A year ago, Aalto Ventures Program was contemplating how to help students who want to develop their idea further and make an impact even after finishing their courses. They decided to hire a dedicated person — yours truly — to create an incubation program, and that was the start of Impact Studio.
We started with benchmarking and analyzing: What already exists in the field and what needs are out there? It looked like the Metropolitan area already had a good variety of batch-based incubation programs. They usually run once or twice a year and choose the best 10-15 teams to work with from all applicants. We started thinking: What happens to those teams who need help but miss the application deadline? Do they have to wait for a year to apply? Will it be a waste of time not to work on the idea for so long? And what happens to all the applicants not chosen for the incubator? They usually need help the most, as they are not “strong” enough for the incubator. And what if someone needs support but doesn’t have time to participate in a rigorous two-month program with all the deadlines that come with it?
We decided to create something different — a program with ongoing acceptance and no deadlines.
Thinking along these lines, we decided to create something different — a program with ongoing acceptance and no deadlines. Stay with us as long as you need help. Create your own schedule. Apply any time. That was something new and exciting to try out!
Another problem we wanted to solve was breaking up the silos of Aalto university students. We know that diverse teams and opinions improve the rate of success, so how could we bring other university students, alums, and others to come together? That’s when we decided to open the Studio to anyone from Finland. We believe it was a great idea as we managed to attract quite a diverse batch: one-third of all participants are not connected to Aalto University.
The idea was also to make the program scalable so that only one staff member could run it, no matter how many participants. For that to happen, we decided to focus on peer support and online-based self-paced learning and have a pool of mentors who can jump in for a quick session. Another approach to scalability came from ecosystem curation. Why organize our own funding session if it is already offered to anyone interested by another ecosystem player for free? Providing information on ecosystem activities also helps to diversify the participants’ networks and increases the possibility of finding team members.
So, what have we learned after a year of running Impact Studio? First of all, it hasn’t stayed the same. The program’s details and focus have been changing throughout all this time — and will continue changing — based on what the participants need and what’s happening in the ecosystem. For example, initially, we planned that external mentors would be invited only after the participants reached a certain stage. However, later we changed it so that the very new participants could already get some inspiration and ideas from mentors from the very beginning through a group mentoring session.
We are used to being pushed by external stimuli like grades, deadlines, rewards, or punishments.
One challenge we’ve been struggling with is keeping the motivation going when there are no deadlines. We are used to being pushed by external stimuli like grades, deadlines, rewards, or punishments. However, “real-life entrepreneurship” is based solely on the person’s intrinsic motivation, and that is what we want to cultivate in the Studio. If you cannot persevere through the program on your own, then perhaps entrepreneurship would be a challenge too.
Measuring the program’s impact is not an easy task either. Incubators often measure their success by the number of established companies. However, we wanted to ignore this metric from the start. If someone going through our program decides that founding a company is not for them and they can make a bigger impact through other means, that’s great! Any learnings, insights, and opportunities the participants get at Impact Studio are success metrics for us. And what could be a better metric of success than to receive a reflection like this: “Impact Studio, for me, is a community for crazy small ideas with big impacts. We help each other thrive and succeed. Here in the Studio, I have personally learned a lot even though I have been here for only two months. I’ve had the chance to reflect critically on my skills, competencies, and ideas. I’ve expanded my network significantly and reached many excellent and inspired people.”
Interested in joining Impact Studio? Read more and apply!