Make entrepreneurship part of your life at university and beyond

Students interested in entrepreneurship are well-catered for at Aalto University.
Aalto Entrepreneurship Society

There are plenty of inspirational lectures and practically-orientated courses on offer. In fact, there are close to twenty enterprise groups and support teams at Aalto. Examples of these include Aaltoes, a student-driven society, and AVP, which offers enterprise training for everyone at the university. Common to both of these bodies is a direct connection with the business world and their practical and example-based approach to learning. Other areas of emphasis in their activities include networking, multidisciplinarity, internationalisation, and polishing sales communication. Entrepreneurship is not just about setting up a business of your own. Instead, it is a comprehensive way of thinking about business. As an entrepreneur, and with the knowledge that the whole enterprise journey cannot be planned in advance, one learns how to handle a certain degree of uncertainty. So, Aaltoes and AVP, what advice do you have for students interested in entrepreneurship?

A business idea can be born out of frustration

Kasper Suomalainen, as Chairperson of the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, what advice would you give to students interested in going into business?

I'd recommend they go to one of the 100 or so Aaltoes events organised every year. They're free of charge and you don't need to register for them in advance. For example, at the Aaltoes Talk and Thought Leaders Talk events, investors, CEOs, and other business experts share their experiences. Our speakers have included US Ambassador Bruce Oreck and representatives from many Finnish startups, such as Ilkka Paananen from Supercell. Some upcoming speakers of note are Matti Alahuhta and Peter Vesterbacka. These types of events give students a chance to network with like-minded people and hear about the projects that others are working on. The Aaltoes facilities can be used outside of these events, either to work in or just to come and meet people. Everyone is welcome. You don't need to be from Aalto University or even a student.

In addition to the Aaltoes Talks, the autumn term also offers up an interesting lecture series entitled How to start a startup, which is available as part of the Stanford University free online lectures and includes presentations by many entrepreneurs. Together with the Aalto Ventures Programme, we will be showing two lectures at a time, i.e. the stories of two different entrepreneurs.

What does Aaltoes have to offer someone who already has a business idea?

We organise a pitching evening once a month. You can bring your idea along and get feedback from experienced business coaches. It's also the perfect opportunity to chat, share, and compare ideas with other people who are in the same boat as you. A pitching event has been planned specifically for the School of Chemical Technology for January. Students and young entrepreneurs will get the opportunity to learn about the pitching process and develop their own bio-based business ideas.

As its name suggests, the Summer of Startups is a nine-week programme in which the participating teams polish their pitching skills, learn about networking, and get to meet influential players in the startup sector. Aalto-Helsinki, a multidisciplinary student team from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, took part in last year's programme. Now, the team has its sights set on the international biobusiness competition held this month.

Speed dating is another kind of networking event attended by 5-80 business idea holders, investors, and representatives of employers. The event sees the participants being split into pairs, with each pair getting a minute to chat before swapping to another pair. This continues until as many as possible have had the chance to speak to each other. At the end of the speed dating round, any parties interested in each others' ideas can get together to discuss them further.

What kinds of business ideas can one bring to Aaltoes?

There really are no limits when it comes to potential business ideas. They can be research-based or related to product development, for example. What really bugs you? Could it be improved or fixed somehow? You don't have to be able to do everything yourself or have all the answers. We're here to provide a place and an opportunity for you to meet people with a range of expertise that happen to be interested in the same thing as you. Catchbox is just one example of a business set up by three people from different fields.

Most business ideas are somehow related to game coding. But we don't keep a list of coders that we give out to those in need. The most important thing is a common idea and interest.

Plenty of ideas have passed through the Aaltoes doors in its five-year existence, with 50 companies having started thanks to Aaltoes programmes.

What advice do you have for students interested in entrepreneurship?

I didn't know anything about entrepreneurship before. Now, however, I immediately know who to call when I need help with something – from making a business plan to planning a social media marketing campaign. My advice is to not be scared of giving it a go. Business advice is always available!

Enterprise as a tool

Project Manager Kalle Airo, what kind of enterprise training does the Aalto Ventures Program (AVP) offer students?

Aalto Ventures Program is Aalto's university-wide entrepreneur programme. We teach people how to develop businesses, both in terms of startups and larger organisations. All of our training connects back to real life examples of how to get things done. The first two years of the programme saw around 1,000 people take part in our accredited courses, of which international students made up 30%. Around 6,000 people have attended our shorter, uncredited courses.

Multidisciplinary and international project-based courses are a key part of our programme, which also welcomes companies as well as individual students. The courses range in duration from around one month to a whole year. In addition to the training here at Aalto, we also arrange teaching at, for example, Tongji University in Shanghai, where we offer growth and internationalisation education. During the courses, the students work on go-to-market plans for actual companies.

Cooperation with businesses is an important part of our project-based courses and our overall activities. We want to be able to offer our students as many contacts in the business world as possible, both in terms of startups and larger corporations that are looking to develop their own enterprise culture.

What is the most important part of teaching entrepreneurship?

The most important thing is teaching people how to think in a new and different way. In this approach, not everything is ready-made at the start; the information at hand is just the first step on the journey towards business success. The students learn how to withstand uncertainty and think about enterprise from the perspective of generating value for the customer. Another key part of training is learning by doing. Growth enterprise can refer to both a startup business and also generating growth in existing companies.

Which part or parts of future AVP content would you like to highlight?

The Entrepreneurial Leadership course taught in the second half of this year has proven to be extremely popular. The students on the course get the chance to find out more about all aspects of managing a growth enterprise through practical, real-life examples. We have a variety of visiting entrepreneurs who share their personal experiences of and perspectives on starting and running a business. In spring, we are offering a course on growth and internationalisation together with Tongji University. Here, Aalto students and their Chinese counterparts will work together using a virtual platform. The Chinese students will be considering how European companies can enter the Chinese market and the Finns will be looking at the same question from the other side, i.e. how Chinese companies can succeed in Europe.

What advice do you have for students interested in entrepreneurship?

I recommend that students come along and find out more about entrepreneurship in the various groups and events available at Aalto such as the AVP workshops and lectures. Enterprise courses are suited to everyone who is interested in the topics and how to do business in real life. Everyone is welcome. Get your business hat on and come and join in!

Read more about the events and activities on web pages of Aaltoes and AVP.

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