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Like so many of us, I spent last weekend racking my brain with what to do to help Ukrainian people in both fighting and surviving the Russian invasion. Should I rent a bus to go help drive refugees to safety? Deliver goods to the border? Grab a Kalashnikov? Donating to charities doesn’t feel enough, while it too is important — Unicef alone has already raised millions of euros in Finland by now, which will be directed to the immediate needs of the people who have been afflicted by the war.

After several discussions over the weekend, it struck me, however, that we have a lot of firepower right here at Aalto University. One of the most direct effects of the Russian invasion is the need to cut off our energy dependence on the invading force. Much of Europe is massively dependent on Russia in terms of energy needs. Finland, in particular, imports 100% of all gas and 91% of all crude oil from Russia, and cutting these imports would be a deadly blow to our energy infrastructure. Replacing the imports with quick options including peat, wood, and whatever else we can grab is likely needed. However, especially if the situation escalates to a total end of imports from Russia, there is also a better option for us as the Aalto community.

Brainpower is firepower

Entrepreneurial mindset means seeing problems as opportunities to innovate, not as a threat to be avoided. We have some 20 000 people in our community with insane talent and skills not only in energy technology and energy economics but also in many fields of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, computer science, logistics, marketing, and design. In addition, the last ten years have seen the advent of a startup ecosystem around Aalto that has been successful beyond our wildest dreams. Aalto has also committed to strong initiatives in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To support this, we at Aalto Ventures Program have, for example, decided that 100% of our startup initiatives are directed towards finding solutions to SDG-related problems.

Facing the impending energy crisis, one tangible action many if not most Aalto community members can take right now is to aim our efforts at using our skills and talent to develop radically creative ideas for clean energy. We can launch a Clean Energy Crunch: ideating and developing solutions with hyper-fast idea-to-deployment spans to solve the impending European clean energy needs. The energy needs we are likely facing are enormous. Therefore, both solutions to produce more energy and solutions to cut back consumption are needed.

It takes typically three to five years to get a power plant operational. How could we do it in twelve months?

It takes typically three to five years to get a power plant operational. How could we do it in twelve months? Could we introduce better sharing economy solutions to optimize automobile and real estate usage? Could we create a plan for making wind turbines out of household items? Is there a way gas-driven cars could be converted to electrical vehicles en masse? Could our logistics skills be used to optimize delivery chains to massively reduce energy use? Could our arts and marketing students create compelling narratives and campaigns to massively reduce European consumption and energy use? These are just a few ideas off the bat. Given the brainpower we have in the community, we could create hundreds, if not thousands more. 

Move fast and fix things

Ideas alone are not enough, though. Execution is everything. So how to execute? Grab a couple of friends. Meet up and brainstorm ideas. Build crude prototypes for example using Aalto facilities at Design Factory, Space 21, or elsewhere. Take them to potential customers. Rinse and repeat. Join our Solve the SDGs hackathon and spend a weekend creating clean energy solutions. Take a look at Impact Studio, Series, and Ignite as possible platforms for delivering your idea and meeting like-minded people. Join Startup Experience to create a team with other Aalto students to solve these ideas — a while ago a Startup Experience team led by Sampson Tetteh even created a working prototype of a highly efficient battery! Find Co-Founders from Kiuas Inside. Join our next Unfolding Tomorrow event on March 31st, focusing on SDG 7.2: Renewable Energy to get new ideas. Or you can just drop by at AVP in the TUAS building to have a chat with our team to think up new ideas and avenues for execution. And if you already have a clean energy startup up and running, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal. 

What startups can do, is do things fast. While there is no guarantee we will find a solution to the impending crisis, our brainpower gives us a fantastic shot as a community to avert it. If we leverage our creative capabilities, the crisis could even work as a stepping stone to significantly accelerating the Green Transition. And, hopefully, also to see numerous new global clean energy success stories.

What startups can do, is do things fast.

Now is the time when we all rise to the challenge. Let’s do whatever we can to support Ukrainians as well as Russians – this crisis is not due to people of any particular nationality, but due to a sick and paranoid old man and his cronies. Let’s donate what we can to charities. When the refugees start arriving, let’s do all we can to help them feel well received. But most forcibly, let’s use the brainpower at our disposal to tackle one of the most direct consequences of the present crisis, the impending energy crisis. Let’s make the Clean Energy Crunch a reality now.

As a radically creative and entrepreneurially-minded community, we have a genuine shot at facing this challenge head-on and converting it into an opportunity that will also give our European nations the confidence they need to cut their dependence on fossil fuel.

Now is the time to act.

We can get this done.