This time we talked with Tommo Koivusalo, StartUp School Program Manager. Tommo's expertise is founding new businesses. He has been involved in founding of five companies, all in different fields of industry, with varying results. In addition to that Tommo has been in management positions in several cases where new businesses have been found inside a company. He is a curious person and willing to develop things. "There is always room for improvement!".
What is StartUp School and why did you start it?
StartUp School is a support program which is open for everyone who is studying in HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences. The main reason to start an entrepreneurship program was that for a long period of time HAAGA-HELIA hosted a traditional incubator, which was not gaining good results. It was clear that a different approach has to be taken. And this is why StartUp School has been established.
What is the main goal of the StartUp School?
The main idea is to provide students with a possibility to start a business while they are studying. We support startups on their Ideation and Concepting stages (more information on stages here). Currently we work with over 200 students and around 25 new business are founded annually.
What methodology are you using to support entrepreneurship?
We act in a way that students show an interest at first. And then we make sure that the student understands that it is ok to join StartUp School even when he/she does not have a strong idea that he/she is going to be an entrepreneur. This is one message we are trying to send.
The second one is: “Just start to do something, even a very small step. Just take the first step".
The third one is: "Take responsibility, no one else is going to take it".
Helsinki is becoming a hot spot in Europe when comes to entrepreneurship. What is your opinion about the startup ecosystem in Helsinki (what kind of strengths do you see, what is still missing)?
1. Finland is the sort of exotic place. If you look at Finnish culture from the Western Europe or Asia this is a very exotic place. We do not see it from here, but if you talk to guys from other countries, they see it that way.
2. Culture. In Finnish system if you agreed on something it will be done without further reminders. It is one of the best things in Finnish culture. And you can trust people here.
3. Finns are good in developing new technologies.
4. Everybody speaks English.
5. High level of education and international approach. Most of Finns have been abroad for long periods of time. They learn about other cultures and get used to work with different people.
1. Finnish system, where taxation is so heavy that if you take individuals they usually do not have any sort of financial surplus that they might invest. Even if they have a well - paid job, taxes are so high, that they can pay bills but that's it.
2. Most of the funds coming from the public sector, not a private one. But, I think that individuals make better investment decisions.
3. Culture. Finns do like to work alone. They enjoy working independently, working in a group needs some practice.
4. Small market size. Take New York or Silicon Valley, London - market is 10 times bigger compared to Helsinki. But this is something we have to turn into positive: you should go abroad very early or just go global from the very beginning.
5. Legislation regarding bankruptcy. If you end up in bankruptcy in Finland, it is a real disaster. You will be struggling for 10 years to pay back your debts. In the USA you can start from the beginning after 1 year.
How does StartUp School get connected with the rest of organizations from the startup ecosystem?
Here I have to say that we are not building our own network much, instead we are trying to be very active in the Metropolitan Ecosystem Initiative. We focus on the Metropolitan area's ecosystem (Cities of Heslinki, Espoo and Vantaa).
What advice would you give to studetns considering an entrepreneurial program at a university?
The other advice would be to think globally, even when you maybe will start locally. Young people do not realize that it is the first time in a history when with very limited amount of resources you can get access to the best markets world – wide. When I was a student 20 year ago and when I started my first company that was not the case.
How does StartUp School get funding?
We get funding directly from HAAGA-HELIA University of Appllied Sciences's budget.
Who are you main partners and/or sponsors?
We have good connection with Enterprise Helsinki (Yritys Helsinki). Also, we partner with Keksintösäätiö. Moreover, we collaborate with Aalto Entrepreneurship Society and the SLUSH team.
What are top 3 resources StartUp School needs to support entrepreneurs better?
1. More funding resources. So that we would be able to pay the bills of the students when they start to do something (sort of mini-fundings).
2. More coaches. Good coaches are hard to find.
3. Modern tools. Good example is the Platform, which StartUp Commons offers.
Do you focus on specific industries (ICT, tourism etc.)?
We do not focus on any industry. We think that we should let market to decide what sort of business survives. We cannot know it before hands.
How do you measure the success of StartUp School, name top 3 metrics you use to measure the success/performance of your program?
1. Number of startups (we also check how many of those startups get additional funding from investors)
2. Number of students and cases we take in
3. Size of our community
Here are some examples:
What is your biggest success so far?
The most important thing is that we are now part of HAAGA-HELIA’s University of Applied Sciences organisation, part of its continuing operations.
What are the main challenges you face? How do you plan to solve them?
1. One challenge is that students who behave entrepreneurial way, face difficulties studying in the University, so we are searching ways to help them. As an example, now students can study at StartUp School, as part of their curriculum.
2. We have capacity of supporting two hundred students annually, there are over 10 000 students in HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, maybe we should have a bigger capacity. May be we should double or quadruple. What if 10% of students end up being entrepreneurs? That would be great.
3. Networking. It is easy to say that we are networking, but are we really doing something together day by day. We would like to reach that level, when we have partners with whom we operate if not on daily, then on weekly bases.
In your opinion, which university is hosting the best entrepreneurial program in the world?
There are some good examples even in Finland:
ProAkatemia (Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Tampere)
Aalto Entrepreneurship Society (Aalto University, Helsinki)
There are also great examples in San Francisco.
Advice for young entrepreneurs:
It happens in your life that in some phase you will face big difficulties. And if your life is too easy when you are a student and then you go to work and find a spouse, etc., it will be hard to deal with those difficult situations. If you start your business early, you will face those difficulties earlier. If you are an entrepreneur, you will face those difficulties every week, I guarantee this. So at the end you will become a better person. You will learn much faster, compare to traditional way of working for others.