The sound of drilling, a furniture company truck in the yard, and people working on their laptops in a cozy lounge area – which used to be one of lecture halls of the School of Electrical Engineering. A Grid, Aalto’s new creative community for startups, is buzzing with new members settling in and spaces being finalised for their use.
Renovation has transformed the former premises of the School of Electrical Engineering into a 30 000 m² community space, making it one of the largest startup hubs in Europe. But what kind of a community is building up in A Grid and who are the new community members?
We sat down with Leigh Ewin, A Grid’s new Community Manager, to find out more.
“Currently we have about 80 members in A Grid, including mainly startups from all industries but also accelerators and other partners. Most of the companies have some kind of connection to the university or the startup programs related”, Ewin tells.
A Grid’s new members include the United Nations Technology Innovation Lab, accelerators of the European Space Agency and Aalto Start-Up Center, Junction hackathon, and companies like Surgify, Reaktor Space Lab and MeHackit, just to name a few.
An open community
With 70-100 new companies born in the Aalto campus every year, the demand for a place like A Grid has been evident.
“The entrepreneurial community here is extremely strong, and the startups would often like to keep connected to it as they have spread their roots here. We can now serve them in a new way and keep the talents connected with the university and its competence base, creating further good”, Ewin says. “Without much marketing, more than half of our spaces are already booked. It just shows how much A Grid is needed, and how appreciated Aalto is among entrepreneurs.”
In line with the idea of an open university campus that promotes collaboration, A Grid will be a community that encourages sharing thoughts, expertise and resources with the community on campus and beyond. Events and workshops will be organised in A Grid based on the companies’ interests. Students could find jobs in the startups, and startups could get involved in the study projects. Aalto is also currently piloting ways to connect startups with the university infrastructure and makers’ spaces. In some cases, cooperation could be taken further.
“I’m a big believer in uniting resources, especially in a small country like Finland. One example of where it could be beneficial is business accelerators: many of the programs are operated in a very similar way, and even the mentors are more or less the same. So what if the programs were operated together in the same place? We could save time and money, have more startups in the programs and therefore a larger impact. At the moment we are inviting accelerator programs and growth service providers into a discussion with us, and let’s see what we can do together”, Ewin says.
Culture of the doers
As an Australian coming to Finland 10 years ago, Ewin was impressed by the country’s low-hierarchy culture and soon found his home in the startup world.
“The unique thing at Aalto is how a lot of the things are community-led. It’s like an upside-down pyramid: For a large part, the programs are run by the doers, the students and entrepreneurs, and they just have the right environment and possibility to execute here. Slush is a great example: the country’s greatest entrepreneurial invention is run by students.”
Ewin himself is a health-enthusiast and runs a startup offering health services – ironically, he laughs, one of the services is training Finns how to enjoy the cold and go into the icy water, for example.
"Mastering your fears is a big part of that. And that can be brought back to how we run this community, because the mindset is so important also in entrepreneurship. For me, the startup culture was also something that helped in adopting to Finland 10 years ago: Regardless of the industry, entrepreneurs are often quite ambitious and similar-minded people.”
As A Grid is only fully starting its operations, many of the plans are evolving and could look different in six months. More space will be renovated for A Grid’s use in the future, and Ewin welcomes applications from all startups interested to join in the growing community.
“Our priority is early-stage startups, who need the affordable office space and community support the most. For SMEs and larger companies, we can offer memberships to the co-working space”, Ewin tells. “However, with everyone joining in, we want to ensure that they are eager to be a part of the community. It naturally takes some time for all of us to get settled in the new place, but getting out of our offices and getting to know each other is a great place to start from.”
Community Manager, A Grid
+358 44 022 4044