With the conclusion of cycle 3.0 of Circulator, the University of Helsinki’s pre-incubator for circular economy & environmental solutions, on 12 December with a celebration that bore closer resemblance to a house party than your traditional demo day it’s time to reflect. What did the third group of Circulators have to say about the latest version of the most experimental Helsinki Incubators programme?
Mingling among his fellow Circulators and the evening’s other guests – alumni from versions 1.0 & 2.0, as well as experts, advisors, and visitors from the growing Helsinki Circular Economy ecosystem guests from all three Circulator iterations – Abdifatah Geelle was hyping himself up for his upcoming pitch.
“Tonight brings a mix of nerves and excitement,” he confessed. Geelle had joined Circulator 3.0 on his own with La Hygia, his sustainable solution for cleaning makeup and art brushes, following a chance visit to the Helsinki Incubators space where he’d been encouraged to come and develop his ideas further.
Now, mere moments away from presenting his idea to the evening’s crowd, he took a second to reflect on how the 2-month programme had supported his development: “I’m genuinely happy with how the programme went. Since my first day, the welcoming attitude has been a standout, and this programme has been exceptional for its emphasis on practical learning. It’s not just about listening; it’s about applying what we learn immediately.”
Buzzing about the Helsinki Incubators space to ensure that evening’s festivities ran smoothly, Programme Manager Santeri Tuovila echoed Geelle’s sentiment, saying that he’d been impressed by how proactive the small but dedicated group of 8 teams had been throughout the programme. “This batch has been exceptional in how they’ve been reaching out to people and putting what they’ve learned into practice right away,” Tuovila said.
The smaller size of this group of Circulators, something Tuovila admitted he had originally been slightly worried about, had also quickly translated into a deeper sense of community and more interesting discussions for the 3.0’s. “The dialogues were really enlightening, which I think was partly due to the smaller group,” he explained. “It made it easier for everyone to understand each other’s directions and support each other as a community.”
Support and community were indeed once again one of the central pillars of Circulator, as was peer learning. Chinmay Tare, who participated in the programme with his co-founder Irving Wang to develop their financing solution for circular and sustainable businesses, LoopGrow, and had his first ever pitching experience at the Circulator 3.0 final event, said that the programme participants had been “mind-blowing.”
“It’s been fascinating to discover different perspectives and ideas that I hadn’t considered before,” Tare, fresh off the pitching stage, continued. “We fed off each other’s creativity and potential, and the diversity among the participants has really been enriching, offering different ideas, mindsets, and backgrounds that challenged and expanded my thinking.”
Of the programme itself, Tare said that it had been a “revelation,” guiding his team with a detailed, slow-paced approach. “It allowed us to contemplate our ideas step-by-step and gave us confidence.”
Fellow Circulator Clio Hall, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, whose original idea for phytoplankton-based carbon sequestration to assist industries to remove pollutants grew at breakneck speeds during the programme, was as laudatory of the programme as Tare and Geelle.
“It’s been an absolutely fantastic journey,” Hall exclaimed, saying that what had started as “just a minimal idea” had grown during Circulator to the point where she now had a co-founder with business design skills which complement her scientific know-how, a developed prototype, and even a place in the University's Biosphere incubator – secured after a chat with Pedro Gensini, that programme’s manager who had been sufficiently impressed by Hall's enthusiasm and her solution to extend her an invitation to the programme as team Carbon Eaters .
Hall was also had positive words for the innovative AI-powered business coaching solution Tuovila had decided to pilot during Circulator 3.0, Valuemaker. Valuemaker, along with guidance from its creator Alexander Anserud, helped enhance the learning entrepreneurial learning experience for Hall and her fellow Circulators by providing them with potential developmental avenues for their ideas and tailored insights to quickly find their bearings in the dizzying world of entrepreneurship. “As a scientist not used to the business side, I found the Valuemaker AI concept helped make complex topics easily digestible,” Hall explained.
Overall, then, it would appear that the consensus among Circulator 3.0 participants is that this latest round of the programme, with its smaller cohort, innovative application of AI, and customarily tight-knit community – “like a big family”, as Hall says – was a resounding success.
For now it remains to be seen how the 3.0’s will decide to continue on their journeys, but for Geelle, Tare, Hall, and the rest of the Circulators, it’s evident that none could’ve asked for a better start to that journey than what Tuovila has provided them.
Circulator is the University of Helsinki's early-stage entrepreneurship programme, or pre-incubator, for ideas in #CircularEconomy. The programme is powered by Helsingin kaupunki – Helsingfors stad – City of Helsinki and Business Helsinki, and will return for a fourth batch in late 2024. For more information on this or any of our other programmes, please visit helsinki.fi/incubators