A sweet spot between technology and the commercial world – My master’s thesis at a deep technology incubator

As a business student, I come across people who are surprised that I am doing my master’s thesis for VTT – after all, I am not a student of technology. Instead, I study entrepreneurship and innovation management at the Aalto University School of Business. New technologies have enormous potential to change the way we operate, our industry and our lives, but they will not benefit anyone unless they are actually put into use. So, in my master’s thesis, I will look at innovations from the perspective of commercialisation at VTT during the summer and autumn of 2019.

As many of my fellow living beings in recent years, I have experienced anxiety about the world’s burning issues that are hard for mje to influence in my own life. When thinking about my education and career choices, I naturally focus on what would be meaningful for me. However, my choices are equally strongly guided by the idea of how I can best contribute to mitigating the major threats of our time, such as the climate crisis. At business school, I have been well-equipped to understand the big picture, develop my problem solving skills and build business opportunities. For a moment, I regretted that I was not studying to become, for example, a bioscience researcher or a technology expert who could really develop solutions to challenges such as resource scarcity, but I later realised that we are all needed to solve these issues.

We have a huge number of good science and technology experts and developers in Finland. Perhaps there is a need for people who understand and know how to combine sustainability thinking, the opportunities of technology and a business perspective. My personal development goal at VTT is therefore also related to understanding technologies so that I can master several fields where they intersect.

“We have all the technological know-how we need to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges”, says the VTT Growthcast podcast series that I listened to before coming to work for VTT. There is a lot that we could do better, more durably and more efficiently with technology, but we are just not doing it – at least not yet. Of course, this involves a lot of political decision-making, but one component is turning threats into opportunities for growth and commercialising innovations. I once heard it said that the only way to solve sustainability problems in our current money-based system is to make climate change a business. At VTT, we can influence the transfer of technologies into new initiatives which, as growth-hungry start-ups, will pave the way for both new and existing operators in their field. VTT’s technology mainly comes out in two ways: licensing and ‘spin-offs’. I focus on researching the latter, i.e. start-ups built on technology developed at VTT.

So what will I do while at VTT in concrete terms?

I will strive to help in setting up the operations of the deep technology incubator VTT LaunchPad launched this spring. In my thesis, I will study the operations of incubators offering the best help for deep technology start-ups globally and formulate best practices based on them for both VTT LaunchPad and all business incubators for science and technology-based ideas. In addition to the thesis work, it will be a teaching experience for me to get a close look at the operations of VTT’s strategy and business support unit.

In my opinion, the most interesting thing about VTT LaunchPad is to see the business ideas and the teams working on them. I am particularly fascinated by following the mental landscape of an entrepreneur. It is inspiring to see people who have been building a new technological breakthrough for years and change from a scientist to an entrepreneur, throwing themselves into a whole new world. These top players have strong expertise in their field and a huge opportunity to revolutionise their industry. It is also interesting to be involved in the early stages of starting an incubator as VTT LaunchPad builds its practices and network. I think that Helsinki has a great up-and-coming start-up ecosystem and it is also important to create tools that are as complete as possible in the scientific community for becoming an entrepreneur and to further cultivate an atmosphere that encourages entrepreneurship.

Anette Tuomainen
The author is studying entrepreneurship and innovation management at the Aalto University School of Business and works as a trainee in VTT’s strategy team. She is working on a commissioned master’s thesis for VTT with LaunchPad.

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