Startup Sauna’s reputation is heating up
Startup Sauna, a community that was started by a group of entrepreneurial minded students from Aalto University, was established in 2010 and continues to draw startups from over 20 countries and interested investors to the 1500 square meter industry hall that CEO Jaakko Hynynen calls his office.
Initially inspired by the entrepreneurial boom in the United States, the students started Aalto Entrepreneur Society. They had a lot of activities for their peers with an interest in startups which included keynotes from experienced serial entrepreneurs, investor interest from Finland, pitching evenings where students could get feedback on their product and even speed-dating style meetups that helped people find suitable co-founders to share ideas.
The society was expanding as was Startup Sauna’s events diary.
Startup Sauna space
“It was apparent quite quickly that they were holding a lot of events with a lot of people involved and they needed space,” Hynynen says.
Renting out space was becoming a laborious task for the growing list of events and the students decided they needed a place to go. Following consultation with Aalto University, who were fully on board with the idea, the former hand sanitizer warehouse was cleared out, renovated and would become the meeting point for aspiring entrepreneurs in Northern Europe.
There have been various iterations and interior design changes but the concept remains the same. It is a free co-working space for students, graduates or whoever else wants to walk in and avail of the resources.
“The doors are open and you can come in and work on your school project or your startup. You are free to use the space as long as you clean up after yourself,” says Hynynen.
Accelerator connects companies and customers
Startup Sauna runs an accelerator program that helps startups when they begin to grow. Getting involved in Startup Sauna and introducing yourself to the people you find there is most useful when the problem and solution phase of your startup has been realized. Startup Sauna runs the program to put startups on a platform with some of the world’s major investors as spectators.
“You tend to get some initial customers and then you plateau. This is the point when you are not growing as you might like and you can use the accelerator to speed up this growth and kick it on to the next point.”
Startup Sauna has a pool of coaches from Finland who have huge wealth in experience, contacts and investment history, which helps in the acceleration process. The coaches are there to provide assistance and pitching help to the startups that are still in their infancy.
One of the problems that many startups face is that they have built a product but have not yet built a business. The experience that the coaches bring to the table is priceless for a startup looking to expand and focus on their customer base and larger audience.
“The accelerator program connects you initially to those customers who you are trying to target, the customers who see you as the best possible solution to their problem,” explains Hynynen.
Startup Sauna is a non-profit organization and they do not take any equity from the startups involved in their accelerator programs.
“This is a good deal for startups as they get assistance, connections and don’t have to give up equity in their business.”
Paying it forward: Coaching and volunteers
Hynynen has taken time out of his studies in order to act as CEO at Startup Sauna. It is a revolving door of personnel within the four walls of the system and this is down in part to the fact that the people involved want Startup Sauna to continue growing and never stagnate.
The ecosystem of startups has a very clear sense of what it does and this is evident with the many returning coaches who have little to gain from contributing their services aside from the knowledge that they have helped a startup in whatever way they could.
Many of the Startup Sauna coaches believe in the social responsibility to help out due to the fact that many of them have already put their businesses through Startup Sauna and benefited greatly from the experience.
“Finland, as a whole, has a longstanding tradition of volunteers work,” Hynynen explains, “and the coaches have gained a lot from startup sauna and feel like it is time to pay it forward.”
Text: Robert Dunne
Editor’s note: Irish interns Robert Dunne and Aisling Mc Ginn from Ballyfermot College of Further Education, Dublin were offered the chance to explore aspects of Finland’s startup culture with the cooperation of Good News from Finland.
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