Startup Sauna heats up Finland

“We think beginning a startup is like going in the sauna. You go in naked, you sweat it out, the coaches throw some water on the stones and you come out feeling brand new,” said Ville Simola of the Startup Sauna within the Aalto Venture Garage.

The Aalto Venture Garage is an entreprenueral workspace and incubator in Espoo, Finland, a suburb twenty minutes outsideof the capital city of Helsinki.

So, how was the Garage started?

Well, after a visit to America, a group of Finnish students returned to their homeland eager to duplicate the drive they saw from entreprenuers stateside.

Approaching the owners of an old factory, the students were given a two month chance to make it work.

And they did.

The folks at the Aalto Venture Garage now take early stage startups and students under their wing, give them funding, and put the to work.

Through coaching, the student startups are given an opportunity to create something great, and to fail within the space as well.

Basically, the mission at the Aalto Venture Garage is to redefine the attitudes towards startups and startup culture.

“In Finland, the general attitutde about being an entreprenuer is equated to being unemployed,” explained Antti Ylimutka of the Aalto Entreprenuership Society.

When asked where this risk adverse attitude came from, Simola instantly cited the corporate domination within Finnish business.

“Nokia has been the steamtrain of this economy for the past 15 or 20 years, which helped formed the attitude that corporate means success and security.”

Ylimutka added, “In the 90s when we had an economic decline and companies started going bankrupt, people starting pointing fingers at entreprenuers as an alternative to being unemployed.”

Funded with both private and public money, the Aalto Venture Garage does not take any equitity in the startups.

The mission? To create a vibrant and viable startup community. 

Will it succeed? Paving the way for success, Finnish companies like Rovio – responsible for Angry Birds – are helping to pave the way for new Finnish entreprenuers and of course, throwing water on the sauna’s stones.