How does one become an entrepreneur or a business person in general? Experiential learning, which basically means learning by doing (and reflecting on what you did), or simply “getting out of the building” in this context, is perhaps the strongest single paradigm in entrepreneurship education at the moment.
It’s quite hard to argue against it. For example, several studies show that past experience with entrepreneurship, and particularly past experience with success, predicts new venture success. And it is not all in the genes, family background or innate abilities either.
There is a limit to how far you can push the boundaries of activities you can get study credits for, without the activity becoming the same as the real thing – the school of life. Advanced Business Validation (formerly Launching a New Business II), running on the second period in the fall, is a collaboration course with Hanken and Aalto that tests this balance.
The main gist for the course is that student teams validate their new venture ideas by “getting out of the building” with the support of an experienced mentor who is typically an entrepreneur or one that works closely with entrepreneurs (such as in venture finance). The mentors do not represent a company but are onboard simply as their own selves. The pooled networks of Aalto and Hanken help find the most suitable mentors for the needs of each team which can be highly rewarding for both the mentors and the team.
A mentor’s perspective
Juha Pihkakoski is an entrepreneur who has mentored several student teams during the history of the course, and actually shares the top spot as a course mentor. During the last decade, Juha has led and implemented modern marketing strategies to market new innovation in growth companies from the marine industry to machine-learning-based technologies. Marketing innovations on the bleeding edge of their fields, to everyone from Fortune 500 companies to small and mid-size businesses, enable him to bring a variety of viewpoints to discussions with students. Nowadays he helps growth companies and enterprises grow globally through his marketing consultancy, Aboad.
Juha’s motivation for being a mentor in the course is simple: To put his experience to use to help those that are enthusiastic to receive it and work on their projects based on it. Giving back is something that a lot of people want to do when they are older and finishing up their careers, but Juha wants to do it already at a younger age.
Juha finds working with student teams exhilarating: “Every time we have a sparring session, I feel energized due to the excitement and can-do attitude of the participants. My role is to help them ask the right questions and bring perspective to what they’re doing. I try to avoid giving direct answers since, in the end, it’s just my viewpoint. I usually also aim to give them a direction on what they should be thinking next and how to build the steppingstones of their idea.”
The mentors do not represent a company but are onboard simply as their own selves.
It is typical that the teams coached by Juha have developed rapidly, as he explains: “So far all of the ideas that the students that I’ve mentored have developed, have been viable and have had market potential. Whether the team continues developing the idea after the program is beyond the point – it’s simply necessary for them to learn the steps of creating something. It would’ve been fantastic to go through this kind of a course back in the days of my studies and not have had to learn all of this through years of practice.”
After the mentoring phase, the game is upped again when the best teams get to present their ideas at the Startup Circus pitching event (startupcircus.fi) which is a topic for another blog post. The organizers of the course are Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä and Myrto Chliova from Aalto, and Tom Lahti and Thomas Jansson from Hanken, who are replacing Juhana Peltonen starting this fall.
Stay tuned for Advanced Business Validation (18023) in P2!
Assistant professor, Hanken