The reigning status quo has been for a long time that in order to make an impact and shift the society to next levels, one needs to be strongly involved in politics, turn tables at high-end consultancy offices or pursue a specific academic degree.
Katariina Helaniemi believes that in today’s world, there are also other, more efficient ways to create impact.
Helaniemi 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?
The Path Towards Tech
Back in high school, Helaniemi 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, France to study art history at the University of Sorbonne.
“It was a cool and educational year, ” Helaniemi 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, Helaniemi gave business school another thought and applied to Aalto University. It was the start of a new journey.
From day one, Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi 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, Helaniemi came across many marvelous companies and speakers and as the head of the program at Slush, she got to learn how the tech entrepreneurs’ world actually works.
Couple of years later, when thinking about what to do next, Helaniemi thought back to some of the most interesting companies that she had met through Slush. One of them was called Fifty Years. Helaniemi remembered sitting at a coworking 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. Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi 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, Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi’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, Helaniemi 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 Helaniemi as the new career opportunities open up!
Katariina found her job independently, that is, through the On Demand track. You can read more about the On Demand process here.
Startuplifers is a student-driven nonprofit internship program that sends ambitious bright-minded 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. Read which schools are sponsoring their students with the visas and flights.