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Business
Finnish your business: episode 1
Published : 09.04.2021

Finnish your business is a series of podcast about how to start a business in Finland. The show is a part of the MEGE project funded by Uudenmaan liitto.

The project focused to promote entrepreneurship with international talent within the Uusimaa region.

In this series the host Namrata Sethi talks to different organizations on the support they offer to get your business started in Finland.

Check this link to know more about the project.

Length of recording: 30 minutes

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I: And welcome to finish your business in our podcast, we leave no business unfinished, I am your host Namrata Sethi and I’m also the marketing coordinator for project MEGE. MEGE is a joint project with Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki business college, Aalto University and The Shortcut and it’s funded by Uudenmaan liitto, it is focused on promoting entrepreneurship with international talent. And today in our show we are joined with a very special guest Mikko Järvinen who is also the project manager for MEGE. Welcome to the show, Mikko.

R: Thank you, nice to be here.

I: Please, could you introduce yourself.

R: Yes, sure I am a project manager with Haaga-Helia startup school, and in addition to that, I’m entrepreneur myself, my background is in small businesses, in my life I’ve started a business four times in my life and every single time there has been a rescission in 6 months so my deepest apologies for whatever you have gone through in 2020 this year. That’s probably about me.

I: So you did start a new business this year?

R: Yes I did, I did that earlier this year. There has been a fairly good indicator for whatever happens in the economy next.

I: So you mentioned you’re working with startup school, could you tell us more about it?

R: Yes happy to do that. So Haaga-Helia startup school is a university linked business incubator and we are located with Haaga-Helia university of applied science which is I believe the largest business educator in Finland, one of the largest in northern Europe. Essentially how Haaga-Helia startup school does is we support mainly our degree program students on combining their studies and developing any new business idea into actual ventures but in addition to that we also work with individuals who are coming outside of the university supporting some individuals through our continuous learning or lifelong learning services and we are also involved in quite a few different development projects including some education export initiatives for development countries.

I: But can entrepreneurship be taught in a university?

R: That’s a good question and I think it’s kind of like ongoing concern and ongoing discussion if it can or cannot. I will start with a bit of a personal view, how I actually ended up in Haaga-Helia startup school was having my experience as an entrepreneur and having the opportunity of stepping out from a software company we were working with and my initial thought was to come to Haaga-Helia startup school to learn if I have learnt something that would be useful for the students entrepreneurs and then what I learnt in two or three years is that learning doesn’t really work that way so it’s not about me accumulating this huge (-) of knowledge and then disseminating it to this students who don’t know anything about anything so that’s how learning works. I would say it’s a process of kind of like, even co creating knowledge, bringing individuals together, sharing knowledge between individuals and also building on their own past what they’ve learnt previously. So, very much a different process. That’s the probably the kind of personal view on this but in addition it’s good to understand how the training actually works, how the education actually works in startup school, so we don’t do lectures, we don’t do textbooks so it’s not kind of like this traditional way of thinking how university should work, it’s more about experiential learning, it’s about actually the students coming in with their own ideas are supporting then to develop and sending the students out to get the kind of like validation feedback on their ideas and maybe helping them to buy or basically providing some useful tools, some useful frameworks which help them to actually to develop the business idea and the business model and I guess some of the examples that we do, we do quite a lot of coaching and coaching is actually fairly strict methodology, there’s quite strict role for the coach and the (coachee) and it’s basically how the aspiring entrepreneur-, how that collaboration works is that together with the coach you setup your goals for let’s say next 3 months or 6 months and then basically the coach is there to help you on building your ideas, how you’re actually reaching those goals, how you were actually proceeding on those or there maybe some alternatives that you haven’t been looking into, it’s not about the coach actually giving advice but it’s process of helping the (coachee) or the aspiring entrepreneur in this case to have different thoughts and directed thinking of the aspiring entrepreneur.

I: How we have mentors day within MEGE and I have been interacting with so many participants and have always got so much positive feedback from them that you know, thank you for letting us know about this because they get a chance to get one and one talk with the mentors and kind of get an overview of their business idea from mentors from a different perspective. Whether it’s finance, whether it’s marketing, it’s always like, Oh I never thought about this. When you’re coming up with your business idea and when you’re talking with the mentor and they’re like, have you thought about these things and you know it’s like one on one which I think is very important and it’s amazing that they have this kind of support at the very initial stage of their idea.

R: Yea, I think that has been useful concept and we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on that and I think some of the teams and some of the (-) ventures that we’ve been working with have actually taken quite a lot of advantage of this mentors with more formal or less formal but just kind of like interacting a lot with people who have experience on different fields and learning from there and I think, I’m pretty happy of the mentor day concept that we developed for this one. The basic idea there is actually to time box it into one day and give the opportunity for an aspiring entrepreneur to talk with five more experienced entrepreneurs during that one day. What the aspiring entrepreneurs do, of course they develop some material beforehand so that’s it’s more easier for the mentors to grasp the idea and be a bit more productive but then what happens inside the discussion, it’s basically up to the mentor and (mentee) what the outcome of that can be and there have been very different outcomes, so I like to say that, aspiring entrepreneur or (mentee) might come into that day with just one big question that he or she is looking to get answered and what happens during the mentor day is that you might end up with five completely different answers to that question or you might end up with five new questions that you need to kind of like start finding answers and I think that’s how it works at the end of the day. As an early stage entrepreneur you’re just working with so much ambiguity, so much uncertainty, so basically this process of interacting with people developing your plans based on that, adjusting what you’re actually doing and securing also the resources to kind of like move forward, that’s really iterative process and you just need to kind of like rinse and repeat to get through that one.

I: And since we are talking about the MEGE events and MEGE is about promoting entrepreneurship with international talent. So why do you think it is very important over here in Finland?

R: Yes, so that’s a good one. I think there’s two parts of that question so on the other hand what makes an entrepreneur itself valuable for let’s say Helsinki Finland or societies in general and this aspect of international talent. So maybe in my background, I’m born into an entrepreneurial family. My father was in the construction business running his company when I was young. That kind of like gives you one perspective of how to look at the world and how to value the entrepreneurial approach. if you look at the Finnish economies in year 2010 and you look at the job creation by size of companies, you quite soon understand that the job creation by large companies in the last 20 years has been negative in this country so the large companies have been really good in destroying jobs in this country and the new jobs are generated on small and medium businesses. You have sole proprietorship, sole entrepreneurs that are growing but you also have this small businesses that are actually creating the jobs so the whole kind of like small business segment is pretty much backbone of the economy here so that’s one reason what makes it important and then there’s also the kind of like process of innovation if you will so to me entrepreneurs and innovation are pretty much similar kind of processes so it’s about essentially identifying opportunities and exploiting those opportunities, creating something new that doesn’t exist which might become new products, new services that are for the benefit for, well, for the benefit of the entrepreneur himself hopefully and also for the customers that they have. So essentially pros of actually developing continuously in society. Maybe that’s a bit on the part of how I see entrepreneurship and why it’s important and then there is the aspect of international challenge that we’ve been addressing in this MEGE. We know that Finland is, we’re probably number 2 or number 3 in the ageing populations, in addition to that, actually one third of entrepreneurs in Finland are retiring in the next 10 years so the entrepreneurs are actually ageing much faster than the rest of the population here in Finland. With that kind of demography you pretty much don’t have any other option than to kind of attract talent from outside of our boarders and I think Finland has been doing fairly well in attracting that talent, we could do better but I think where we still lack is retaining that talent, so making sure that these guys are actually establishing here after graduating on school or after their first employment here. I think it’s just a huge opportunity, as we know Finland is basically an open economy in a global market and in that kind of environment you just need to tap the best talent you can get globally and then just make it work.

I: One of the aspects in the MEGE is also acquiring businesses and you did mention that one third of the Finnish entrepreneurs are retiring, so how easy it is to acquire business?

R: That’s a good question. Is it easy or not, cannot really say. What I do know is that currently there are 3000 or 4000 business transfers happening in this country every year, that has been developing quite quickly recently, I think one of the key drivers being the demographics that are there. If you think of the opportunities, as I said before, one third of the business entrepreneurs are close in the retirement age and I remember remember reading a study that around half of them have some plan of succession in place so maybe they have sons and daughters who are taking over the business or maybe they are thinking of selling the business to some other entity but that leaves basically half of the businesses not having any succession plan in place and if you combine that with the one third of all entrepreneurs retiring soon, half of that one third having no succession plan, that means that if I would today start calling businesses at random, every 6th would likely be interested in discussing with me of selling that business, for transferring that business. On the other hand, I think we’re gonna cover it probably later in the discussions but there are also a lot of opportunities to fund those acquisitions available. So opportunities are there, funding can be there, so starting point should be fairly good and maybe one thing worth mentioning for pros of buying a business is that you’re actually buying existing customer base, you’re buying existing products and services, you’re buying existing cash flows, you already have employees so if you compare that to the startup path where you start with zero customers, zero sales,no products, no services and no employees, so the kind of risk that you actually taking might be, the risk profile might be different with that journey.

I: Yes that’s true, and coming back to startup school, I wanted to ask like, who is a startup school for, is it only for like students or anybody can reach out to a startup school?

R: Good question. How Haaga-Helia startup school works is that in the history we were preliminary for the degree program students but in the recent years we have been opening up much for the larger audience and we do that through the open university programs we have but also through projects like MEGE, we have a number of other projects currently going, like Dynamo, which we are doing together with (-) Suomen Yrittäjät , chamber of commerce and with these instruments we are able to open up the services to wider population and I think that’s really great opportunity not only for Haaga-Helia startup school but also for the people participating (in these) programs. So if you are looking at the profile of successful entrepreneurs, I think most successful age cohort for startup founders is something around 40s, so kind of like mid-career individuals and you don’t get those mid careers individuals as usually from the degree programs so those guys have a bit more experience and have maybe actually learnt some industry well and seeing those problems that other people don’t and well that’s basically a starting point for entrepreneurship, you identify an opportunity which that many other individuals haven’t been able to identify. So I think that’s fairly interesting path to take and that is definitely something we are developing also further as we go with startup schools so I think the whole higher education is moving towards this ideas of continuous learning and continuous life long learning if you will.

I: And what kind of other projects are doing along with startup school?

R: So some of these projects are actually a set targetted for life long learners, thing of starting their business, Mege, Dynamo are good examples. We do have some projects that are more maybe steered towards research and then one last type of projects are education export oriented and those are actually very interesting, bits and pieces also so startup school has been helping universities in Ukraine, South Africa, Botswana, on setting up their own university linked business incubators and it can be quite hands on work, setting up the concepts, setting up the structures, supporting on team roasters and these kind of really practical work and what we’ve also done is this competence building activities also, so basically training the trainers in some of these developing countries and I think there’s some of the strong points that we as Haaga-Helia can leverage our teacher education that we are quite well known and combining that weight some of the methodologies and tools in the startup school can be a quite strong package for setting up these university linked business incubators activities.

I: When I moved here, I feel like one of the best things what I really like is hands on learning because how we discussed earlier that entrepreneurship in a university, this is more hands on learning and it’s not something like more of a theory which I feel like-, from college when I went to the job, there were so many things that I did not know and I was like, you know they do not teach us, it’s only theory and it’s only when you go to the real world you come up with it so that is something I’ve seen as really amazing that you kind of support even when you’re a student to tell you out like what is actually required when you are venturing to the world outside where you need these skills and often I’ve seen when startup schools says that you need to have an entrepreneurial attitude, could you tell us more about what do you mean by entrepreneurial attitude?

R: That’s a good question also. I think the idea of why we are discussing also about entrepreneurial attitude is, I think it stems from the fact that entrepreneurship doesn’t happen only in small businesses so essentially the entrepreneurial behaviour, the entrepreneurial thinking, leadership, the ways of actually developing things can be really well used also in larger business context in corporations. Starting from business development, starting even kind of development activities and from that perspective I think what we want to tell our degree program students is that you need a bit of that entrepreneurial attitude in you no matter where you’re actually going after graduating except for certain exceptions maybe but in most cases this fits quite nicely. I don’t know what we mean by the entrepreneurial attitude, I mean you have things like curiosity, you have basically things, a bit close to this kind of like concept of growth mindset so you’re basically open to opportunities, open to observing opportunities outside of you and curious on actually pursuing those opportunities that you’re identifying. I think there’s a big list of different meta skills that are kind of associated also with this entrepreneurial attitude and entrepreneurial thinking.

I: And when should an entrepreneur reach out to startup schools?

R: Startup school works with very early stage teams and ideas so with some of the degree program students, we can start off with the individual who has just come up with an idea yesterday and wants to approach us that, hey this is something I’ve been thinking, what should I do next. In terms of the ideas or the ventures we are in a very early stage, idea stage. I think the majority of the teams, individuals we are working with haven’t yet incorporated their businesses so there are literally teams, not companies yet at this stage. And I think in that stage it’s basically just clear to or the most important thing is to learn more of the problem that you are solving, develop alternative solutions for that and put together a business model that would make sense in actually solving that problem in a profitable way. But yea, I would say that in very early stages we welcome teams and individuals to look into this.

I: And how can they reach out to you?

R: So the main contact point is our website, s t a r t u p s c h o o l . f i, so that is where you can learn about the course offering we have, the different programs that are actually starting and you get the contact information of our guys so you can move forward from there. Also we are quite active in your favourite social media channels, so Haaga-Helia startup school, if you look that up, that’s one way to keep in tune on what are kind of like new initiatives coming up.

I: So they can follow those startup school media for all the activities?

R: Exactly that’s where we try to promote this and push this out.

I: That’s great. If you have to give any advice to an entrepreneur in five words, what would that be?

R: Have to do a fairly lengthy exercise to get it in five words, but I think my five words would be; love the problem, not solution, that’s close to five. So I think that’s probably the key when you’re in super early stages and thinking if it makes sense or not. When you see and opportunity, and entrepreneurial opportunity, what you see is a problem that can or cannot be solved, it can be a problem that can be solved by through an entrepreneurial process or it may bot be solvable and even if you can solve that problem as an entrepreneur, there’s a number of solutions that are there, possibilities that you can actually employ and and in a sense your job is to kind of like use whatever means to identify the best solution for that one you have told like customer development process, you have the lean startup process that are kind of like geared to that kind of work. Basically reducing the ambiguity, reducing the uncertainty on how your solution and how your problem are meeting. So I think that is kind of like key advice. I have to give an example of my own entrepreneurial career, so the previous startup that I was involved with started with a beautiful idea of solving loneliness of elderly population by using some of the techniques known in social media tools. So this was 2012. We actually ended up with a solution that had a good chance of solving that loneliness issue, we had uses who actually loved the solutions, it was based on the two way video communication, super easy to use so you don’t need any technical skills, even a grandma can use it. [laughs] That was the requirement for that, and we ended up with users who logged in something like 22 hours of video calls in one day so only 2 hours downtime of that and two gentlemen, they were doing this constantly and then we had to look into it, is there something wrong with the logs or what is happening here but it was true. These guys had the connection open basically all the time and the reason for that was that basically these guys were neighbours, they were childhood friends, kind of spent together whole their life and then one of them fell ill and had to move to assisted living facility so this was the means that they were able to keep on the interaction they had. So we solved a customer’s problem, the problem is that it’s really difficult to send an invoice for solving the problem of loneliness in ageing population so that’s something that we were struggling to find an entity who actually wants to pay the bill for this service. In the end of the day we did a bit of a (-) with that one, started focusing on actually care services and how the video can be utilised in home care and remote care and I guess that concept still lives to-date, basically the idea and the concept that we developed is basically now in use with city of Helsinki and I think they’re logging 20,000 video calls a month currently with the similar concept.

R: Wow, that’s great. But thank you so much for joining us Mikko and it was great having you in our show.

I: Thank you, pleased to be here.

R: So please stay tuned for more upcoming episodes for finish your business. Thank you.