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Finland's new Aalto University: the entrepreneur factory

Finland's new Aalto University: the entrepreneur factory

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén Photo: Mikael Nybacka

Finland's new Aalto University brings together young people who want to be entrepreneurs. Their backgrounds range from technology and economics to design. The exchange of ideas here can create a platform for a new company culture in Finland.

Youth unemployment is rising in Finland, and the government now hopes more young people will start setting up their own businesses. The newly established innovation university Aalto is a beacon in this respect.

Based in disused laboratory halls near the University of Technology in Otnäs in Esbo outside Helsinki, the new university has seen interesting things starting to happen. The halls have a new name - Design Factory - and have been kitted out to host creative gatherings under the auspices of the Aalto University. Here, the economists, engineers and designers of tomorrow can get to grips with developing new prototype products for Finnish industry. The commissioner throws in 10,000 Euro, and after six months the development work should be ready.

Both mobile telephone maker Nokia and lift manufacturer Kone have an office here, indicating a genuine interest from large corporations.

There is also hope that more and more students will want to start their own businesses. Markus Nuotto is one young Finn who has led the way. At 25, he has recently graduated as an engineer specialising in material technology. While still a student, he set up the company Widsen together with co-students from the Helsinki School of Economics. They're now developing energy saving solutions for households, based on RFID technology - an electromagnetic answer to bar codes. Their modules can be installed in ordinary electrical sockets to give users real-time information on their electricity consumption.

- You can for instance use your mobile phone to see how much electricity you're using.

The development work is financed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland, which also secured the young entrepreneurs the right to the patented technology. The most difficult task now is to find good enough components to manufacture the modules.

- Those in the IT-business only need a decent computer to write their code.

Markus Nuotto also sits on the board for Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, an association which has gained 1600 members in just a few months.

- We are surprised by the huge interest, says Nuotto.

For the most part Finnish youths show little interest in becoming business owners. Nuotto thinks the universities are partly to blame. Teaching and research are usually targeted to meet the needs of large companies. Young people are unsure about how to set up their own business and many fear failure.

- We feel the fear is unfounded, people are simply stuck with preconceived ideas. We will try to influence the curricula and the teaching.

Meanwhile many students at the Aalto University are already setting up businesses or have worked out their own idea for a product or a product plan. 

Aalto – Finland's Stanford

Finland aims to create a world class teaching and research university by 2020, pooling resources from several universities into the new Aalto University.
Aalto University will be a beacon for Finland as a nation of innovations.
The idea comes from California and Stanford University, well known for it's world class  academic milieu combined with a large range of venture capital offers, where hundreds of students run businesses from their own rooms.
From 2010, Helsinki's University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics and the University of Art and Design pool their best resources in a new foundation funded by public and private company money. The three universities already work together and opened this autumn term together.


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