Full-time MBA students Adrian Gomez, Anita Kotagiri, Daniel Reddin, and Andrea Soto traveled to Finland for their IBD project to work with Tekes – The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.
It’s 8pm and there’s no sign of the sun setting any time soon. As we hop off the plane we can feel the slight chill in the air despite it being summer. Everything is clean, simple, and impeccably designed. Welcome to Finland!
After a somewhat restless night thanks to jet lag and the four hours of twilight that constitute night at this time of year, we were anxious to meet our client for the first time. After a wholesome breakfast of omelets and traditional Finnish rye bread prepared by chef and two-day early arriver, Adrian, we set off to meet our client at Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.
The morning with our client began, of course, with coffee. As it turns out, Finland has the highest coffee consumption per person in the world! It quickly became apparent that the next three weeks would entail constant caffeination – a fact we well appreciated following a hearty meatball lunch on that first day.
After several hours of discussion with our client on Day 1 and reaching an agreement on the scope of our project and the planned activities for the weeks ahead, we were excited about what lay ahead of us – interviews with CEOs of leading Finnish companies, meeting with the Office of the Prime Minister, mentoring participants in a clean-tech startup competition, conducting workshops with Finnish entrepreneurs and presenting to the Steering Committee, a group of extremely senior executives responsible for Tekes’ clean-tech program. It very quickly became clear to us that this project was extremely important and was truly going to have an impact in shaping Finland’s future.
After many back-to-back interviews with entrepreneurs, academics and Tekes personnel throughout the week, we were fortunate enough to have made some Finnish friends along the way. The Finnish people are incredibly warm and inclusive, willing to go out of their way to show us around and invite us into their friendship circles. They are proud of Finland.
After a demanding week the team decided to take a trip across the Baltic to Estonia, a country that, up until now, really only popped to mind when thinking about Eurovision contests. The boat ride to Tallinn was a bit tough (many people got sea sick!) but the trip was definitely worth it! We had a blast wandering the narrow streets and alleys of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town and sampling some extremely good food.
In our second week we continued to meet with Finnish entrepreneurs and innovators. We hosted “Cleantech Power Morning” with a number of influential players in the space. Taking advantage of having these 25 people in one room, we ran a number of exercises and administered a short survey in order to test and validate our emerging hypotheses about cleantech and the innovation ecosystem in Finland.
Following the session, our client was excited to finally take us to what he constantly referred to (especially when around Helsinki natives) as “the cultural capital of Finland”, his home-town of Turku. We took this opportunity to meet with the CEO of Clewer, a water recycling firm, and the leaders of the Future Studies department at the University of Turku’s School of Economics (the “Haas of Finland”, as our client called it). We capped of the day with a wonderful dinner and a quick walk around the town before jumping on a bus back to Helsinki.
Being so close, we knew that we could not return home without making a trip to Russia! We boarded an overnight cruise ship for St Petersburg, excited for a weekend of new experiences. This city was incredible. As a previous capital of Russia, it had strong economic and social capital in the 19th and 20th centuries. As such, their citizens built incredible architecture with strong European influence. We had a great time exploring the beautiful city and even took in an opera at the world-famous Mariinsky Theatre.
Returning to Helsinki for our third and final week, we were excited about our progress so far but expectant about the deliverables that would soon be due. during this week we had the privilege of visiting with one of the leaders of the Prime Minister’s innovation initiative. She provided us with high level information and confirmations of the government’s goals for the Finnish innovation ecosystem.
More than twenty five interviews later, the moment of truth was growing near. Having gathering tons of information over the past sever days, it was time to start pulling it all together to form our proposal and recommendations for how to spur on cleantech innovation in Finland. Our team set off to the task of completing the final draft of a 90 page report for the client and a final presentation to the Steering Committee.
Our presentations throughout our time in Finland were filled with engaging discussions and our final presentation was no exception. We were further motivated in our work with Tekes by the confirmation of how important our findings would be to the organization. After one final session of business card exchanges and handshakes we conducted our final meeting with our client.
Being our last week in country, we wanted to make sure we did not leave without experiencing more of the culture. Our team took a traditional Finnish sauna, complete with a dip in the chilly Baltic Sea, and went out with Finnish friends to watch the sunset from the top of Helsinki’s tallest building. We also took the chance to visit the medieval Finnish town of Pörvöö, half an hour away from Helsinki. There we enjoyed a laid back afternoon strolling around the town, visiting a cathedral from the 1200’s and buying Salmiakki, the traditional Finnish candy made from licorice root (an acquired taste, for sure).
Once back in Helsinki, our team prepared for departure from this place which had exceeded our expectations. With luggage carrying at least ten collective pounds of Finnish rye bread and chocolate wafer sweets, we departed our hotel for our next destination.
Our IBD project and our Tekes client made for an unforgettable time in an unexpected place.