Every world-altering entrepreneurial initiative, concept, or community was once just a great idea bubbling somewhere under the surface. Our aim at Startup Foundation is to ensure that these ambitious ideas are transformed into the tangible impact that helps the growth of our startup ecosystem – both here in the Nordics and globally. 

Connecting the right kind of talent with precisely what they need to accelerate the societal impact of our startup community is at the core of what the projects we selected this year are all about.

Startup Foundation is proud to announce the grant projects funded by us in 2021: MIMIR Fellows, Startup Refugees, Series, and SILTA. In total, we were able to approve 60 000 to four projects.

MIMIR Fellows, led by Ghita Wallin, 10 000 euro

Ensuring that the research ideas with truly transformative capability get commercialized is an absolute necessity for any research university and the wider society.

The Nordics have a global head start to this, with our vibrant student-led communities filled with entrepreneurial capability.

This is why Ghita Wallin from MIMIR Fellows suggests that we put these students at the core of the technology transfer processes.

The project will require sufficient scale and different stakeholders coming together to learn more about how research is swiftly brought from labs to broader society. The first step is to stimulate dialogue between these stakeholders and change attitudes both within and towards academia.

MIMIR Fellows will be an entrepreneurship program and community in the context of technology transfer running simultaneously in universities across the Nordic countries. The program will educate a new generation of entrepreneurs to take university-based deep tech to market efficiently. Involving study trips as part of the program will further help establish and amplify the international university partnership network worldwide. At the same time, guest lecturers and partners will ensure the involvement of industry and investors.

The project expects their work to start showing in the number of both licensing activity and university-based spin-outs in the Nordics and help the universities spearhead collaborative and systemic efforts in solving the grand societal challenges facing all of us.

Startup Refugees, led by Elisa Vepsäläinen, 20 000 euro

The only way forward for any entrepreneurial community anywhere is to make sure that all the startup-oriented talent available feels welcome, included, and has the capability to get things done and start solving problems in that context.

There is a strong agreement across the European tech and VC community about the importance of creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. This is exactly what the Startup Refugees community has been doing in Finland since 2016. Since then, they have helped start 50 companies and organized 17 entrepreneurship courses for 380 business teams. Over 1000 people have also been employed through the network of more than 1500 companies, communities, and individuals.

The Startup Refugees Business Program has become well-known among entrepreneurs-to-be in Finland. So far, the Business Program has offered training in entrepreneurial skills, practical opportunities for market validations, and support from the mentors and companies in the network.

During the project funded by Startup Foundation, the Startup Refugees team, led by Elisa Vepsäläinen, will kick off the Startup Refugees Fund that supports underrepresented founders who often struggle to get funding for their initiatives. The project will also harness the capacity of Startup Refugees network members and new partners in order to build a diverse, inclusive Finnish startup ecosystem – for the many, not the few.

Series by Aaltoes, led by Mona Ismail, 20 000 euro

Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, a student-led community behind events and communities such as Slush and Kiuas, has a strong emphasis on accelerating purposeful impact and finding solutions to global challenges through entrepreneurship.

Series is one of the current initiatives Aaltoes is developing to help skilled students from all disciplines reach their full potential. It will kick off with a two-week-long innovation program that provides a platform for ambitious, driven students who aren’t afraid to tackle challenges that may seem too big at first.

‘When it comes to big societal challenges, students might often think that they are too big for them to solve. With Series, we want to change that,’ Mona Ismail, President of Aaltoes, says.

During the program, Series teams will be provided with the necessary tools, coaching, workshops, and networks to create a solution to a problem of their choosing. Series program aims to reach a diverse set of thinkers and doers – by bringing together an interdisciplinary bunch of students, the possibility of finding solutions to large-scale societal issues increases.

By attending the Series program, the participants will gain a network of entrepreneurially-wired, like-minded people keen to take ownership by identifying the problems they are passionate about solving themselves.

The program will provide teams with a roadmap to continue their work and further demonstrate the potential of the Finnish startup ecosystem to international audiences – while hopefully seeing an increase of purpose-driven startups in the ecosystems in question.

SILTA by Aaltoes, led by Niko Laukkanen, 10 000 euro

And while we are talking about honing talent – the Startup Foundation believes that the power of the Finnish entrepreneurial mindset should be scaled internationally.

This is why we chose to fund SILTA, a platform supporting the most promising Finnish startup talent hoping to accelerate their growth while learning the ropes in the Bay Area.

The purpose of SILTA by Aaltoes is to create a paradigm shift in the mindset of these young Finnish to-be-entrepreneurs – and bridge them with their vision, hence the name.

The SILTA program will expose this exceptional budding talent to the Bay Area know-how by sending them over there – and back again. By enabling the young entrepreneurs to realize their true potential from the start, the program provides the participants with the necessary resources, advice, and strong investor networks to strive in the highly competitive global ecosystem.

As they return to Finland, they have most likely accelerated their learning tenfold.

‘We will then further build interaction between SILTA alumni and different entities in the ecosystem to benefit the wider ecosystem by sharing the knowledge that the participants have gained during their time in the Bay Area. For example, SILTA alumni can mentor and inspire Ignite (Aaltoes’ student startup accelerator by Aaltoes) teams’, SILTA lead Niko Laukkanen says.

Through these acquired skills and attitudes, the local ecosystem will obtain precisely the right people to build new ventures while challenging the prevailing atmosphere – thus pushing the whole community forward.