Not long until we get to meet the teams participating in the second round of the University of Helsinki’s circular economy pre-incubator, Circulator 2.0, and see the innovative entrepreneurial solutions they develop in combatting issues in sustainability. With still some time to apply, there are bound to be many readers curious to know what the programme is all about. We sat down with Karri Lehtonen and Saana Siivola to get a glimpse of what their experiences were like.
Both Lehtonen and Siivola were somewhat familiar with the world of entrepreneurship before they applied to Circulator. Lehtonen had previous experience of founding a start-up in circular economy, and Siivola had a registered company in place for her solution. Still, both found themselves in need of a little help in boosting their projects: “I applied because I wanted to branch out and meet likeminded people in the field, strike up potential partnerships, and learn more about circular economy in general,” says Siivola. Lehtonen agrees: “I wanted to get fresh, objective perspectives on my idea. I also felt like I needed to update myself on the field of circular economy. Even though I have quite a bit of experience, it is a very rapidly growing field and there are always new things to learn.”
Through his solution, Lehtonen wants to address the sustainability issues within the textile industry. “At the moment, data about the durability of textiles doesn’t really exist, except for internal purposes in the industry,” he explains. “I hope to rework this data into an accessible form so that making conscious decisions in stores would be easier for consumers.” Siivola, likewise, works with textiles. She produces sustainable baby products, such as nappy changing mats and sleeping bags, with a focus on circular means of production.
Although Lehtonen and Siivola came to the programme with ready ideas and experience in entrepreneurship, both learned many new things over the course of the two months: “There were definitely things that I wasn’t previously that familiar with,” says Siivola. “For example, one of the lectures on different positions in a company was particularly helpful for me. It made me think about what kind of people I want to work with.” Siivola was also inspired by the many lectures on circular economy, and ended up taking a much larger focus on it in her own work. Lehtonen, on the other hand, gained understanding about the social dimensions of circular economy: “Being sustainable also requires an awareness of things like economic and social equality. Getting help in this aspect of conscious entrepreneurship was really helpful for me.”
Both Lehtonen and Siivola say that one of the biggest takeaways of the programme was its focus on the importance of listening to clients. “It is really easy as an entrepreneur to be absorbed by personal preferences, but what you really need to do is think about things from the point of view of the customer. It’s so important to listen to them first and foremost!” Siivola emphasises.
The friendship between Lehtonen and Siivola is certainly proof of the way in which the first Circulator worked to bring people together as a community. “These guys!” Lehtonen says and playfully elbows Siivola when asked what the best part of the programme was, making her laugh. She agrees: “Our Circulator community was definitely a highlight for me. Everyone got to focus on their own thing, but we also got the chance to get valuable feedback from our peers, on what works and what doesn’t.” “There was an atmosphere of trust!” Lehtonen adds.
But what is the duo up to now? Lehtonen decided to continue his learning journey in Biosphere, the incubator for Circulator participants who want to hone their skills in entrepreneurship even further. By the end of the programme, Lehtonen is hoping to have a business in place, and perhaps even a partnership on the works. Siivola has continued growing her start-up independently. Currently, she is working on product development on the basis of customer feedback, and is on the lookout for team members to join her. “I feel great about my project and have a lot of faith in it!” she says with enthusiasm.
To people who are getting started in entrepreneurship, Siivola has one thing to say: “Don’t think too much, just do! If the amount of work feels overwhelming, pick one thing and start with that.” Lehtonen nods in agreement and says: “If one thing is for certain, it is that there are going to be obstacles along the way. But very rarely is any problem so big that there wouldn’t be any way around it. Don’t be too critical of yourself! If something is possible in theory, it is also possible in practice.”
Circulator 2.0 will run from 14 April to 9 June, and will consist of bi-weekly workshops and lectures designed to help you kick-start your entrepreneurial journey in circular economy. Apply to the programme by 31 March, and for more information, visit our programme webpage! We also warmly invite you to sign up to two of our open “Get to know the programme” sessions: one on 8 March 16:00-17:00 in the City Centre, and another on 15 March 16:00-17:00 in Viikki.