Our story

Aalto Startup Center has long roots, as it is the merger of two business incubators founded in 1997.

The predecessor of Aalto Startup Center, the New Business Center (est. 1997) functioned under the Small Business Center of the Helsinki School of Economics, while Arabus – which focused on companies from creative fields – operated  in the training and development center of the former Helsinki School of Arts and Design in Arabianranta until 2008.

In 2008 the New Business Center moved to Ruoholahti, Helsinki and changed its name to Start-Up Center. Arabus moved to the same premises in early 2009. With the birth of Aalto University the following year, the whole entity changed its name to Aalto Start-Up Center.The activities of the accelerator were facilitated by the Small Business Center of Aalto School of Business until 2016, when Aalto Startup Center became part of Aalto University Research and Innovation Services and moved to Otaniemi, Espoo.

You can read the story of our first 15 years on this page and also get to know some of our alumni companies.

The goal of the business accelerator has always been to combine all the forces that support entrepreneurship in the Helsinki metropolitan area, so as to attract innovative growth-companies.

Aalto Start-Up Center is above all an entity of excellent networks.

In addition to the university and its schools, important partners include entrepreneurial associations, municipalities and governmental sections.

From its networks the accelerator can facilitate and utilize ideas, research, contacts, know-how and funding. At the same time it replenishes its networks with ideas and know-how of its own. At the heart of this cycle is enabling the accelerator companies to grow, develop, sell their products, and thus create jobs, tax revenues and ultimately economic growth on a national level.

The accelerator also has always collaborated with Tekes, Sitra, venture capitalists, business mentors, entrepreneur associations, governmental sections, municipalities and various universities and other academic institutions, including high schools.

The ELY Center of Uusimaa region and the city of Helsinki were major providers of funding and partners in the further development of the accelerator.

Collaboration with Aalto University is of course strong and committed.

What does the accelerator do?

The accelerator offers its customers information, guidance, coaching, training, events and modern facilities.

For a company in its early phases, access to modern, furnished and equipped premises where many other companies reside, is highly beneficial. For a start-up, the community around the accelerator can prove immensely important. Services of all kind are also nearby, as well as other entrepreneurs and partners.

Eligible for the accelerator are companies that can combine the know-how of multiple fields and use it to build an innovative business. Applicants must also have a strong will to grow and internationalize. This translates into constant balancing between hard and systematic work and charging high-speed ahead.The start-ups must keep on the lookout for new earning models but at the same time focus on the essentials without too many deviations. They must innovate, but still keep their core package tight.

The accelerator helps its start-ups with various necessary tasks. An early-phase company needs calculations, plans, funding application, depictions of its business, documentation and research.

From its networks the accelerator can facilitate and utilize ideas, research, contacts, know-how and funding. At the same time it replenishes its networks with ideas and know-how of its own. New networks are built actively. The accelerator works as a link between parties that can benefit from each other – ideas and communities are found and offered to accelerator companies.

This way, events, projects, seminars and research projects are born. Through the network, accelerator companies receive support, ideas, know-how and funding. In addition, successful start-ups can help by showing early-phase start-ups how they overcame their own challenges.

The accelerator also maintains strong connections to the business sector, which is showcased by the many mentors at the accelerator who are experienced corporate managers. Customer and partner relationships are also born from the business efforts of the accelerator companies.

The mission of Aalto Start-Up Center is so concrete that it is hard to forget. The accelerator exists only for its clients. Everything is dedicated to making the companies at the accelerator grow, develop, and sell their offering.

The business accelerator is not in itself a company, but a project created by a number of financiers. It has many dedicated professionals working for it, a vision, budget and a strategy but nothing is set in stone.

Aalto Start-Up Center has a role deeply embedded into the national society and economy. Accelerator companies strive to create innovative business – such that has never been conducted before. Without the mental capital of the entrepreneurs the business ideas and resulting benefits would not exist. The accelerator companies create new services which in turn create jobs, tax revenues and ideally export revenues. In this way, they spread economic and social prosperity around them.

The leading idea of Aalto Start-Up Center is in building mutually beneficial relationships – the accelerator is essentially a sum of its collaborations and partnerships.

The Helsinki metropolitan area now has an accelerator that is large, well-knit and strong, and has the best possible palette to attract early-phase companies with a high potential for growth and success.

Running the accelerator requires an entrepreneurial mentality – one must be able to take leaps of faith with new endeavors.  One rarely gets to stay inside one’s comfort zone, and often things that have been thought to succeed, do not.

Aalto Start-Up Center has a strong culture of learning by doing. Good ideas are grasped and put to the test. Without the appropriate speed an accelerator can easily get stuck in a swamp of administrative tasks that stagnates its operations.

Experience is a good teacher. Aalto Start-Up Center has accumulated much in terms of know-how from the mid-1990s – not everything has to be reinvented.

By collaborating with Aalto University the accelerator became more tightly connected to the rest of Europe and a network of prestigious universities. The University is committed to promoting entrepreneurship, especially in creative fields.

Steering Group and Advisory Board

During the early years, Aalto Start-Up Center’s activities, services and projects have been developed with European Social Fund (ESF) funding. The steering group was actively involved in providing guidance and consists of a broad range of expertise.

Members of the Steering Group until 2014:

Aspara Jaakko, Aalto University School of Economics
Helenius Mika, Aalto University School of Science and Technology
Järvinen Juha, Aalto University School of Art and Design
Lahti Tom, Hanken School of Economics
Lehtimäki Marko, Kasey Corporation Oy
Mustalampi Pentti, Aalto University School of Economics Small Business Center
Paakkala Marika, Aalto University School of Economics Small Business Center
Peltonen Jakke, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and Environment
Palonen Osmo, Sibelius Academy
Riikkilä Timo, Innoplaza
Tuominen Nyrki, The City of Helsinki

Virtanen Markku, Aalto University School of Economics Small Business Center

Assessor: Anttila Jukka , Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment

Aalto Start-Up Center has also been supported through the years by a powerful Advisory Board.

Members of Aalto Start-Up Center Advisory Board until 2014

Dr.Sc. Jukka Ala-Mutka, CEO, Cone Advisor Oy
Dr. Sc. Erkko Autio, professor, Imperial College, London
Helena Hyvönen, Dean, Aalto University School of Arts
Dr.Sc. Petri Parvinen, professor, Aalto University School of Business
Dr.Ec. Markku Virtanen, professor, Aalto University School of Business

History articles