Up north, near the land of Santa Claus, there is a warehouse where new ideas are made. We are in the Helsinki suburb of Espoo, where Aalto University attracts a huge community of entrepreneurs from across northern Europe.
The Aalto Venture Garage is a working space for hackers and start-ups from all across the Nordics and Baltics. It has 700 square metres of open space where anyone – even those who aren’t Finnish or aren’t a student at Aalto University – can work on entrepreneurial projects.
This Garage was founded two years ago, after a group of students at Aalto University visited MIT for a class trip. They were attracted by the culture of start-ups at the university and thought of importing it to Finland. Now, this space is one of the largest student groups in Europe, with partnerships with Stanford and cities across Russia and the Baltics.
One of the initiatives which takes place at the Garage is Startup Sauna, a non-profit seed accelerator programme funded by the University, which helps promising young teams in northern Europe to develop their ideas for a new company. 15 to 20 teams are selected to take part in an intensive six-week training programme at the Garage. After this period, the top three teams are offered seed money of 5,000 euros, office space for six months and even given the opportunity to fly to Silicon Valley, or anywhere else in the United States, to forge connections out there.
For example, one of the programme’s success stories is Campalyst, currently based in New York, which has developed a proprietary algorithm for working out if social media is actually delivering a profitable return on investment for a company.