As the coronavirus has been upending all of the educational institutions in Finland, high schools were no exception. While teachers have been exploring innovative ways to keep their students engaged, Aalto University Junior’s School of Business team decided to co-organize an online business camp over the last weekend for high school students.
Recently joined under the Aalto University Junior umbrella, Aalto University Junior’s School of Business arm aims to support younger generations’ lifelong learning journey by creating awareness in business studies, providing learning opportunities, and fostering two-way dialogue between young people and the School of Business. “We started our activities at the beginning of this year with on-campus workshops. But these exceptional times quickly forced us to develop digital collaborations with teachers” said Semih Ersöz, Aalto University Junior BIZ Coordinator and a School of Business graduate of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management program.
In collaboration with Etu-Töölö High School, Vihti High School, and Junior Achievement Finland, the 24-hour online camp aimed to inspire more than 80 high school students to build their business ideas. “The purpose is to show young students that they have great ideas and learning in groups is fun. This is meant to be just the taste of entrepreneurship for 24 hours,” said Jenni Korte, entrepreneurship teacher at Etu-Töölö high school, an old-time neighbor of our Töölö campus. “The students learn sales and teamwork skills, problem-solving and performance skills. Interactive group learning applied at the camp is the key to a successful camp experience,” adds Eeva Korhonen from Junior Achievement Finland (JA Finland-Nuori Yrittäjyys).
First time going fully online
Similar camps have been organized during the previous years by many high schools individually. Considering this year’s exceptional circumstances, it was a challenge to keep the students engaged and active in an online environment. “As things are, we were already quite ready to give up on the idea this year,” said Timo Kinnunen, teaching entrepreneurship at Vihti High School “but then Jenni Korte from Etu-Töölö contacted us about the possibility of organizing the camp remotely with the collaboration on Aalto Junior.”
Although the current situation brought many challenges, online collaboration with multiple teachers, and JA Finland – Nuori Yrittäjyys unlocked more opportunities to organize an event on such scale. “Having this online was a huge challenge,” said Jenni Korte “but with a great team it worked out well and we were able to get many guests and people to join. We couldn’t have done it otherwise”. Oskari Ropponen is a teacher from Vihti High School who co-organized the camp said “Compared to a normal camp, the online camp offered an opportunity for broader cooperation between schools. Working online is also an important skill in tomorrow’s world.”
Building the businesses of the future with surprise guests on the way
The camp started with a fun exercise for everyone to get to know each other and to warm up to the online platform. Later on, participants were divided into 10 teams with more experienced high school students assigned as tutors. Throughout the 24-hour camp, the teams went through various checkpoints which guided them to move their business ideas forward. While some of the checkpoints were instructed by teachers, others were co-designed and instructed by Aalto University students from different backgrounds. There were also several surprises with guest speakers. At the end of the first day, Jethro Rostedt, a TV-celebrity and a famous real estate agent, joined for a quick motivation talk as a surprise guest. Following Jethro, Julian Gröndahl, who is a BSc student in the economics major, joined as a US-based venture capitalist to negotiate an investment deal with each of the teams in English.
During the second day, Dr. Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä from the Aalto University School of Business gave an engaging keynote speech to inspire students about entrepreneurship in extreme contexts. “I would say my favorite part was the guests and special things. Overall it was a great experience. It was the first camp to be hosted online, and I think it worked great,” said one of the high school students on the feedback form.
The camp has also provided diverse learning experiences to Aalto students from different backgrounds who joined as instructors and facilitators. “I learned a lot. I got to see what kind of simplified exercises are used in the entrepreneurship world to develop ideas in a team,” said Aura Latva-Somppi who is an MSc student in contemporary design at the Aalto University School of Arts, and continued: “Also, I learned how motivated and bright-minded high schoolers are”. She was responsible for the “designing logo and corporate identity” checkpoint during the camp.
The camp also helped Aalto University students to explore more of what Aalto University can offer. “I learned a lot about business from our lecturers and especially our keynote speaker, Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, who spoke about teaching entrepreneurship in North Korea,” said Marko Ikävalko, a first-year economics student at Aalto University and one of the instructors, as well as the technical lead of the camp.
At the end of the camp, the teams had a final pitching session with their commercial video and a short presentation. “Obviously one of the main outcomes is an inspiration for the participants, but I think it goes beyond there where the majority of the early stages ideas are feasible and few are actually ready for entrepreneurial action,” said Jukka-Pekka, who was one of the judges. “I was surprised how practical and well-thought all the business ideas were and how effectively the students worked in teams,” added Aura, who was also a part of the judging team. Linda Hemmann, who was another Aalto University student instructing the lean canvas checkpoint, said “I think the teams which had fun together also came up with the most surprising new ideas and then developed those ideas into realistic business opportunities”. She is studying mathematics and systems analysis with a minor in industrial management.
Teachers were also very happy with the high schoolers’ feedback. “One girl told me that she was quite skeptical about entrepreneurship before the camp but then it turned out to be an awesome experience, so the outcome was very good,” shared Kristina Laine from Etu-Töölö High School. “The final result was much better than I could ever have imagined beforehand. It was absolutely great,” added Oskari Ropponen.
The pitching competition went really well, so it was tough for judges to evaluate the best team. The team of Kirjat Kiertoon was chosen as the best commercial video, Thrift Finland as the best collaborative team and the Säästökassi received the best business idea prize. Prizes include campus visit to Otaniemi, coaching sessions from Dr. Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, and a visit to Aalto studios -when things are back to normal-.
Moving Forward, What’s Next?
The collaboration between Aalto University School of Business and high schools was highly appreciated by the teachers. “We would not have even started this if there was no opportunity to get Aalto involved,” said Jenni Korte, “the technical side and the high-quality tasks from Aalto Junior was really a big thing and the team, of course, it was super”. Similar feedback was received from JA Finland – Nuori Yrittäjyys team, “this is now the way, it should be done annually even a few times a year. Young people working with young people” states Eeva Korhonen.
After receiving such positive feedback from the participants and co-organizers, the Aalto Junior BIZ team decided to move this concept further. “It is very encouraging to receive positive feedback from high school students and teachers as well as the Nuori Yrittäjyys team,” said Semih Ersöz, “together with the high schools, we want to build on top of this camp for the next time”. “Based on this novel experience, we could explore that much more with high schools that match our main focus areas,” added Dr. Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä from Aalto University School of Business Entrepreneurship unit perspective.
As Aalto University Junior decided to cancel their summer camps in June, the team decided to organize another online business camp between June 8 and June12, which will be free for all high school students. “This is definitely a great opportunity for high schoolers who want to explore entrepreneurship within the Aalto University ecosystem,” emphasized Semih Ersöz, “we are waiting for applications from all around Finland”. If you want to learn more about the upcoming online business camp, check out the Aalto Junior website.