Aalto Startup Center, which turns 25 this year, has played an important role in creating the Finnish startup scene and a positive entrepreneurial culture. When the business accelerator started operating in 1997, the culture of entrepreneurship was very different from what it is today.
’In recent decades, there has been a significant change in Finland’s entrepreneurial culture. We have been forerunners and pioneers’, says Marika Paakkala, Head of Aalto Startup Center.
Startup culture is very dynamic: In contrast to traditional ways, time is not spent on endless designing and polishing of ideas. Instead, ideas are piloted boldly and iterated with an open mind.
’Sometimes things go wrong, but that’s fine. It provides an opportunity to learn how to do things better in the future’, Paakkala notes. She is happy to note that the Finnish startup ecosystem has a good, communal atmosphere.
’A strong desire to help others is emphasised. If people receive good things from the community, they also want to give something back in return.’
Success stories and several hundred alumni companies
Foreign investors are interested in Finnish startups. This is one of the reasons why the Finnish startup scene has created success stories such as the game developer company Rovio and the software developer company Futurice. These companies have served as an example for many startup entrepreneurs.
Both Rovio and Futurice are Aalto Startup Center’s alumni companies. Rovio’s turnover increased to over EUR 270 million in 2020. In the same year, Futurice reached a turnover of over EUR 44 million. A number of Aalto Startup Center’s more recent alumni companies have also achieved success, including Drop Design Pool, Duunitori and Gapps.
Marika Paakkala is pleased to see that Aalto Startup Center has succeeded in creating functional and sustainable companies that contribute to supporting Finnish society.
’Our long-standing work has produced great results. We have several hundred alumni companies that employ thousands of Finnish and multinational citizens, Paakkala says.
However, she points out that the achievements of Aalto Startup Center are not just about jobs and tax revenue. The business accelerator continues to do important work in building and developing the Finnish startup ecosystem.
’During the past 25 years, we have contributed to the creation of several business incubators, created an extensive network of partners and cooperated internationally with other Nordic countries as well as many European and Asian countries among others’, Paakkala explains.
Making an impact on society
Aalto Startup Center plays an important role in implementing Aalto University’s strategy. The strategy emphasises things like an entrepreneurial way of thinking as a cross-cutting factor in all activities and teaching as well as societal impact.
Urban cooperation is one of the fields where the societal impact of Aalto Startup Center can be seen. Cities are financing business accelerator projects and technologies that should help create new jobs in the future. Cities also serve as testing platforms for some startup companies.
Aalto Startup Center’s partner programmes are also impacting society. One example of such programmes is the European Space Agency’s business incubator, which operates in connection with Aalto Startup Center. Its aim is to create new space sector companies in Finland.
Long-term development work is important
The story of Aalto Startup Center began in 1997 when the Caduceus business incubator was established by the Small Business Center of the Helsinki School of Economics. When Aalto University was established in 2010, Caduceus became part of it and was renamed Aalto Startup Center. In 2016, the accelerator began strengthening its connection with Aalto University’s Innovation Services, which are tasked with commercialising inventions.
Nowadays, Aalto Startup Center’s activities focus specifically on supporting entrepreneurship originating from Aalto University. Together with Aalto University’s Innovation Services, the business accelerator offers a wide range of services for startup companies and research groups that operate in Aalto University’s ecosystem.
’There are a lot of short programmes out there that end abruptly just when interaction with the entrepreneur has properly started. Meanwhile, our programmes with entrepreneurs last for at least two years, which allows us to carry out long-term development work’, Paakkala explains.