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In January, AVP alumnus Johannes Salmisaari was on his way to UC Berkeley in sunny California, not knowing that the campus would close in six weeks because of the new coronavirus. As a part of an AVP-Berkeley contract he and a fellow student, Henrik Helenius, had been chosen for Startup Semester, an entrepreneurship program focusing on leadership, innovation, and execution. They were supposed to study at UC Berkeley for one semester, but the virus had other plans. Once the campus was closed down, Johannes and Henrik flew to Hawaii. There, proving once more that boredom can lead to great things, they founded Droppe, a service that helps distribute hygiene supplies to where they are needed most. We had a chance to have a chat with Johannes and ask him about why he chose to take part in the Startup Semester, and how he believes the program could be useful to other Aalto students.

AVP students in Berkeley

Johannes Salmisaari (right) and Henrik Helenius wish to help in the fight against coronavirus with their startup Droppe after studying entrepreneurship in UC Berkeley.

Why did you want to go to California?

“I was passionate about the beauty of an environment with a commonly-accepted drive towards building world-changing solutions. I wanted to understand how I could come along as part of the individualistic society where you have the best possible resources for understanding the future trends of technology and mindsets that will shape the future.

The University of California, Berkeley is recognized by some rankings as the best public university in the world. Leveraging the opportunity of being part of the environment, would create a sandbox environment to seek opportunities, connect with like-minded people, and start pursuing my personal goals.

The opportunity worked also as an excellent way to validate how the Finnish education system’s learnings translate into the capability to compete against some of the brightest minds of the world. As a disclaimer, Finns should not undervalue the quality of education given in Finland.”

Why did you choose Startup Semester Program?

“I have always felt like a misfit and ended up taking extraordinary paths in life. My roots are in Southern-Karelia, in a village called Ruokolahti, and for a long time I have been seeking an environment of the best possible resources where I can build things together with other like-minded people. After I had seen the Aalto University learning environment I wanted to understand how the learning opportunities would differ in California.

I valued the opportunity of being able to learn some of the best insights of the modern world and get support on a personal level for launching a global venture. This was also the base of how Droppe (droppe.fi), service for load balancing global hygienic supplies, was founded.

Startup Semester Program provided flexibility to choose the courses that deepened my areas of expertise in economics and data science. The program focuses on venture-building would deepen the understanding of being able to identify best practices, key assets, legal and governmental structures and most of all build an exceptional social capital to leverage in the future. I could also hop in the new environment while going through a change in my life.”

What benefits in the program do you see for an Aalto student?

“San Francisco Bay Area provides an exceptional environment for software and deep technology-focused ventures. The more you have prior experience of being part of high growth ventures the more you are able to get out of the program. You are able to learn from top-level venture capitalists, academical professors, and industry professionals that want to support you on a personal level.

Berkeley encourages everyone to push themselves towards their goals and into making an impact in their own personal way, whether it is founding a venture or being part of the big tech industry. Finland’s education system does not highlight its importance highly enough.

You will learn how data will be one of the most crucial assets of modern society and how you can seek opportunities to support your personal growth with best practices. Berkeley has a strong history of movements strengthening social democracy and supporting a multi-cultural environment. Students from diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities for self-creation and incubating their personal learning curves. Whether you are fully enrolled or just a visiting student everyone is treated the same on the campus.

It may not be easy to understand without seeing with your own eyes that the UC Berkeley environment does differ significantly from the environment of Aalto University. The major difference between universities is that students in Berkeley have been taught that they can make an impact and pursue exceptional goals when they have the right people around them.

The key learning for myself was to reflect the significance of the environment and how it will reflect on your choices and future opportunities. Learning as part of the UC Berkeley community is an eye-opening opportunity. I can strongly recommend it to anybody that has an interest in working with big tech or high growth ventures.”