The Aalto University campus in Espoo is a sparkling hotspot of entrepreneurial activity. The entrepreneurial spirit is not only a side-effect of the innovative university, but the Aalto students have led the way in creating the Finnish startup ecosystem.
Among many shining student-run success stories, Slush is undoubtedly one of the brightest. The student-driven entrepreneurship club Aaltoes, short for Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, started to organise Slush in 2011. Since then, the event has become Europe's leading tech and startup event.
Aaltoes — the spark for the local entrepreneurial ecosystem
Aaltoes was founded in 2008. Back then, Finland had a very different entrepreneurial climate. And as far as startup entrepreneurship is concerned, it was hardly a dream career choice for most students.
Aaltoes wanted to change this mindset and started to bring together students interested in entrepreneurship. During the years, the entrepreneurship society has provided the startup spark for numerous students and helped form the progressive entrepreneurial climate at Aalto and in Finland.
"Since 2009, Aaltoes members have been promoting the entrepreneurial mindset and changed people's attitudes towards entrepreneurship. We have been the driving force in the Finnish startup scene," says Mona Ismail, the president of Aaltoes.
Besides carrying a society-level impact in Finland, Aaltoes aims to provide learning opportunities for individual students. As volunteers, students learn skills that are valuable in entrepreneurship.
Many former Aaltoes members have later become influential entrepreneurs as a result. For instance, early Aaltoes CEO Miki Kuusi is the founder and CEO of food technology company Wolt. In November 2021, DoorDash bought Wolt for roughly seven billion euros.
Student-run initiatives from hackathons to accelerators
Slush has come a long way since Aaltoes took over and started to run the event over a decade ago. Back then, the event had 1500 participants. In 2019, the latest instalment before the Covid-19 epidemic, 25 000 people flocked to Helsinki in grim November weather (In 2020, Slush was cancelled due to Covid-19. In 2021, the event was organised on a smaller scale and sold out with 8800 participants). Even though Aaltoes doesn't run Slush anymore, student volunteers are still essential in making the event happen.
Slush, however, is not the only major event organised by Aalto students. In 2015, Aaltoes established Junction, the leading hackathon in Europe. Junction brings together participants from all over the world for a weekend-long coding challenge. The event has traditionally taken place at the Aalto campus, but Junction 2021 took place online and in different hubs worldwide — allowing the hackathon to grow even bigger.
Dash design hackathon is another movement launched by Aaltoes. Dash is an interdisciplinary hackathon as participants' study backgrounds range from UX design to finance. In the annual event, they tackle challenges set by leading Finnish companies.
Aaltoes was also behind Startup Sauna, the most influential Finnish startup accelerator of its time. When the accelerator discontinued in 2018, the entrepreneurship society turned its focus to Kiuas.
Kiuas is an accelerator program targeted primarily at Aalto students. Kiuas runs two biannual accelerator programs and has notable alumni companies like Gubbe and Swappie. Kiuas has effectively taken the torch of the leading startup accelerator in Finland.
It's all about making an impact in the 2020s
Throughout the years, Aalto students have been at the forefront of shaping Finland's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Now they are all about making an impact. The students see entrepreneurship as a tool for doing things that matter to them. The perspective is visible in the new project of Aaltoes, Series.
"Series is an ecosystem that exists to support students across continents in their quest of solving societal challenges," Ismail says.
Besides being a global program, Series connects students from various study fields and allows them to share ideas and start new collaborations. The pilot program of Series began in November 2021.
"When people from different fields connect in an encouraging environment, great things come to life," Ismail concludes.
During Aaltoes existence, great things have certainly come to be. The entrepreneurship club has been vital in creating a societal shift in Finland's entrepreneurial mindset. Aaltoes has helped develop many of the most important Finnish startup success stories while opening avenues for numerous students to build the success of Finland's startup scene.
Hero image: Riikka Vaahtera, Slush