There has been a significant change in attitudes towards entrepreneurship over the last decade: today, more than 80% of young people see entrepreneurship as a viable way to influence society, and 71% believe that adopting an entrepreneurial mindset helps in working life, regardless of profession.
The Aalto Entrepreneurship Society has played a crucial role in this change of attitude.
“When Aaltoes was founded in 2009, attitudes towards entrepreneurship were very different from today. The starting situation was that a bunch of active students wanted to start shaping the entrepreneurial activities – and attitudes – in our university and beyond. This was done by organizing events and group excursions to startup culture hotspots like the Silicon Valley area, building accelerator programs, and bringing students from different fields together at Startup Sauna. The goal was also to network and create connections between students and investors,” says Roni Lahti, the Ignite accelerator program head.
As a result of these activities of the Aaltoes teams of the past, we have seen events that have attracted widespread international attention, such as Slush. The hackathon event Junction is also well underway and is becoming one of the most significant European events of its kind.
An entrepreneurial mindset is the basis of everything
That being said, many of the events and communities built and scaled by Aaltoes have become synonymous with Finnish startup culture. They have also attracted a significant amount of private equity investments in Finland. The list of growth companies founded by Aaltoes community veterans is also filled with familiar names: Wolt and Smartly need little introduction. Carbo Culture and Veri Health are well-known companies in their respective fields.
However, Aaltoes’ most significant success has been the continuity of its operations, and thus a lasting impact on the way students think. Even as the student generations change, the passion for doing and solving the world’s biggest problems through entrepreneurship remains.
The most recent example of this is the accelerator program Ignite, held for the second time this summer after a successful pilot last summer.
“Through Ignite, we want to create impact and drive change in both the short and long term. We want to help create more student-led growth companies in Finland and empower students by instilling faith in them – and, of course, by teaching concrete skills related to building a company,” Lahti says.
“However, a long-term vision is more important to us. We want to unleash students’ full potential at the earliest possible stage of their studies – helping them learn to leadership skills, problem-solving, and taking the initiative. These are skills they will benefit from throughout their lives.”
Interdisciplinarity is an invaluable asset
The teams selected for the program represent various fields, as the Ignite team firmly believes that diversity of ideas will help all teams participating in the program.
For this reason, participants from all of Aalto’s six schools – and from outside of the Aalto community – were selected. An interest in entrepreneurship – and the courage to try something new without prejudice – is enough. Getting started is often the hardest step on the road towards entrepreneurship, and Ignite wants to make it easy and inspiring.
“We believe that having different teams and diverse projects will help all teams to think more broadly and also incorporate completely new ideas to their ongoing projects.”
A total of 14 teams were selected for this year’s Ignite program from a total of 114 applications. Again, the gender distribution of participants was very even.
“Many of the ideas were based on software development and digital platforms, but it was also really inspiring to see some of the teams building traditional hardware products.”
“Above all, we expect the program to provide as much learning experience as possible for the participating teams, as well as, of course, some great initial products – but also completely new ideas and changes in direction. Entrepreneurship may not be the right path for everyone, but I believe that the lessons learned from the program will help everyone who participates in the program in the future, wherever they may end up.”
Ignite provided a safe environment for testing ideas
Christina Ivanova and Ana Herrero participated in the Ignite program with their team Noms. The two felt that the program provided a safe test environment for their ideas.
“During the summer, we got to spend time researching the market, growing our testing team and network, while also having time to properly focus on many details that are often overlooked during ordinary courses,” Ivanova and Herrero say.
“During the program, we learned a lot about the importance of having a clear vision, for example. You will meet a lot of people with different views and opinions than you, but as long as you know the reason why you see things a certain way, you will always be able to go back to your original idea and work on it without giving it up.”
“We also learned that it’s important to get the first version of your product out relatively quickly. The world needs less perfectionism and more people who make things happen. Of course, you can always come back to improve your product, but you can’t do that if you never get started.”