Finland was the third and final country that the ’19 Bentons visited during our trip abroad in May of 2016. The Republic of Finland is internationally recognized as having very high per capita income, rich quality of life, comprehensive education, ample economic opportunity, opportune social mobility, and ingenious technological innovation. Thus, it was the ideal place to learn about how tech startups begin, develop, and impact the world. By visiting some locations where entrepreneurs gather to discuss and develop their ideas, the ’19 Bentons were able to expand upon many of the concepts learned during our classes Emerging Global Challenges and Innovation in the Digital Age.
Finland, like Estonia, is a nation where the government actively supports citizens who pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. This practice is one reason behind Finland’s high standard of living. Another reason is that Finland has a number of entrepreneurial accelerators, places where innovative thinkers assemble to collaborate on their projects and receive guidance from more experienced individuals in the startup sector. Certain accelerators even have a program where one can apply for unique funding and mentoring, where they will be helped to transform their vision into reality. One such place was Startup Sauna.
Pictured both above and below, Startup Sauna offers a variety of workspaces, including cozy work houses (above) and toasty saunas (below) for both public and personal projects. Originally founded in 2010 as a branch of the University of Helsinki, Startup Sauna advertises that they are a “5-week accelerator program focused on finding the right product-market fit and go-to-market strategy.” (http://startupsauna.com) Their accelerate is unique in that they take no equity and do not charge for their program. Teams can select from either a grant of 1000€ or free accommodation during the program. Their accelerator is the foremost one in the location of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and Russia. To date, Startup Sauna has received over 4,500 applications and raised over 100 million dollars for their projects.
Some of the skills that Startup Sauna students learn include generating ideas, evaluating market opportunity for those ideas, conducting research to evaluate the user’s needs, prototyping the product, designing its interface, and finally, translating that design into actual program code. From there, designers release the beta-version of the project and gather user data from volunteers, which designers use to innovate further. This seemingly redundant process of collecting data and refining allow for the creation of optimal, user-tailored products with progress with time. But this gradual progression is not the only way innovation occurs.
This incremental innovation is what we see with gradually sharper screen displays, slightly faster processors, somewhat bigger hard drives, and incrementally sleeker designers. However, this type of growth is not what has yielded the most powerful of our time. Indeed such innovations are the result of disruptive innovation, innovation which upsets the status quo, makes old technology obsolete, and permanently changes how business is done. One such example is wireless internet: instead of being restricted by the length of a cable, users anywhere in the wifi field have access to an limited source of information. Another example is the automobile: instead of riding horses or bicycles, the car displaced such technologies and gave rise to an entirely new industry. In more recent history, Tesla Motors has launched the electric car, in hopes to reduce car emissions. What will be next? The overthrow of the gasoline engine though water power, solar power, or wind power? One day, will we be able to transmit energy wireless, or even extract it from space as Nikola Tesla thought was possible? While that has yet to be determined, the key to innovation is not allowing your vision of what is possible to by limited by what is present.