Co-working is co-caring at Innovation House
The founders of Innovation House have channelled their passion for work into kindling and preserving it in others.
Katja Aalto and Petra Erätuli-Kola must have stood out from most of their fellow teenagers in northern Espoo, Finland. The two women describe their young selves as girls who shared a deeply ingrained desire and motivation to work.
“We were delivering newspapers and running ice cream stands,” recounts Aalto. “And we agreed that we’d set up our own company…”
“…once we had grown up,” the duo say in concert.
The two parted ways, as childhood friends often do, for several years before their professional roads crossed again in December 2015. Aalto rang Erätuli-Kola, announcing it was time to make good on their promise and get to work together.
Erätuli-Kola had just visited Silicon Valley, California. She had been impressed by the bustling, innovative and community-driven startup scene and floated the idea of re-creating it in Finland. The idea took shape as Innovation House, a co-working concept that combines the stimulating bustle of a startup hub with a holistic approach to occupational health and wellbeing.
“Our vision is to be a home for businesses,” summarises Aalto. “We want to be the world’s best community-based landing spot for Finnish and international companies.”
Four locations, one community
Innovation House began trialling its unique concept in Otaniemi, Espoo, in 2017, setting its sights on an innovation centre with 100 members.
“Nine months later, we had 300 members. And now, two years later, we’ve got four centres and a global virtual community. Otaniemi is running at full capacity – of 600 places – as is Kallio [in Helsinki]. We’re currently bringing in the first members in Arabianranta, Helsinki,” tells Erätuli-Kola.
The third centre was opened only a few months ago in Singapore. Also it is already running close to full capacity, housing internationally oriented startups and entrepreneurs from both Singapore and the Nordics.
The next one will open its doors soon somewhere in the US, divulges Erätuli-Kola.
The members, she tells, gain access not only to modern work facilities and the virtual community, but also a variety of complimentary support services, such as match-making, mail management, and tax and accounting counselling. One would be amiss to not mention an endless supply of something that entrepreneurs around the globe keep turning to in search of energy and inspiration: top-notch coffee and tea.
“We have free yoga and climbing classes, along with other health and wellbeing services. And you have the right to use them at any of our offices, be it in Finland or Singapore,” adds Aalto.
Soft values, serious business
The Espoo-based startup is clearly on to something. Its revenue has doubled in each of its four full years in operation and is set to continue on the same trajectory this year, with an expected jump from 600 000 to over one million euros.
What sets the startup apart from rival co-working space operators are its values: happiness, opportunity, match-making and empathy – the initials of which make up the acronym HOME, the two businesswomen point out.
“We believe that a happy team is more productive, and that’s why we have support services always at arm’s length and place an emphasis on occupational wellbeing,” explains Aalto.
The values are also more than platitudes on posters on the walls. Innovation House takes pride in knowing its members so well that it is able to organise genuinely interesting events and facilitate meaningful encounters between its members, partners and visitors. It also vets each member applicant thoroughly to ensure the values are shared and respected across the community.
“We’re genuinely engaged in co-working and collaboration with startups and large corporations. We have a number of large corporations as partners and match them with startups through joint projects,” says Erätuli-Kola.
Although the values separate the startup from other co-working space operators, many of which are major real estate companies, they do not distract it from the main mission, view Aalto and Erätuli-Kola.
“Our values may be soft, but it doesn’t mean we’re not doing serious and hard business,” the latter says.
Text: Aleksi Teivainen
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