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Regional Insights: Student-Driven Startup Passion across the Baltic Sea and Beyond

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In the worldwide startup scene, Finland is perhaps best known for the SLUSH (www.slush.org) in Helsinki. Encouraged by its success several similar activities are popping out in the regions, in www.businesskitchen.fi, www.boostturku.com, and the newcomer www.shipfestival.org, for instance.

It is noticeable that all of these activities are powered by university students. Indeed, one could argue for a student-driven entrepreneurial turn in the entrepreneurial ecosystem development that will challenge university boundaries, culture, curriculum development, and the whole mindset to learning and teaching (Lindeman et al. 2015).

The student-driven initiatives seem to be the more important the poorer regions are in home-grown capital and innovative corporations that would drive entrepreneurial culture through their startup and spin-off activities. Entrepreneurial culture is further challenged if the region is faced with aging population. Kymenlaakso region in the South-East of Finland is one of the most challenging areas in the Nordic countries in this respect, and cannot boast with strong high-tech culture and institutions like the biggest Finnish (Nokia) cities mentioned above either (Grunfelder et al. 2016).

In the student-driven entrepreneurial ecosystem, students’ role as university students needs to be transformed into a vitalizing force in the region. Students are not just acquirers of professional knowledge and skills for existing jobs. They need to break out from departmental silos and they must to be empowered to discover and innovate across disciples and in close cooperation with markets. Moreover, in the case of border regions like Kymenlaakso, students’ super-networking across the borders is required in order to develop competitive complementary skills for both individuals and startup teams and for the entrepreneurial ecosystem to grow as a whole.

European Union’s Central Baltic Programme provides an instrument to boost cross-border competiveness of the region. The entrepreneurial student movement around the Baltic Sea will be pivotal in the development of cross-border startup ecosystem through a new four-year initiative Startup Passion in the Baltic Sea Region www.startuppassion.eu. Startup Passion inspires, trains, and promotes student-based knowledge-intensive business ideas, teams, and companies especially between Finland, Estonia, and Latvia. It is open to others as well, and through its interactive MOOC it will reach worldwide.

Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences partners in the project with Tallinn University and Stockholm School of Economics Riga to form a solid competence base in media, game design, and software development, international business, and business development. Super-networking is supported by Cursor Development Corporation and targeted incubators and business development operators and investors in the Baltics.

There are many strategic advantages of this kind of close-knit cross-border startup development. One can see it as another sign of the student-driven entrepreneurial turn, for instance, as it shifts the focus of the longstanding student exchange system in Europe toward a more entrepreneurial student engagement across borders. A splendid related example to follow is www.startus.cc. These kind of activities lead the way to the new form of responsible citizenship in Europe given the requisite institutional harmony between countries. They also sustain hopes of a more balanced development across regions in the times of digital turbulence.

References

Grunfelder Julien, Rispling Linus, Norlén Gustaf (eds.) 2016. Nordregio Report 2016:1.

Lindeman, Ari, Neuvonen-Rauhala Marja-Liisa, Viitanen, Antti 2015. Student-driven entrepreneurial turn. In Kakkonen Marja-Liisa & Neuvonen-Rauhala Marja-Liisa (Eds.) Research Publication 2015. Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences. Sarja D. Nro 54.

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