I became interested in the world of startups as a student at the university of Oulu. Some time in the early days of 2018, I participated in an event called Pitching in the Kitchen — Master Public Speaking workshop with Mats Kyyrö, hosted by the Business Kitchen Oulu and organised by the Oulu Entrepreneurship Society. The event is similar to Polar Bear Pitching, but without the cold, the wet, the stress, the pressure… You get the point. I loved it. Mats was great, everybody was friendly and supportive. I learnt a lot and was ready for more. So, although I was starting to be a bit swamped and stressed as the end of my master’s studies was approaching and I had not been able to find a supervisor for my thesis, I registered to participate in the Startup Weekend Oulu.
Future entrepreneurs gather on a Friday evening to pitch an idea and find a team to work with. After the teams are formed, they are presented with a set of guidelines that they have to follow and some rules they must abide by. For instance, they cannot get in touch with friends or family to sell them their ideas, products, services. They work more or less night and day on their projects, and then on Sunday evening they present them to a jury, who then decides the winner.
Sounds pretty easy, but unfortunately, things did not go well. For my team, at least. We took the wrong path early on in the process and did not get the support we needed to bounce back. Sadly, the team split up after almost two days of struggle. Since too many teams broke up during the second day, there were not enough places on the other teams, so some of us chose to leave the event.
This experience did slow me down but did not manage to make me lose interest. On the contrary, I moved closer to finding my path. In my country, Romania, I worked for 7 years for a language and business training center, where I collaborated with my fellow trainers on various projects, managed teams and projects myself, and wrote training and marketing content. The environment was very agile, as was the management. Our clients were multinationals, embassies, banks, such as British American Tobacco, the American Embassy and the Romanian Commercial Bank, to name just a few. In other words, I did have the training and experience to survive in the startup world. But how could a 41-year old language trainer and program manager fit the profile of the up-and-coming young and hip players of the startup environment?
As you may have guessed already, the story is not over. I did not lose heart, and this spring, back in my dear, lovely Espoo, I was asked by a friend to volunteer as a Team Lead for the Helsinki Startup Crawl 2019. Of course, I said Yes! I also volunteered to call startups to follow up on emails or contact some startups for the first time. Some didn’t answer my calls, some sent text messages that they are busy, some called back. Nevertheless, every person I talked to was polite, friendly, and honest. I even managed to find a VC company, a supporter of startups, who were happy to join the Crawl at the last moment. This is a great event for students, and I am sorry to have missed it in Oulu, where it was organised this year for the 11th time, but well, let’s not stumble over details. During this event, students join a track that they are interested in, such as tech, business, sustainability, or games, depending on the startups represented there, and go from startup to startup. Each startup organises a presentation, a game, a competition, or even a case study, so that the students can gain more in-depth knowledge about the startup, and of course, enjoy themselves.
While all this was happening, another friend forwarded me a link to The Shortcut’s Catalyst Program info session, which was happening the next day. I went there to check it out with the friend from the Helsinki Startup Crawl and we both ended up joining The Shortcut as volunteers first, and then as part of the Talent and HR team respectively.
And the journey has just begun…