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Petri Räsänen: From idea to thriving business without the lengthy incubation

In creating growth companies, Finland cannot rely solely on slow incubation processes. Better identification of the most promising business ideas calls for faster progression and a larger number of ideas. Currently, only a few growth companies emerge in Finland each year. Because of Protomo, a next-generation business incubator, this number is expected to rise to dozens a year within the next decade.

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In creating growth companies, Finland cannot rely solely on slow incubation processes. Better identification of the most promising business ideas calls for faster progression and a larger number of ideas. Currently, only a few growth companies emerge in Finland each year. Because of Protomo, a next-generation business incubator, this number is expected to rise to dozens a year within the next decade.  

“Protomo is a co-working community for people preparing a new business. We provide facilities for entrepreneurs for a period of six months for testing the viability of their business ideas and teams. This allows us to accommodate considerably more people and ideas than traditional incubators are able to take in,” says Petri Räsänen, the founder and national coordinator of the Protomo entrepreneur environment. “We currently operate in Jyväskylä, Tampere, Salo, Turku, Espoo and Kouvola. Two more Protomos will open in Finland in 2011.”  

Direct action and community spirit  

“Over the years, Finland has seen countless reports, surveys, studies and plans related to innovation development,” continues Räsänen. “Innovations, however, do not arise from institutions. They emerge from collaboration and interaction between people. This is why we decided to forget about official reports and take direct action instead. Protomo is a low-threshold environment that offers support from experts as well as fellow entrepreneurs. It is marked by agility, openness, a hands-on approach and a great sense of community.”  

Protomo is a community of more than 700 people that has processed more than 200 business ideas since the autumn of 2009. Of these ideas, about 100 have become reality, and more than 40 new businesses have seen the light of day. These new businesses have created more than 100 jobs and received in excess of EUR 2.5 million in funding, mainly from cities and local Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment. Sitra has also contributed to the planning and funding of the Protomo project.  

From a local recession remedy to a national operation  

“Protomo is based on Demola, a service created for students to test their skills as innovators midway through their studies.  Demola was well received among both students and our business partners, so we decided to expand. This resulted in Protomo, essentially a ‘Demola for grown-ups’, a place for testing business ideas and prototypes,” Räsänen explains.  

“The economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, as well as the closing of Nokia’s operations in Jyväskylä, turned Protomo into a recession remedy. Instead of establishing a crisis committee, the city of Jyväskylä and the ministries concerned decided to take action through Protomo and successfully so. People spread the word, and Protomo began to operate in Tampere and Salo as well.”  

Protomo is about the right attitude and idea  

Protomos are easy to contact.  People are encouraged to visit a Protomo and have a confidential discussion with the local director. If an environment with an atmosphere of openness and a sense of community seems like a good match for the entrepreneur, Protomo will enter into a cooperation agreement with him or her.  

“We will help the entrepreneur with finding business partners, building a team, identifying prospective clients and planning business operations. The entrepreneur will have access to a personal workstation, development tools, software, server space and fast Internet connections. Protomo and its services are free of charge for entrepreneurs,” says Räsänen.  

“Many seem to think that our incubators are only for young computer geeks, but this is not the case. Nowadays, information technology is an integral part of all business operations. We are particularly interested in the application of information and communications technology in different lines of business. And not all Protomo entrepreneurs are young either. While the youngest are twentysomethings, we have also had a sixtysomething entrepreneur. The attitude and idea count, not age.”  

Doing away with unnecessary formality  

According to Räsänen, the success of Silicon Valley goes to show how open interaction and new opportunities facilitate innovative thinking and business ideas. Centrally governed organisations and strict control only amount to problems.  

“I believe that Protomos can create entirely new business ecosystems in Finland. People from different sectors and with different backgrounds will come up with new ideas and operating methods. The time of official trade delegations is pretty much over, and we are witnessing the beginning of an era of new, more informal interaction. Collaboration in the 2010s is multidisciplinary and completely lacks the unnecessary formality of earlier times.”  

“Let’s keep our doors open to the world and new influences. This will also open new doors to our own expertise and business operations,” Räsänen points out.  

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