This is an article that was originally published in Aalto Inside. You can find the original here.
A delegation of Aalto University professors, teachers and researchers visited Stanford University in February. The focus of interest for the second group was Stanford University's Technology Ventures Program (STVP), which trains high-growth entrepreneurs and with which the Aalto Ventures Program collaborates as the sole European partner. The trip helped to establish new connections and collaborative projects with Stanford as well as a renewed sense of group cohesion for Aalto. Aalto ENG professors Matti Juhala and Petri Kuosmanen also went to find out more about what is happening in research and teaching in their own field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Berkeley University.
Aalto Ventures Program is growing – more people needed
The Aalto Ventures Program (AVP) has a strong partnership with the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. AVP is Aalto's entrepreneurship program, which educates and trains students to become high-growth entrepreneurs. The partnership between AVP and STVP focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. Aalto University is Stanford's only partner in Europe that teaches high-growth entrepreneurship.
Kalle Airo Program Manager of AVP believes that the best thing about these trips is the genuine collaboration between Stanford and Aalto. Through new contacts, we are often able to bring 10 professors over from Stanford, while 15 from Aalto travel to the States to find out more about their operations.
At Stanford, Airo really noticed the different way in which business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors take part in teaching. Their support is perhaps not entirely altruistic – competition is fierce – but the culture of giving back is prevalent. The directors of Oracle or some other big company can often be seen in the back row of the lecture hall as they perhaps graduated from that university or are searching for new potential high-growth entrepreneurs and ideas.
AVP does not just train students to become entrepreneurs. The program does not provide textbook studies of entrepreneurship; rather the approach is more commercial and growth-oriented. AVP offers education as a minor subject and through optional studies. A minority of participants establish their own companies, while the majority go to work on other start ups or work with big companies. The most important thing during the course is to develop an understanding of how to make things happen in the business world. AVP's project courses are real life projects, involving companies and dealing with their problems.
Airo believes that the teaching in individual courses at Aalto is of just as high a standard as that of Stanford, only the business environment is very different. Eighty per cent of the world's venture capitalists are based within a 100 km radius of Stanford.
Start ups are loaded with high expectations. It is hoped that they will become new high-growth companies, bringing new industry and economic growth. Established by Aalto University students, the increasingly popular Aalto Entrepreneurship Society has also been a catalyst for operations at the Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE).
Research gives teaching more backbone
Leader of the Aalto University Service Factory and Information Systems Science Professor at the School of Business Virpi Tuunainen
notes that entrepreneurship and start up training is everywhere.
-- It would be naive to try to copy Silicon Valley in Finland, Denmark or Russia. At Aalto, we have our own strengths, such as the fact that we are a research university. The strength in our teaching is that we have researched the issues. Business and economic ability is about more than just accounting and marketing strategies. What's important is how people are taught, how we incorporate research findings - for example - from business models. We have many different types of expertise in our six schools. Teaching should not just be technology-led. Economics and design also have a lot to offer, she says.
Stanford has lots of start ups in the field of biotechnology. Their research and product development could also perhaps benefit from an understanding of economic mechanisms, revenue models, design thinking and service design.
-- I got to know Aalto's physicists for the first time. For their part, they hadn't heard of the Service Factory either, tells Tuunainen of the networking between the different factions of the Aalto community.
Biodesign degree programme planned for Aalto
Professor Paavo Kinnunen
from the School of Science Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science (BECS) was already introduced to Stanford's Biodesign course in 2011. Biodesign at Stanford has a unique way of examining the field. The degree programme combines medicine and high-tech business cooperation. Over the last 11 years, a large number of high-growth companies and professionals have come from this course, having set up business in different fields and hospitals.
At Aalto, we are setting up a Biodesign degree programme, which will also have input from HUS and the University of Helsinki. The joint degree programme will teach how to solve practical problems and commercialise the solutions. Teams are a significant part of the course, formed by specialised doctors and engineering students. The teams work on a hospital cycle, listing 200 problem areas. The problems are placed in order of importance using the help of external experts. Finally, a problem is selected to be dealt with, and a prototype and business plan are made. The aim of the Biodesign programme is to create new business.
If the plans continue as hoped, the degree programme should begin in 2014. The one-year full-time degree includes training in medicine and business, with four to eight students selected each year. Mentoring will be an important part of study and the course will include a term spent at Stanford.
The course will make the most of BECS's strengths and, for example, the Micronova nanofacilities are world class. Courses can also be taken with AVP. A global network can be easily developed since Stanford Biodesign has strong ties to Singapore and India. A biodesign programme has also been established in Ireland. We have excellent students - Aalto is not behind Stanford in terms of the quality of its students,. says Kinnunen.
During the visit to Stanford, Kinnunen had two missions: to learn more about biodesign and to strengthen educational cooperation with Stanford, as well as to find internship placements for students. There are currently two placements available.
Students being prepared to meet venture capitalists
-- Our interviewees all concurred that the teaching at Stanford is different. Teaching is not just about lectures, rather teaching situations where there is a lot of discussion. A lot of lecturers come from companies and the teachers' attitude and approach to students is more measured and planned.
For Paavo Kinnunen, it was eye-opening to sit in on a teaching session, during his visit last May, where biodesign teams in their final stages were being prepared to meet venture capitalists.
-- A young woman, a high-level consultant and teacher, went though the team's presentation. She gave a critique and helped them to develop the next draft. The teacher was not on the Stanford payroll: she had her own consultancy firm, whose clients included some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley – and whose CEO's presentations she had written! So, students are tutored by a top expert and trainer – not a presentation technique enthusiast.
Lectures at Stanford are recorded. Their teaching aims to facilitate an open exchange of thoughts, and ’failure’ is not a word they use. Setbacks are also good experience.
Students get summer placements at Stanford
Aalto has various collaborative projects with Stanford. These include a joint product development course (ME310) organised by Design Factory; this is now the third time that we are sending our students to Stanford for a high-level, two-month summer programme. This summer, it will be the turn of six of our young students. In addition, our researchers have been actively involved in the work of Scancor, a Stanford-based organisational research centre.
Vice President Hannu Seristö notes that, overall, Stanford is a very important partner for Aalto and that cooperation between the two institutions has grown significantly over the past two years. International Relations will gladly welcome any suggestions and ideas for cooperation with Stanford – we always want to offer help and support.
Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship
Aalto Ventures Program
Aalto Entrepreneurship Society
Introducing Biodesign Finland (video)
Students for Stanford Summer Program selected