Júlio Pinho: “Failures are stepping stones if you handle them well. Be kind to yourself.”

Welcome to another edition of our interview series introducing the mentors behind the Helsinki Incubators entrepreneurship programmes. Here we meet Júlio Pinho, a telecom executive who believes in the power of kindness and dreaming big.

Empathy may not be the first trait we associate with the business world, but Júlio Pinho has made a career out of helping others find the best in themselves. From managing product teams in the workplace to mentoring startup founders, Julió believes the key to leadership is helping others achieve their potential.

“I'm a human being – just like all of us – so I always see professional life as coming on top of that,” says Julió, a proud husband, father and dog owner. “The most important thing is being curious and attuned to the world around you. A good leader does not take credit for themselves, but enables others to be better.”

An engineer by training, Júlio’s first big career step was a role in cybersecurity for an airport in Portugal. He then decided to move into the telecom space, setting himself on a 20-year international journey through that industry. Julió has led teams in product management, run businesses, and been responsible for driving innovation. He counts both Ericsson and Vodafone among his previous employers.

In an early career-shaping experience, Júlio recalls telling in a job interview about his dream of being a subject-matter expert leading a team within five years. The recruiter doubted the young engineer and said it would not be possible. Júlio would prove him wrong.

“Those words hit me strongly, as I was just at the beginning of my career. My mind was open and ready to learn, but here was somebody trying to kill my dream,” he says. “Yet four years later I was living in a different country, managing a team at Ericsson, and recognized as an expert in value-added services.”

“Every single journey starts with a dream. You should not give up just because someone says you are not good enough. Everything is in your hands. This is a principle I try to pass on to the people I have had the pleasure of managing and mentoring,” explains Júlio.

Dream big, work hard, believe in yourself

Júlio is working for Helsinki Incubators as a rotating mentor, which means supporting three of the programme’s startups. All three are focused on developing bio and circular innovations. As he comes from a different professional background, Julió is helping the founders with business fundamentals while learning as much as he can about this unfamiliar field. “For me this is like going back to school. I’ve learned so much over the past few months. I intervene with specific bricks of my expertise in marketing, management, logistics and IT fundamentals,” he says.

Part of the mentorship role is about encouraging the teams to have confidence in their own ideas. Focusing purely on the technical side is not enough for a founder to impress investors and potential customers.

“An entrepreneur is someone who is capable of dreaming and who dares to do something about it. Most of the teams are driven by a huge passion. The biggest challenge is turning that passion into something concrete; using an isolated spark of ingenuity to create a flame that will feed something more,” he explains.

“Success is not necessarily a unicorn, but being capable of putting something into action and generating value.”

“I try to pass on concepts and structures that help the founders complete their dreams. Sometimes the business case or the financial modelling need some work. I encourage them to take a step back and look at the bigger picture – to see what is missing. This often means playing devil’s advocate, which can be hard for young entrepreneurs to deal with,” he says.

This is where Júlio’s empathic side shines. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he knows how business does not always go according to plan. Self-doubt is a normal reaction in the face of failure, but Júlio stresses the importance of continuing to believe in oneself.

“Failures are stepping stones if you handle them well. You fail, you stand up and you move ahead. Be kind to yourself. Look at the things you did well and what you could do better. Try not to stress too much if things do not take off immediately. You will get there,” he encourages.

Building experience and sharing knowledge

Júlio emphasises that nobody is born knowing how to engineer products or negotiate complex deals. Everything is a learning process. Some things only come with maturity and acquired knowledge – neither of which can be rushed.

He also believes that being kind to oneself is a prerequisite for being kind to others. This is how people transform into leaders who earn respect.

“You see leaders in large organisations who are just put there and have no connection at all to anyone. It’s cold and brutal,” states Júlio. “But then you have other leaders who are kind. People will follow you not because of what you say, but because they believe in you. By being kind to yourself first, you bring people with you on the same journey.”

A common theme among the Helsinki Incubators’ mentors is the desire to give something back; to feel the sense of purpose that comes with sharing knowledge. Júlio is driven by the same motivation.

“When you reach a certain level in your career, you need to have a sense of purpose. That purpose is sharing your knowledge and experience with people who want to transform the world,” he explains.

With the Helsinki Incubators’ mentors coming from a wide range of backgrounds, Júlio also values the peer-learning opportunity that the programme offers. He appreciates the relaxed and collaborative atmosphere of the academic environment; conditions that are ideal for learning.

“I'm honoured to have the opportunity to give back as part of this programme and this pool of mentors. It’s wonderful to be in the Helsinki University ecosystem and experience all that it has to offer,” says Júlio.