and what's missing. I advise teams on how they can avoid problems or solve them.’ 

For Honkalinna, an entrepreneurial mindset means experimentation and seeking out new things, relying on self-direction and networking instead of a hierarchical structure. ‘A lot of people at Aalto have found me on their own. It's wonderful to see how active and self-motivated people are. Self-direction is definitely part of an entrepreneurial mindset, but it also needs to have a framework. You have to understand the environment you’re working in, and that's where the front person plays an important role.’

Editor: Heidi Hammarsten

Kalle Airo
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