From University to Entrepreneurship – a More Unusual Career
Story Anna, Elina, Viola and Kenno Ethnographic Consulting. Three recent graduates and a company of their own. The city of Helsinki and several private companies as customers within two years. Quite the achievement! Becoming an entrepreneur is time-consuming and requires external support as well as stress-management skills; however, it can prove more educational than working a regular job for years.
Entrepreneurship is not exactly a common career move right after graduation. According to the member statistics of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, slightly less than 5 percent of Finnish entrepreneurs are under the age of 30. About three quarters are men, and 16 percent have completed their Master’s degree or equivalent. A regular Finnish entrepreneur thus is a middle-aged man with a vocational school background. Perhaps it is exactly these statistics that cause plenty of highly educated women to consider entrepreneurship rather impossible.
Anna, 28, a former student of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki, felt otherwise. For her Master’s thesis, she conducted ethnographic research for Nokia in Indonesia. During this process, she began to dream of a future job combining the business world with her academic skills. Such jobs just seemed to be hard to find. Maybe she could create it herself?
Anna developed the idea further with several other students, and also Elina, 27, was lured into the team. The group grew smaller over time, but in the end, Kenno Ethnographic Consulting was born, behind it three new entrepreneurs, Anna, Elina and Viola.
It is very possible that more and more women will end up following in their footsteps. The long-enduring recession has also hit the highly educated, and not just the recent graduates. In 2012, 80 percent of those who graduated from universities in the Helsinki region had found work within the same year. However, the situation today might be weaker than that of 2012: according to the City of Helsinki Urban Facts, the unemployment rate grew fastest among the highly educated in 2014. As jobs disappear and the unemployment rate among the highly educated grows, entrepreneurship might be an ever more alluring way to find employment post-graduation.
The Path from Lecture Halls to Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship requires no specific education and virtually anyone can set up their own company. Education, however, often plays a role in the shaping of the business idea and also in the products or services the company eventually offers.
Around 16 percent of all young adults aged 25 to 29 living in Helsinki have completed their Master’s degree or equivalent. Anna, Elina and Viola, all Masters of Social Science, belong to this group. Their company’s business idea is based on their education: the company offers ethnographic consulting for their customers. “Ethnography is the research method utilized by Social and Cultural Anthropology. It means investigating people, phenomena and meanings in their actual environment,” Anna and Elina explain. Participant observation and interviews, for instance, are part of the ethnographic “toolbox.”
In the spring of 2014, the ladies behind Kenno joined the development community Protomo, operated by Aalto University and their Small Business Center. The community helps startups by offering support, inspiration, training, and even work spaces. Kenno also received startup grants from TE Services.
The young entrepreneurs had to participate in mandatory training in order to be eligible for the grant; however, the training left a lot to be desired. ”There’s a lot to remember in the beginning of this journey, and most likely some of the information shared in the training didn’t stick with us,” Elina says. Anna agrees. “It would be better if support of this type was available for a longer time period. The act of setting up a company in itself is not that hard. It’s the same process and the same paperwork for everyone.”
Kenno was lucky, however: through Protomo, they had been assigned a personal advisor, with whom they still are in contact. “I would say that, on the whole, we’ve been satisfied with the help we’ve received. You cannot assume that just about everything will work out downright smoothly,” Anna tells me.
Finding information – not always a piece of cake
Entrepreneurship includes plenty of paperwork and being familiar with relevant legislation and other important rules. Anna feels that this is a very central part of having a company.
”Simply doing the basics takes a lot of time. Dividing our time between the necessary paperwork and customer projects has proved to be fairly challenging.” Elina shares these thoughts. “Also, entrepreneurs must constantly think ahead even if the future is unclear. This can get tiring, which is why a good team is a must.”
Both Elina and Anna assert that plenty of information concerning running a business exists, but it is very much scattered on different forums. ”Take tax matters, for example. You can try your best to find all of the necessary info, yet something always seems to be missing,” Anna articulates and continues, “the same goes for paid maternity leave and other employer’s fees. And as one could guess, for what is a three-woman business at the moment this may be a quite relevant matter in the future.”
“I believe female entrepreneurs have more to think about than men do,” Elina scorns, but undoubtedly is onto something.
Learning on the job
For Kenno, the path from idea to business appears to have been fairly smooth. If it is any indicator, Kenno also hired its first intern, Tytti, already in the fall of 2015.
Do the ladies behind Kenno encourage other young people to set up their own business? Elina stops to think for a moment. “I think that totally depends on the person. As an entrepreneur, you get to work for yourself, but at the same time you give up a lot of the security you would have as an employee. Nonetheless, I’ve learned so much more on this journey than in any job I’ve had before. I know I’ll be much stronger if I ever end up looking for regular jobs again.” Anna nods and adds, ”It’s worth it to really think through your business idea. Who are going be your customers?”
Text by Sonja Lehtinen / City of Helsinki Youth Department
Photo by Jonna Pennanen / City of Helsinki Youth Department