#StartUpSelfie #16

Sauna, typical Finnish you can say… And what’s sauna got to do with startups? Well, in #StartUpSelfie #13 I’ve given you a hint about the one place that you must visit when in Helsinki. Since it was my first time in the city, I knew that I needed to hop on the route to Aalto University asap and check out the famous StartUp Sauna.

In such a big University complex it wasn’t an easy task to get to their space, but it was my luck that Finns I met on the way, were very friendly and helpful. As I entered the room, I was amazed to see how they’ve turned a factory’s warehouse into an urban working playground and how many people were there at the moment, working on their startups. Some minutes after, I heard someone calling my name and that person is Kasper Suomalainen the CMO at Startup Sauna.

“Back in 2008 a group of students started something that today is turned into 4 entities. We have 1. Aalto ES (Entrepreneurship Society) and with this we like to help startup founders learn & develop; and support ambitious self-starters and committed community members. In essence, we help startups with their start. No.2 we have StartUp Life where we connect super talented students with amazing startups from the Silicon Valley. Through this up to 12 months internship program the students can have a once in a life time experience gaining real-world skills. Next we have Startup Sauna Accelerator where top-notch startups work with experienced entrepreneurs, investors and other industry experts through an intensive 5 week long acceleration program. The selection process is very difficult, because it is very competitive and on the last open call we got more than 1000 applications from all over the world. But, once accepted in Startup Sauna, then you get also access to our 4th entity which is SLUSH and as I like to call it the “tech-startup-rave” 🙂  It is amazing to see how it has grown from a 300-person event to one of the leading events of its kind in the world, with more than 15 000 attendees, including 800 VC’s, 600 journalists and 1700 startups from 100 countries. The philosophy behind it has remained the same: to help the next generation of great, world-conquering companies move forward…. And all this is student run and functions as not for profit organization.” – says Kasper.

WOW, if I could only find a word that will describe my reaction after hearing all this information. I am amazed and inspired by all that they as students, are able to do, for the sake of entrepreneurship. Even though there is enough material to do at least one blog per each entity I was also interested to find out how he got involved in the first place and what is the most valuable thing he has learned so far.

“Having been raised on three different continents, I can’t say I’d be the typical, quiet Finn. Communicating with different people on a daily basis and constantly being curious to learn something new is probably in my DNA. But, being at the right place in the right time, three years ago is what has lead me to this point. When I look back at it, this has been a journey of many learnings and I have been ‘drinking the startup Kool-Aid’ since then. I spend most of my time here at The Sauna and I get inspired when I see how people instead of competing they are working together. One of the most valuable things that I have learned so far is by witnessing, that people can do amazing things when you ‘nudge’ them. A lot of people think that they are not able or get scared to start something. But, believe me, when you give them that extra push and share a piece of advice, than magic can happen. Over here people have wider variety of skills and we are always hungry to learn something new!”- said Kasper.

I guess that might be the perfect formula for doing startup magic: when you give students the freedom to be creative, when as a University you support them, giving them space and resources without telling them what to do! Coming from a Balkan country, where sadly the situation is far from this one, I am very supportive in collaborations like this and would like to see this replicated in other communities as well.

It was a real pleasure meeting and talking with Kasper and now sharing part of his story…I’m sad I missed SLUSH, because I needed to head back home just days before the event… But I am definitely looking forward to the newest edition in November 2016 🙂 Also, I have invited Kasper and the team to come and check out the Balkan region when Startup Sauna is back on tour…

Startups that are interested in being part of the Spring Acceleration program at Startup Sauna apply today. To see who will be featured next on #StartUpSelfie subscribe with your e-mail. And if you like the story, share it with your friends 🙂


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