“It’s so Cool to See This Many Different Teams!” — The First Ever Pathways Cohort Ready to Begin Its Trailblazing Journey

The long-awaited Pathways pre-incubator programme kicked off recently when the whopping cohort of more than 40 eager path-treaders, representing 32 different ideas, met for the first time.

Despite the fact that the Pathways programme's kick-off needed to be held online due to nation-wide strikes to public transport, excitement was palpable among participants and organisers even through a computer screen. With good reason, as the occasion did represent the beginning of a two-month journey paved with new learnings and connections, and hopefully to many, potentially something that might just change the rest of their lives.

The University of Helsinki’s Pathways programme is the first of its kind. Unlike the Helsinki Incubators’ thematic pre-incubators SÄRÖ/FRACTURE, Circulator, Compass, and HealthX, Pathways does not limit its scope to any specific topic but is instead designed to cater to a broad range of fields and approaches, with the aim of building collaborative bridges between thinkers and doers from all walks of life. This is what Pathways facilitator Jani Lehto from the programme’s collaborative partner Helsinki Think Company said he’s looking forward to the most: “It’s so cool to see this many different teams, I have never worked with a bigger cohort. The programme will allow a lot of flexibility, and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of cross-pollination between ideas and ways of working. I’m so excited!”

On par with the programme’s goals, project lead Santeri Tuovila urged participants to engage with design thinking from the onset: “First we learn, then we create. First we brainstorm ideas, then we select the best ones and test them. This you do over and over again.” With a laugh he also added: “This might mean that you might end up doing some really ridiculous things, but that’s what Pathways is all about!”

On top of the necessary introductions and practicalities, Swedish serial tech entrepreneur Alexander Anserud walked participants through the use of Valuemaker, his AI-based virtual platform designed to act as a helper for founders to easily plan their route in entrepreneurship, what comes to, for example, market areas and customer bases. Anserud has kindly promised Pathways participants free access to the platform for the duration of the programme.

Values, Before All Else

The following Tuesday, participants had a chance to connect faces with names-on-screen at the first workshop. Seda Altunbay and Asiyeh Younesi, classmates on their second year in the University’s Changing Education master’s programme, were among the first to arrive. “We have an idea that relates to supporting teachers in their work. My background is in teaching, and Asiyeh’s is in business and leadership. We’re hoping that our combination of skills could amount to something impactful,” said Altunbay.

Altunbay and Younesi look forward to acquiring the concrete skills needed to take their project onwards in the Finnish business context. “Besides that, we really need all the help we can get with networking and connecting with people who are at the top of their field in the education industry,” Altunbay explained, before adding: “I’m really eager to see the before and after versions of our solution and witnessing our growth process!”

The duo recalled the first session’s Ikigai exercise, where they were urged to think about their values as guiding principles for the months to come. The concept of "ikigai" combines four elements that aim to help a person get a clearer image of their “motivating force” in life and work: what you love doing, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you are good at.

“I think it was very good to actually take the time to reflect on these questions,” Altunbay observed. “These days, with all our hectic daily routines, we never get the chance to sit down and think. We assume that we have our values sorted, but I discovered that it’s not at all that simple and that we oftentimes take them for granted.”

Wise Words from Those Who’ve Done It Before

The speakers of the first workshop came prepared with their own hefty doses of inspiration and insight. The theme of the day, Business Stories, was to give participants a concrete image of what a path in entrepreneurship might entail, through real-life stories from real-life entrepreneurs. First off was Compass alumni, serial entrepreneur, and now TREMOR mentor Jori Karvonen, who mapped out the story of his online rental marketplace for tractors in Catalonia, Spain—from its ambitious start to its unfortunate, yet educational end. “Going into a field, you have to understand it inside and out,” he underlined to the attentive crowd.

Next up was Minaë Tani-LaFleur introducing her company Zestii Kitchens, a collective that enables expat chefs in Finland, who might not have the choice otherwise, to do what they love and are good at. The result? Even the most niche cuisines find their experts and eaters. In her presentation, Tani-LaFleur emphasised the importance of staying true to your purpose when founding a business, indeed mirroring the lessons of the Ikigai exercise: “Many companies lose sight of why they wanted to do something in the first place,” she said. “My message to you is this: don’t steer away from the ‘why’ behind your work.”

The last speaker of the evening was the cheerful Dr. Windi Muziasari, whose research-based company Resistomap is the first company in the world to commercialise antibiotic resistance monitoring in the environment, thus working towards a healthier planet for all: humans, animals, and nature. Muziasari assured the audience full of fellow academics that entrepreneurship is not too different from research, contrary to what preconceptions they may have. Indeed, for her, a researcher mindset was what spurred her into action in the first place. “It was my heart saying that ‘we need to do something!’,” she said emphatically.

Only the Start

After an info-heavy evening, participants were understandably tired. Regardless, no smiles had faded just yet. It was clear that the expert speakers had managed to shed light not only on the lessons learned along their journeys, but indeed, also on the world of many different routes available for our path-treaders in the first place. “I believe this session has been fruitful in exemplifying what entrepreneurship can entail in a concrete sense,” Tuovila said thoughtfully. “I’m stoked to see the programme properly take off and our participants take heed of the experts’ words, through bravely testing out their ideas and getting out there!”

Get to know all the teams participating in Pathways here and make sure to stay tuned for more updates on the programme! For more information, you can contact programme lead Santeri Tuovila at santeri.tuovila[at]helsinki.fi or through LinkedIn.