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Communications & Marketing
Don’t force it – get students involved organically

As a communications professional, I often face the struggle of student recruitment. For Haaga-Helia StartUp School’s pre-incubator program, the third time was the charm, like the old proverb suggests.


Eetu Tuominen

viestinnän asiantuntija, yrittäjyys ja liiketoiminnan uudistaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 15.02.2023

Our 12-week pre-incubator program is an intensive 15 ECTS group of studies targeted towards students and entrepreneurs with a business idea or an existing business that they are looking to pivot. The students participate in themed workshops and online classes while getting personal coaching during the program. In the end, the participants pitch their more developed business idea to a panel of judges.

Due to the intensive nature of the program and the pre-requirement of a preliminary business idea, we knew that our group of potential enrollees was small. In addition, business development is a fiercely competitive field with many free-to-use online options available. Our challenge was how to make enrolling in our program everyone’s first choice.

Get the information out there

The pre-incubator program is a pilot still under development. Thus, the first application period had no existing recognition within the student base to lean on.

Early in 2022 we decided to relaunch the StartUp School Instagram channel after a brief period of covid and workforce-shortage related silence. A well-articulated email edited by the whole StartUp School team was also shared with the appropriate affiliates including entrepreneurs’ associations, entrepreneurship societies and other core groups recognized within years of StartUp School activities.

The first application results came within a few weeks: 11 applicants made 11 entrepreneurs chosen for the program. Barely enough to fill the minimum requirements. We moved straight on to the next application period.

Strike when the time is right

Next, we focused on the degree students. Students at Haaga-Helia enroll in autumn semester’s courses in early June, which is where we scheduled our next campaign.

A landing page was established at the Haaga-Helia website, and a press release was shared in collaboration with the Haaga-Helia communications department. These actions are the basis of any project communications plan, but should not be viewed as an omnipotent recruitment machine.

We also utilized the primary official communications channels to Haaga-Helia students – Tuudo and the student news section of In addition, we sent an email to all students who had registered for the autumn semester of 2022.

However, mass emails must be used carefully. No student wants to receive advertisement emails from their educational institution constantly. This kind of mass marketing has to be carefully planned in cooperation with the student affairs office.

Sixteen applicants filled out their forms during the summer of 2022. As we had a maximum capacity of 15 participating teams, we only had to say goodbye to one applicant.

Some weak positive signals were starting to bubble. Although the number of applicants was still low, data gathered from the Webropol application form showed that almost 300 people had viewed the form. Our landing page was gaining steady traffic and we received questions regarding the pre-incubator program to StartUp School’s email address and our Instagram direct messages.

Give them something to tell their friends about

During the autumn of 2022 we summarised our experience into a basic action formula for student recruitment: Get the messages out during course enrolment, keep the Instagram channel active with relevant weekly content, and use the mass marketing weapons if needed.

Our efforts brought broader recognition within Haaga-Helia, which we noticed holding a live event during Slush. Many asked questions about the pre-incubator program without us advising them to do so.

After the event we launched the application period for the spring 2023 program. This resulted in twenty-three applicants with many familiar names from the Slush event and our inbox. This represents a 100% growth rate in applications in a year. Most of the applicants we interviewed heard about the pre-incubator program by randomly stumbling upon it online or hearing about it from a friend.

All things considered, it is beneficial to invest in getting the essential information live as early as possible and to target the early adopters. However, providing a quality product and learning experience is the key. These enthusiasts are a potent weapon that cannot be manufactured with standard communications and marketing tools.