Incubator Blogs — Mentor Mia Uitto: “The Things You’re Passionate About Are What You Excel At”

Welcome to another edition of our interview series where we introduce the mentors behind the Helsinki Incubators entrepreneurship programmes. Here we meet Mia Uitto, a former diving instructor and a keen storyteller who is now building Nordea’s brand as part of Group Brand Marketing team.

Creating a brand story that people remember is a marketing person’s dream. Even better if the story keeps on living long after you’ve moved on to a new role. This is exactly what Mia Uitto achieved when she helped to build the B2B brand in Finland for Nordic and Baltic telecom-operator Telia. The company’s ‘Telia One – One Partner Is All You Need’ campaign is still running five years later.

“The simple stories are the ones that can be best powered by marketing. You can communicate very complex things with simple concepts and those stories are the ones people remember,” she says.

Uitto kicked off her career in a human-resources role for US technology-company Symbio. She then moved into its marketing-communications function, working with the leadership team on various change-management programmes.

Uitto has always been eager to learn new things and thus she took a sabbatical year from work to fulfil a dream of hers, diving. She packed her bags and set out to travel the world as a diving instructor. This adventure lasted 13 months and took her through Thailand, the Maldives, Bali, and Indonesia. Living alone abroad was never a problem since Uitto had previously lived in the United States and Spain, and having travelled widely in Latin America, Asia, and Europe.

“When I was a child, my mother’s uncle died of cancer. He left us with the message that you should always follow your dreams and do the things you want to do, because you never know how many days you have left on Earth. His words stuck with me and have been a key principle in my life ever since,” she reflects.

From Branding to Mentoring

Uitto is now a Senior Marketing Partner at Nordea, the largest bank in the Nordic region.

Nordea has taken a lead role in the green transition, providing substantial financing to companies making the shift to more sustainable operations. The bank also heavily supports the Nordic startup ecosystem with training and financing. Some 80% of startups in Finland are Nordea customers.

“I’ve really found my niche at Nordea. Now I have the privilege of building the company’s brand around the ‘Idea of Something Better’ story we’ve created,” says Uitto.

“I'm at a point in my career where I can say that I’ve learned many things and have something to share for others to benefit from. This is why I joined Helsinki Incubators as a mentor,” she explains. “It’s also an interesting learning experience for me. Working in a large corporation, I learn from seeing how startups approach building their businesses. Mentoring is a two-way street.”

Uitto is on her second round at Helsinki Incubators, having earlier participated in the NEXUS 1 programme. Back then she worked with to help its founders build a viable business model for their AI-driven video-translation software. The company is now generating revenue.

This time Uitto is mentoring itFixBox, a service that allows people to drop their laptops off for repair in pop-up boxes that can be placed anywhere. Uitto decided to work with the team as she prefers mentoring startups that have already created some foundation.

“I enjoy helping companies that have good ideas ready to be accelerated into thriving businesses during the six-month incubator programme,” she says. “I believe in the itFixBox business idea—they really have something. It’s very possible the company will succeed.”

“What I learned in the last round, and see again now, is that the role of the mentor is to ground the company and help its founders to focus,” explains Uitto. “I had initially thought I would primarily help the startups with marketing and communications. But I’ve learned that I can tick other boxes too, including things like structuring the business, customer segmentation, and identifying market areas.”

In the earlier NEXUS round, Uitto worked as a co-mentor with investor and media personality Kim Väisänen. “Kim is brilliant—I learned a lot from him,” she recalls. “He can be very strict with the startups, as he knows that most of them fail by not focusing.”

“If you are trying to build a business on your own, you easily end up going round and round over the same problems. The programmes at Helsinki Incubators are good for breaking out of the cycles and for learning new skills to fast-track your growth.”

Learning from Leaders

Uitto draws a clear connection between her role as a mentor and her work at Nordea. The company has a programme that allows employees to spend two working days each year volunteering in projects that support entrepreneurial learning and the teaching of financial skills, for example to children or young people. Over 180,000 people benefitted from these programs in 2022. Uitto plans to contribute her mentoring skills to next year’s programme.

“This initiative fits beautifully with Nordea’s brand promise. The idea is that if you manage your finances well, then you can help to build something better for yourself and for society as a whole,” she explains.

Uitto was drawn to NEXUS as she’s interested in the main themes of the programme: artificial intelligence, deep tech, and sustainability. She also appreciates being in the company of the other mentors, who represent a wide range of backgrounds. Many of the mentors are leaders in their fields, so Uitto sees an opportunity to learn more about leadership.

“It’s interesting to learn from people who have been leaders for a long time. How they handle their struggles and motivate people through tough times—these are not things you can learn from books,” she says. “Experienced leaders have good capabilities in guiding others away from making mistakes.”

Uitto believes Finnish companies often make the mistake of focusing too much on making a product technically perfect, while neglecting proper two-way communication with customers.

“We’re a high-tech country and we like to look at ourselves as fixing every single technical problem,” she remarks. “But you must always ask whether it’s relevant for the customers. They might be happy with 95% perfect and then you just have to brand it properly.”

“That being said, I find it really inspiring that people can be so passionate about their work. The things you’re passionate about are what you excel at.”

“I think entrepreneurship means having courage. I'm not an entrepreneur myself; I like to work in a corporation. The fact that someone is willing to put everything on the line for their idea—that takes courage,” says Uitto.


Take a look at our other recent mentor profiles below!

The University of Helsinki's entrepreneurship programmes, the Helsinki Incubators, provides support and opportunities for bold thinkers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area interested in taking their ideas and turning them into impactful ventures. Interested in getting involved in our pre-incubators and incubators? Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on when the next calls open.