Finland needs more successful businesses, stated the advisory board of Prodeko, the Industrial Engineering and Management guild led by Risto Sillasmaa, in spring 2015. The idea of supporting entrepreneurship among the students and alumni of Industrial Engineering and Management took shape at the end of the year in the form of the Prodeko Ventures development company. The company supports early-stage entrepreneurship both financially and by offering free consultancy through the alumni network.
– In the best scenario, every startup contributes to national income growth beyond the company’s own turnover and wage payments. The catalytic effects can come, for example, through cooperation activities. We move forward one business at a time, explains Kaj Hagros, Chairman of the Board for Prodeko Ventures.
Good advice is precious
Around 100 alumni participated in the company’s first share issue, and a total of €1.3 million of share capital was accumulated. In addition, more than 300 alumni signed up as voluntary consultants. According to Mr Hagros, the views of experienced and networked alumni are often highly valuable to starting entrepreneurs.
– Anyone can set up a business, but advice is often needed when considering, for example, shareholder agreements and the first funding rounds, team composition, customer contacts, strategy and business models.
In its first five months of operation, Prodeko Ventures has already invested in five startups: Fifth Corner by the developers of You-App; ResQ Club, which saves leftover restaurant lunch food from the rubbish bin; video-based mathematics teaching service Vidoppi; lean transformation tool Agilefant; and recruitment feedback system TalentAdore.
– Startup capital is a mobilising force. For example, student teams would not necessarily otherwise have access to startup capital nor contacts to risk investors. We want to offer an easy and safe instrument operating in a club-like environment, says Mr Hagros.
The key ingredient: a capable team
The only initial criterion set for startups in search of funding is that at least one of the company’s founders is a student or alumni of Industrial Engineering and Management at Aalto University. The trust in their skills is high.
– Startups normally change their course many times during the first few years, which is why we don’t analyse the initial business idea too thoroughly. Instead, we believe most of all in the importance of having a skilled team. The Industrial Engineering and Management degree programme has produced top-level experts for over 50 years, and we trust that it will continue to do so in the future, Mr Hagros explains.
Students and alumni from the programme found around 15 new companies a year.
The Industrial Engineering and Management programme has indeed produced a throng of top-level influencers in Finnish business life: In addition to Risto Siilasmaa, others include Ilkka Paananen, Jorma Eloranta, Ilkka Kivimäki and Riku Mäkelä. New companies have also been founded at a steady rate: Students and alumni from the programme found around 15 companies a year, with the most well-known business success stories including Supercell, F-Secure, Accountor and CRF Health.
What makes Prodeko members such good entrepreneurs?
– Versatility, interdisciplinarity, open-mindedness regarding technology, and an ability to learn. They are generalists whose understanding of the possibilities offered by technology is combined with broad business know-how. This is an excellent starting base for an entrepreneur, Mr Hagros concludes.