The Aalto Startup Center, which continues the work of the PYK- Pienyrityskeskuksen ( “Small Business Centre’s” ) business Incubator established in 1997, is now an internationally award-winning operator.

Last year in Doha, the capital of Qatar, the Aalto Startup Center was selected as one of the top 5 University Business Accelerators in the world. The recognition was handed out at the World Incubation Summit 2019, and the selection was based on extensive benchmarking material.

Marika Paakkala, the head of Aalto Startup Center, said in her thank you speech that attitudes towards entrepreneurship in Finland have changed in the last 10 – 15 years, and Finns have learned to work with people in various industries, which has become one of the strengths of growth companies.

“Whereas half of the companies established in Finland usually close down in the first five years, 81% of the companies established 10 years ago in the Aalto Startup Center are still operating.”


Marika Paakkala, who started as Head of Training at the Small Business Centre in 2003, moved to the Aalto Startup Center four years later. When she thinks of the top three companies in the history of the business incubator, Rovio, Futurice and Duunitori are on her list. In the early stages of their operations, all of these companies have sought a boost for their growth from the business incubator.

When PYK was operating, Aalto Startup Center was extensively involved in various domestic and international projects. In addition to technology companies, incubator companies in the creative industries were also involved in networking and training projects in the St. Petersburg region and the Baltic countries. PYK was also involved in developing the operations of business incubators in the Baltic countries.

Since 2016, the Aalto Startup Center has been managed by Aalto University, and the business accelerator operates as part of the innovation ecosystem.

“Aalto University has strengthened the ecosystem of its entrepreneurship and innovation activities, which is also reflected in the new strategy that the university is currently preparing. Aalto Startup Center must earn its place in the entrepreneurship ecosystem again and again.”

Projects are included when they directly benefit the business accelerator’s customer companies.

“We are especially involved in R2B research projects related to Aalto University’s technology transfer. Together with innovation services, we have worked hard to ensure that new companies are created by commercialising research innovations.”


Over the years, one of the strengths of Aalto Startup Center has been the long-term monitoring of growth companies by researchers.

“This continues to follow the model developed during PYK, where education, research and the incubator join forces. The research has provided us with unique data on gazelle companies and this follow-up research continues. Researcher Pentti Kiuru, who has been monitoring gazelle companies for years, continues to do so.”

Aalto Startup Center is now located at the Aalto University main campus in Otaniemi, in the A Grid building. Researchers from the Xamk Small Business Centre also operate in the same premises.

Paakkala reminds us that the Small Business Center was ahead of its time with top projects in education, research and incubator operations.

“Very few training organisations are still able to do research or provide Living lab environments.”


Paakkala is satisfied with the Aalto Startup Center’s current operating environment and partners. Her core team consists of 8-9 people and in addition, they employ experts on various length contracts who specialise in commercialising business ideas from different industries.

“We work closely with Aalto University’s innovation services experts to promote the commercialisation and entrepreneurship of R2B projects. We see what kind of technology and research innovations are being created at Aalto University, and when the projects come to an end, we are able to take the companies created from these projects to the Aalto Startup Center for growth, which creates a natural continuum. We help with bridging the gaps when research creates new start-ups.”

International operators are also interested in the Aalto Startup Center. Once the Coronavirus pandemic eases, one of the new projects includes a partnership with Korean startups. The contract is currently being prepared.

The top sectors of the Aalto Startup Center are still clear. This is reflected in the coaching of companies in the creative industries, where technology, business and design are combined.

“The courage to use and include design has become increasingly strong, both for our own services and among our start-ups.”

Even before the Aalto Startup Center’s time, Bengt Forsström, a business consultant specialising in coaching companies in the creative industries, had developed coaching and networks for companies in the creative industries.

“We want to ensure from the start that our companies have the best help, tools and networks in the world. Our roots and wings are from the the Small Business Centre’s Business Incubator.”

Source:  Xamk Small Business Centre / Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen

Text: Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen

Photo: Aalto Startup Center Archive