Student communities have helped many people to reach their dreams, to find friends and useful networks. These communities help to develop new skills through problem-based learning and real-life scenarios and the support of people with shared interests and diverse backgrounds. You can safely create something meaningful without fear of failure and pressure from your employers or co-founders.
For me, the Oulu Entrepreneurship Society (OuluES) became a good platform for considering alternative paths of employment and decreased the fear of starting something new. I am thankful for the experience of expanding my network in Oulu and across Finland. I had a chance to meet very passionate and creative people who want to change something around them, help others and do a meaningful job.
This interview took place a few months ago. I talked with board members of OuluES 2022 and one of the founders of OuluES, which back then was called the Oulu Student Entrepreneurship Society. The interview shows the original goals of the society and the transition over 12! years. This overview also helped the current board of OuluES to look back and get inspiration from the origins of the mission of the society.
Firstly, I asked Matti Junila (the first co-founder of OuluES) about the creation of OuluSES back in 2011.
“OuluES was founded in 2011 by Khalid Bur, Iiro Kaukoniemi, and myself. The inspiration for OuluES was the success of AaltoES which was founded two years prior. Concurrently, there was a lot of positive buzz around entrepreneurship in Finland. We felt that Oulu, being a relatively large tech hub in Finland with a large presence by Nokia, could also serve as a northern hub for entrepreneurship.
Our early focus was around student activation. Even the name used to have an 'S' there for the Student Entrepreneurship Society. To that end, we outlined an 8-point mission statement which was:
*Encouraging students to entrepreneurship
*Motivating students to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams
*Offering a hands-on approach to entrepreneurship
*Inspiring people through entrepreneurial stories
*Connecting likeminded students from different fields of study
*Supporting creativity in an academic environment
*Unifying the students of the University of Oulu and Oulu University of Applied Sciences
*To be the most important link between students and local enterprises.”
I asked Matti about how this experience of being the founder of OuluES has helped him afterwards:
“In ways, I had no idea it would. Being a part of OuluES was my first in-depth look into the world of entrepreneurship and startups. I found the culture of "move fast and break things" (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's famous motto) a very compelling alternative to the slow-moving, bureaucratic world of large corporations.
It also allowed me to meet like-minded people and create valuable connections, like the President of AaltoES at the time, Kristo Ovaska. Later on, Kristo went on to find a company called Smartly.io and convinced me to join. During my time at Smartly.io, I was a part of the company's expansions from 1 to 17 offices globally and saw it grow from 30 to 700 people.”
Then we talked with Henna, Szymon and Tara (OuluES board 2022) about their perception of what is OuluES and why they decided to join the society.
Henna Uusitalo (Community lead) - “OuluES is the society for students interested about entrepreneurship and for those who want to find people who have similar interests and ideas. I had heard about OuluES and participated in a few events and I felt that there were missing some things that I thought the society should have. Obviously, during the pandemic, there were big challenges when trying to keep a community alive when people can't meet. So I wanted to create lower-barrier events. I feel like as a more introverted person I´ve been missing community-building activities that makes networking easier and more fun. And I thought that there might be other people like me, so I wanted to change that and become a more active member in the society.”
Tara Goodwin (Education lead) - “OuluES is a kind of mechanism that connects different startups or entrepreneurship professionals in the city with students considering entrepreneurship after graduation. I initially wanted to join because I attended a few events of OuluES when I finally moved to Oulu and I enjoyed it a lot. But I also saw it as an extension of the program that I was taking at that time which was a Master of Arts in Education. And the events that I saw with OulueS were very educational in nature and then I created safe spaces for students to try out entrepreneurship without the risk of the real world while still getting the taste of it. And I really enjoyed designing the learning experiences for people, especially for students, to try things before they head out and get education in different forms than just sitting at the lecture and I thought that OuluES could be a good way to do that.”
Szymon Rusnak (Operations Manager) - “OuluES helps and facilitates engaging students in a social way that they are already thinking about the entrepreneurship process even throughout their studies. Therefore, it's much easier for them to conceptualise and then make them think that they can do it as well rather than just being something in the distance or a thing in somebody’s imagination. I joined the organisation first because I was asked to and second I enjoyed the events that OuluES had. I was the speaker at one of the events and I saw that the organisation is doing a lot of positive things. Especially in relation to having students introduced to the real world of entrepreneurship. And there was a very strong opportunity to meet different people in the Oulu area involved in different business formats.”
Then we talked about the reasons for the popularity and importance of entrepreneurship nowadays.
In Szymon's opinion, one of the reasons of the popularity is that “in the global business environment more and more people are thinking outworld of their own nation-state seeing that there is a larger and broader market.” Furthermore, he emphasized that it's important to let people understand “how it feels to work for yourself because that also makes you better working for other people. And then even if you have your own business you are still working for customers.”
Tara mentioned that since 2020, people had the mass transition of working from home if possible. She referred to the North American example and highlighted that “employment was and has been really volatile work experiencing great resignation. People didn't feel protected by their companies anymore and after such a frightening time in recent history, people are now realising that there are options of working for yourself.” Tara added that people started to explore other means of income and take their ideas to the fullest.
Furthermore, we discussed if entrepreneurship can fit anyone. Tara said that there are different versions of entrepreneurship and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a tech start-up:
“I think that everybody has something to offer that is valuable that people want to pay for. I think that if you define entrepreneurship a little bit differently and not just constrain to tech or tech pros in Silicon Valley, I think anybody could be an entrepreneur.”
Szymon added that even though the expectations can be subjective, in many ways people could never imagine having their own business until they start it. “Coming to our events they see that there is a potential for them to be able actually to try entrepreneurship out.’
What is an ES network? Why it is beneficial to become a member of OulueES?
Szymon said that right now they are trying to be a larger community of people who could get an advantage of the events and the opportunities that OuluES brings them. In addition, Szymon highlighted that one of the most benefits of OuluES membership and the ES network overall is:
“the ability to connect the membership with different organisations and show them that entrepreneurship is possible”.
For example, in collaboration with JyväskyläES, Henna organised an excursion to Milan, and now they have a better idea of how entrepreneurship societies can actually collaborate together regardless of the members’ location across Finland. Henna highlighted that this excursion has helped them also to get familiar with the Italian startup ecosystem and connect them with local entrepreneurship clubs. OuluES is actively trying to expand their network with other societies and make a meaningful change in communication.
Currently, the new board of OuluES has been selected and making planning for this year. Henna reminded me that during the past year, they had various inspiring events like “Get sh*t done”, “Back to business” and monthly “Business breakfasts”, where they had interesting keynote speakers and workshops. They also familiarised themselves with the local businesses and entrepreneurs with “Startup crawls”.
“One of the main reasons to have a society is the community, where like-minded people meet each other and can do and plan things together“
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And become a member: https://oulues.com/join
Author: Arina Lykova