Highlighting the Nordic Ecosystem of Startups

The Nordic countries are producing the most billion dollar valued businesses per capita in the world, conquered only by Silicon Valley. While the Nordics represent only 3% of the population in Europe, it has produced more than 50% of the billion dollar exits in the region since 2005. Last week, between 3rd and 7th December, BEST Helsinki from Aalto University Student Union invited technical students from all over Europe to get familiar with the Nordic Startup Ecosystem and to discuss the state of their local education to develop the blueprint for the universities of the future. A total of 16 students from 10 different technical universities arrived in Finland for one week.

The week started on Monday with a presentation of the Universities of the Future project, followed by a Focus group workshop where the students shared their options regarding the future of Education 4.0 and Industry 4.0. Due to having people from such many different backgrounds, the discussion was intensively funneling down to the vast differences in education and economy between different areas of Europe and the fact that the strategies of education 4.0 need to consider the development differences among countries.

“I had an excellent possibility to take part in the discussion of new and main challenges for universities. We were trying to identify the current problems in our education systems and find the best solutions for each of them. As for me, one of the most interesting parts was the creation of an action plan for the next 22 years according to industry 4.0. There are a lot of improvement points that can be applied by the universities in our country, for example, a collaboration between companies and universities, investing in the infrastructure and innovation, a possibility of a mentorship program and having open online platforms for sharing knowledge. Also, I was excited how great the educational platform in Aalto University compared with Ukrainian universities is, so thanks to this workshop, I realized how much I want to get my master degree there and to be closer to startup ecosystem in Finland!”

Kate Stefanovych, National Technical University of Ukraine

On the following two days, the students got the opportunity to be present in the leading startup conference Slush: The massive event gathers around 3,100 startups, 1,800 investors, and 650 journalists from over 130 countries together. The conference tickets run for hundreds of euros each, but thanks to the partnership by BEST Helsinki, the students participated for free in exchange for short volunteer work shifts. Outside their shifts, they were free to attend the event to talk with startups, listen to the speakers and gain career opportunities.

The week continued with a non-working day: The student unions of the Capital Region celebrated The Independence Day of Finland with an Independence Day torchlight procession and our participants were invited to join. This year, students joined the procession for sustainable development and Finnish nature. The participants had a chance to make presentations on Finnish culture and of course – Finnish sauna.

Friday was the last working day in which students visited the new A Grid startup community, one of Europe’s largest centers for growth companies. It houses all kinds of startups, accelerators, such as the European Space Agency and Aalto Startup Center, as well as partners and established large industrial companies, like energy company Fortum – A great example of a platform for industry/HEI-collaboration that is crucial for the adoption of Education 4.0. The visit was finished with a presentation by BEST Helsinki’s Partner Espoo Innovation Garden how it aims to bring together the various partners operating in the economic area of Espoo to encourage their collaboration and sense of community. After a heavy week of work and new experiences, the students shared their last options on the roadmap for the Universities of the Future.

The event was successful and it received very good feedback from participants. The students are looking forward to finding career opportunities in Finland and hearing more on the outputs of the project.

Universities of the Future was present on Nokia Innovation Day

Nokia Innovation Day of this year occurred last 12th October in the Portuguese branch of this company. Porto Design Factory co-organised the event with Nokia and took this great opportunity to present the “Universities of the Future” project aiming to encourage the public debate on “Education 4.0” and its links to “Industry 4.0”. In an open session about “The Future of Jobs and The Future of Education”, in the context of the 4th industrial and technological revolution, João Queirós from Porto Design Factory and the Polytechnic of Porto participated in a debate that gathered the opinions of several key stakeholders: ANI, the Portuguese Innovation Agency, a project partner, here represented by its President, Eduardo Maldonado; COTEC Portugal, the agency that is responsible for coordinating and monitoring the Portuguese National Strategy for Industry 4.0, represented by its General-Manager, Jorge Portugal; and Jorge Ferreira, Factory Manager, on behalf of IKEA Industry Portugal, another partner of the “Universities of the Future” project.


The debate was an opportunity to raise awareness on our project and to gather several relevant notes on the challenges that Higher Education Institutions, companies and public bodies face regarding the joint effort that will be necessary for dealing with the transformations that will occur in the economy and the labour markets in the next decades. The debate brought up a number of good examples of how public policies and public bodies are favouring the interaction between companies and Higher Education Institutions, and how this is resulting in new, more adequate educational offers. Furthermore, the results were clear for everyone present at the debate: universities should also carry on their role and work as places for abstract, creative, disruptive thinking, theoretical and methodological innovation, and for the strengthening of open, plural citizenship. Universities will maintain their relevance if they’re able to help forge not only the workers of the future, but in fact the citizens of the future.

#universitiesofthefuture #erasmusplus #PPORTO #NOKIA

Aalto University team participating in Dare to Learn, a learning festival

Last week, Laura, Maria and myself, Irena, from Aalto Design Factory took part in Dare to Learn, a learning Festival organised for the second time in Helsinki, September 18th and 19th. It took place in an old industrial venue called the Cable Factory.

The festival was a combination of workshops, talks, panel discussions and exhibitors at their booths, leaving space for interaction between participants.  The two stages brought both local and international researchers, product managers, start-up founders, professors and politicians to share insights from their own work, and to discuss the current and future trends of education. This year’s themes were Learning for Sustainability, Self-directed Learning, Curriculum 2026: What should we learn next?, Emotions and Learning, and Developmental Organizational Culture.

The festival gathered non-formal education providers, startups and education organisations under one roof to learn from each other and in the best case scenario: collaborate. A quote from the festival’s website communicates how collaboration is part of the festival’s vision:

“We believe solutions for tomorrow’s learning challenges can be solved the best by bridging gaps between different learning professionals.”

At Dare to Learn the vision of collaboration is not just a vision, but the actual spirit of the festival. It was tangible immediately when entering the venue. One could spot many familiar faces, colleagues from the education sector and entrepreneurs, all excitedly mingling with each other.

The workshops were organized by event participants, including governmental organisations, universities and private education providers. The workshops created great opportunities for the participants to explore new topics, new methods and to work on different challenges with people from different disciplines, professions, age groups and cultural backgrounds, without forgetting the new contacts made while working together. Personally, it was really refreshing, motivating and inspiring to sit on the learner’s side of the table for a change. For an educator like me, Dare to Learn gave a really good reminder to also take part as a participant at workshops in addition to only always organizing them. One of the workshops I attended was called “Learning from the future” and organized by the “Future School” and UNESCO Chair in Learning Society and Futures of Education. First, the participants envisioned a preferable future, and then, using a methodology called backcasting, tried to figure out the steps to take in order to achieve the chosen future.

In addition to taking part in workshops and getting to know different ed-tech companies, we had the pleasure to listen to good speeches. Share-Josephine Hjortm, the founder of Canopy Lab, was giving food for thought concerning the future of ed-tech. It has, according to her, grown significantly during the last 3 years. In her work she has noticed that there are many new voices and visions as ed-tech is becoming a billion-dollar business. The questions Share-Josephine encouraged everyone to think about were: what should we learn in 2026 and how?

Our own Maria Clavert also gave a presentation about the Universities of the Future project at the “How our future leaders grow – learning from entrepreneurial leaders” Spark talks. Maria’s talk raised a good amount of interest in our project, encouraging listeners to come have a discussion at the booth Universities of the Future shared with Aalto University.

All in all, participating in Dare to Learn was a success. We, as the participants, got inspired, met new people and got an oversight to what is happening in education globally. As a bonus, many relevant people added their contact information to our database hoping to become involved in Universities of the Future and to receive our outputs.