Startup is the new black in Finland.
Over the past couple years we’ve experienced a new wave of startups, especially in tech-related fields. The annual startup meeting Slushhas grown from an insiders’ event into a gathering of 10,000 like-minded people. Last October Wired magazine even listed Helsinki as one of the hottest startup cities in the world.
Many of these newly founded companies utilize a high level of expertise and scientific knowledge. Last year, for example, more than 120 health and wellness startups attended Slush.
In response to the growing demand, most Finnish universities have added entrepreneurship courses to their curriculum, and advancing entrepreneurship has been listed as a top priority by both the universities and Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. It seems that these institutions are willing to encourage enthusiastic young thinkers-and-doers to test their wings, and to provide them with all the skills, knowledge and motivation needed to become successful entrepreneurs. At least in theory.
The reality, unfortunately, is somewhat different. A recent study by the University of Eastern Finlandsuggests that 67 percent of students believe they received too little or no information about entrepreneurship. Anu Puusa, the professor responsible for the study, finds these results very alarming: graduates with virtually no expertise in entrepreneurship hardly consider it a realistic option and, moreover, their attitudes towards entrepreneurship in general tend to be more negative.
But if there is an abundance of university courses on entrepreneurship, where does the problem lie? As a biotechnology graduate, I would say that for the medical field it mainly lies in the traditional juxtaposition of university research and business thinking. People in medicine and biological sciences often envision themselves working towards a higher cause, and when you introduce the idea of entrepreneurship they often do not understand what it has to do with them – it’s just moneymaking.
During my studies, I was trained to be a world-saving researcher. Never was entrepreneurship even mentioned as a career option. Not once.
Theoretical courses are not enough. Fields like IT have offered practical study programs in co-operation with companies for ages, without faculties losing their ability to conduct high-quality research. Why should biomedical sciences be any different? And although not all students need to found their own companies, basic entrepreneurship skills – visioning, benchmarking, pitching, etc. – would be useful for any kind of job, even research.
Most importantly, to achieve their goal of promoting entrepreneurship, universities have to undo certain patterns. High quality research and entrepreneurship must not be presented as obstacles to one another when they both could help us solve real-world problems. At MedEngine, for example, we utilize our university-obtained scientific expertise to provide businesses with the tools and knowledge that are crucial for producing high-quality scientific data or scientifically precise communication – and to make such innovations available for people who need them.
Growth of business does not need to exclude growth in understanding.