Aalto University, The Startup Springboard

A glimpse of A Grid with Leigh Ewin

Leigh Ewin, jack-of-all-trades at A Grid, tells the story of the recently established startup community.

Leigh Ewin

Aalto University's entrepreneurial ecosystem has spawned hundreds of startups in the past decade. These companies, coming in all shapes and sizes, stem from both student-led initiatives, such as Kiuas accelerator and Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, as well as the university’s own research and innovation hubs.  

A couple of years ago we realized that there was a huge problem in our community: there wasn’t really an opportunity for these companies to remain within the campus and in Otaniemi, despite them laying down solid roots in the community and the ecosystem. 

This is why A Grid was formed in 2018.

We see the parallels when we witness the 60%+ of companies that are formed within the university, who now reside within the A Grid community on the campus. The facilities now include startups, accelerators, creative businesses, maker's spaces, and open work spaces.

Additionally, we understand the power of having the collective knowledge and networks of some 140 startup entrepreneurs buzzing around the same spaces together. This enables the collective growth to increase and expand with extra impact. 

The pandemic situation has had effects on business for sure. However, A Grid does house a large number of early-stage companies, with 2-5 employees on board. For many of these companies, it is the first office of their company’s existence. For an early-stage company, things haven’t changed that much – staying afloat still requires the right balance of planning, execution, selling, and hustle. 

We have seen certain industry segments blossom, though. For example, Deal Room Events who provide an online meeting platform for in-person events, were able to further develop their platform to support entire online events and built a makeshift studio at A Grid to implement this.Fiksuruoka experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic and is now focused on international expansion thanks to a significant investment round. 

The major change we have witnessed at A Grid is the increased usage of our Makerspace studios and the increase in digital content creation. Never before has it been so essential to be more and more active with online content and we are happy to see more and more technical, research-driven companies getting the courage to begin this journey and getting out of their comfort zones a little bit, and getting in front of a camera. 

A Grid is a fairly fluid place. We are constantly asking the companies what sorts of things they need to enhance their prospects of success and growth and we not only listen, but we try to act upon these requests. 

My role is kind of like a “janitor” in so many ways. No day is truly the same, one minute I might be giving a tour, and the next minute I’m showing an office space to a company, the following moment I'm discussing events with our companies and there are many, many things in between that I take care of. 

I have an amazing team around me. Nelli helps with Marketing and Comms and Sini takes care of the leasing things, whilst Susanna helps with the communication with all of the companies. We have further developed our processes and have automated many of the arduous tasks and now we have automated surveys, questionnaires and application processes – this gives more time to spend on development possibilities in the building and more time with the companies. 

In many ways, A Grid is only now ready for true collaboration. It has only been one year since the entire building has been open – and the pandemic influenced the opening significantly. 

We also have amazing partners within the building of which we have great working relationships with. Omnia runs the Makerspace and helps the startups with designing, creation of content and products, whilst Aalto Startup Center’s incubator and accelerator services help turn ideas into feasible companies, who often evolve to become A Grid tenants once they have graduated the program. Aalto Startup Center also holds and hosts all kinds of events and seminars within the building and supports us with our events. The City of Espoo has their business service units housed within the building, so there are great crossovers there as well.

Currently, we are seeking high-growth, high-impact, startups. We love it if they belong to the university, especially in the key research segments of which the university excels, but this is not mandatory. We accept companies from outside of the university programs. If there is high potential, enthusiasm, and the right kind of attitude, we don’t care where the company comes from at the end of the day!

When looking through the applications, we look into the existing data and figures of any potential inbound company and we highly value the “human” elements alongside the numbers and logic behind the company. 

There is an online application that can be filled at any stage and we are welcoming applicants all year round. We have found that one-year leasing deals for our office spaces allows the right sort of flow and possibility for shifting and growth, and we offer a complete service package that includes concierge and security as well as a healthy amount of monthly usable meeting time in our meeting rooms – plus much more.

Interested in getting to know A Grid? Drop us a line at [email protected]!

Leigh Ewin is a Community Manager at A Grid. 

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