One needs to be strongly involved in politics, turn tables at high-end consultancy offices or pursue a specific academic degree in order to make an impact and shift the society to next levels.
Our Lifer Katariina Helaniemi believes that in today’s world, there are other, more efficient ways to create impact.
Kata just lately arrived in San Francisco to manage the operations of Fifty Years, a VC company that finds and invests in companies that are solving world’s biggest problems – those that could potentially change the course of the way we lead our lives – through tech entrepreneurship.
How did she end up there?
Back in high school, Kata did not have a clear direction where to continue after graduation. She was interested in societal and economical studies but did not feel that the school of business had enough societal aspects involved in the tuition. With a couple of friends, she moved to Paris to study art history at the University of Sorbonne. “It was a cool and educational year, ” Kata recalls.
After a year of studies, the schools in Paris went on strike. “Maybe it was a sign”, she laughs. When things didn’t develop anywhere, Kata gave business school another thought and applied to Aalto University. It was the start of a new journey. From day one, Kata took everything she could out of the time at the business school. In 2013 she attended Slush, the leading tech conference in Europe, as a volunteer and got the first taste of the startup and tech world. The spark for startups had lit.
Next summer, in 2014 Kata interned at the Consulate General of Finland in New York. She got to observe closely how new tech companies were brought to the markets, even though she herself was hired to handle the cultural and economical aspects of the organization. The energy around the startup entrepreneurs was contagious, and Kata felt that startups were the way to make things happen, not the least in terms of maximizing their impact. She understood that companies have enormous power in today’s world, which when directed to something meaningful, could be world changing.
The energy around the startup entrepreneurs was contagious, and Helaniemi felt that startups were the way to make things happen, not the least in terms of maximizing their impact.
In spring 2015 Kata started doing product development and sales for Demos Helsinki, a think tank and a management consultancy with the focus on implementing systematic change and understanding future societies. Simultaneously, she was selected to lead a team at Slush. Tech entrepreneurship and societal impact were going side by side. As the year proceeded, the tech conference began to take more and more of her time. By the end of the year, she was selected as the Chief Program Curator of Slush.
During the following years, Kata came across many marvellous companies and speakers and as the head of the program at Slush, she got to learn how the tech entrepreneurs’ world actually works.
When thinking about what to do next, Kata thought back to some of the most interesting companies that she had met through Slush. One of them was called Fifty Years. Kata remembered sitting at a co-working space in San Francisco, discussing with one of the partners about new technologies for making food in more sustainable ways. The company’s vision to invest in companies who are solving world’s biggest problems through tech entrepreneurship had instantly made sense to her. Why is no-one doing this elsewhere, she had thought. She decided to send a message to the founders, exploring the possibilities to work with them. Kata had had friends previously working in San Francisco through Startuplifers, and she knew about the Startuplifers On-Demand track.
“Why is no-one doing this elsewhere?”
Since that day, it took almost a year until Kata finally arrived in San Francisco and started working at Fifty Years. Patience, hard work, and contacting Startuplifers about the visa eventually paid off.
By now, Kata has worked in different countries and seen tech entrepreneurship from different perspectives. As her latest project, she published a book about growth entrepreneurship in Finland. Several different projects have led her to where she is today. Making an impact through tech entrepreneurship, by helping founders to solve world’s biggest problems.
Often you already know what you actually want.
Following Kata´s story shows that often our intuition leads us to places where we eventually want to go. Sometimes we think that we don’t know what we want, even though we actually do. But when it comes to courage to smell around and look for different opportunities, Kata says that the biggest limitations are often been put by oneself.
“Everything happens through small baby steps, like being bold enough to say your desires out loud. Today’s world has a staggering amount of different options – it’s understandable to sometimes feel like not knowing where to go. More important is to keep your mind open and listen to yourself: what is it that interests you most right here, right now? Then go for it and it might lead you to find the bigger picture!”
“Everything happens through small baby steps, like being bold enough to say your desires out loud.”
We’re excited to see where life will take Kata as the new career opportunities open up!
Startuplifers is a student-driven nonprofit internship program that sends students from Finland and Sweden to intern at startups in California and Asia. Once you apply and get selected into the talent pool we will introduce you to interesting companies and coach you for the interviews. Once the offer is on the table, we take care of the visas and flights.