Finland: where innovation used to go to die?

4 days ago, we arrived in Helsinki to a cold, dreary, and Soviet like town. Not judging the book by it’s cover, we explored some of the city’s best restaurants including “Saslik,” which was classic Russian fare with the deep-red tapestries and Russian folk-singers on the side 🙂 (see photo)

During our first full day in Helsinki we visited Aalto Entrepreneurship Society (Aaltoes) in the morning. This is an entirely student-run organization affiliated with Aalto University and founded by Finnish MIT graduates who were inspired by the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation found around MIT’s campus. The Board members of Aaltoes told us that in 2008, a well-respected Finnish Professor told her students “the worst thing you could do with your life is become an entrepreneur.” This mentality was pervasive and most of Finnish society at the time was riding the Nokia wave and enjoying the safety net of a big company as well as a welfare state that would take care of them. When Nokia imploded, Finland had to make a change. Aaltoes is part of that change and they work every day to inspire high-growth entrepreneurship in Finland through a variety of programming and events.

After Aaltoes, we walked about 5 minutes to Rovio–the company made famous by its blockbuster game, Angry Birds. We learned about the development of the company, the 50+ games they had made which failed, and the massive success of Angry Birds as a franchise. Rovio is an interesting mix of Nokia technical talent with the region’s new top innovators and programmers. They seem to marry the entrepreneurial spirit of Finland which has developed since 2009 with the big company safety that Nokia once provided. Study Tour Group at Rovio:

After soaking in the burgeoning innovation taking place in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, we flew 1000 km north to Ivalo, one of the northernmost regions of Finland. Although many from Ivalo live a very simple life that doesn’t visibly seem to be the innovative center of the world, the way in which the local population has capitalized on “winter tourism” is impressive, indeed. They attract travelers to subzero temperatures with igloo hotels, reindeer safaris, aurora hunting, and much more. It was a truly beautiful and unique place that showed us a very different side of Finland (See photo below)

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