Meet the Startuplifers Alumni – Nine Stories of Learning

Startuplifers was founded for the purpose of practical learning. The idea behind was that students and recent graduates could experience the startup culture by working in a startup.

During our 8-year existence, we have sent over 200 curious people to tech internships around the globe to experience the fast-paced startup environment, the learning opportunities, and the companies with the best tech stack. When leaving, some of our alumni were already quite experienced and some only beginning their careers. What they all had in common was a hunger to learn and keep getting better.

Afterward, many of our alumni have told us that their Startuplifer experiences have had a major impact on their careers and future plans. But who are the people behind these words? Let us introduce you to nine of our alumni!

 

Lauri Hynynen

Wooga, Berlin 2012
Backlift, San Francisco 2013

Lauri is a software engineer and a startup entrepreneur, and also a Startuplifers double-alumni. He first interned in 2012 at Berlin in a gaming company Wooga, where he spent the summer building analytics tools. A year later, he left for San Francisco to join a YC-startup Backlift as their first employee, wearing many hats ranging from engineering and design to product strategy and marketing.

After Lifering, Lauri was one of the early team members at Smartly.io, helping to grow the company from 10 to 200 people in 3 years. He later on left to found his own startup PrompterAI, which was acquired by Matchmade, an award-winning influencer marketing platform, where he’s now working as their Product Lead.

Lauri, what were the biggest learnings from your Startuplifers experience?

“During my time at Startuplifers I learned valuable lessons about running a startup, confidence in my own abilities as an engineer and an entrepreneur, and that the biggest differentiator between startups in Helsinki and in Silicon Valley is the level of ambition. I’m sure the lessons learned during Startup Lifers have helped us to build a better company.”

 

Hilla Pyykkönen

Granify, Edmonton 2012

Hilla studied finance at the Aalto University School of Business. After the summer spent studying at the Stanford Summer International Honors Program, she applied to Startuplifers. She got a job from Granify and worked there as a customer advocate. After returning to Finland Hilla has worked in multiple sales and business development positions. Now, she is working as a Business Lead at Elisa.

Hilla, has the Startuplifers experience affected your career in some way?

“My Startuplifers experience abroad has only been a positive thing for my career: it still demonstrates that I won’t get scared in front of big challenges.”

 

Ilari Niitamo

Findery, San Francisco 2013

Ilari is a developer, designer, and illustrator. He joined Startuplifers in 2013, when he left for San Francisco to work as a software developer at Findery. Findery is a social discovery platform startup founded by the Flickr founder Caterina Fake. Ilari worked mostly on the iOS app tasks related to quality assurance, UX, usability, and design.

After his Lifer experience, Ilari has specialized in making kids apps for learning computational thinking and creative play. He co-founded Pintxo Creative, a mobile kids app company, and worked with Hello Ruby, Linda Liukas’ technology education startup. Ilari is also a partner at YATATOY, where he leads technical development. In June 2018, he won an Apple Design Award for BANDIMAL, YATATOY’s music composer app for kids.

Ilari, what impact the Startuplifers experience has had in your career?

“I think it affected my career immensely. My work after Startuplifers has been mostly entrepreneurial, so I wasn’t necessarily recruited into any big corporation or anything. Still, being an alumnus has opened many doors. Having worked in a real role in a tech startup company in San Francisco definitely carries weight in the job market. At least in Helsinki, it’s quite a rare feat and people do take notice. Expect to be continuously headhunted and propositioned after you complete Startuplifers.”

 

Michelle Vandy

Omada Health, San Francisco 2013

Michelle Vandy is an architect from Aalto University. In 2013 she began her Startuplifers journey with a startup Omada Health. She ended up staying there for three years and then moved on to become the Design Director at Curology, a company that produces customized skincare products.

Michelle, tell us a bit about your work at Curology.

“At Curology I share the design director role with an amazing designer (and good friend) and together we’ve helped build out an amazing creative team that now functions as an internal agency in the company. Moving towards a managerial role has helped satisfy my hunger for personal development, and it helps me stay challenged on a daily basis.”

 

Juha-Matti Santala

Chartio, San Francisco 2014

Juha-Matti Santala left for San Francisco in 2014 when he got an offer from Chartio (YC10). He stayed there for a year doing full stack web development and data visualization engineering. After returning to Finland he has been working at Smartly.io and Futurice. He has also been a remarkable developer community builder, as he has founded the Turku<3 Frontend and Koodimentori communities and worked as a community manager at Boost Turku.

Juhis, how did your experience in San Francisco change your life?

“Startuplifers completely transformed my life. Working at Chartio for a year in 2014 was the best and most educating experience ever. I got to work in a fast-growing SaaS startup with some of the most brilliant people in the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

 

Kenneth Blomqvist

YourMechanic/Webflow, San Francisco 2014

Kenneth is a software developer. He first interned at YourMechanic in 2014 but later joined Webflow as one of their first employees. At Webflow in San Francisco, Kenneth worked on the Webflow designer and the visual content management system now know as Webflow CMS. After his experience in SF, he joined Wolt as their first employee. He was in charge of the logistics software development team. Currently, he is the research assistant at the Probabilistic Machine Learning Group at Aalto University.

Kenneth, how was your Startuplifers experience like?

“I joined a small startup with just a couple employees and saw it grow into a real business. I spent most of my time writing software and gaining a lot of programming experience which has been super useful in my career. Experiencing first hand how they run software companies in the big leagues pushed my ambition level way up.”

 

Juhana Kangaspunta

Chartio, San Francisco 2014

Juhana had interned at Boston Consulting Group and worked in different startup projects when he decided he wanted to apply to San Francisco. Juhana got a job from a Y Combinator data analysis startup Chartio. Before leaving, Juhana hadn’t done much programming, but he was able to learn fast. After six months in California, Juhana went on to pursue a Master’s Degree at Stanford University, where he studied AI, probability theory, and statistics. While studying at Stanford, Juhana became a Software Engineer Intern at Google. Now he has worked for almost three years at Zoox Inc, a spin-off startup from Stanford’s self-driving car -research.

Juhana, what is the best thing about your current job?

“At Zoox, I’m working with computer vision, and I get to do something that no one in the company has ever done before. I’ve never been this excited about a job in my life. What’s really cool, is that I get to do something that is at the very cutting edge of the technology I’m dealing with. There aren’t too many companies doing or even trying the same things as we’re doing at Zoox.“

 

Karri Kurunmäki

Multitaction, San Francisco 2014

Karri is the co-founder of HoxHunt, an AI-based cybersecurity software company. He founded the company in 2016 and they raised their Series A Round funding of 2.5 M euros in October 2018. Karri’s Startuplifer background is from the year 2014 when he worked as a Business Development Associate at Multitaction.

Karri, how was your Startuplifer experience like?

“I remember that February night when I ran into a post from Startuplifers. I instantly got excited and sent an application. Six months later I stood on San Francisco international airport excited (and a bit scared) of what was to come.

My internship at Multitaction lasted for 6 months and turned up to have a huge effect on my thinking both professionally and unprofessionally. It was an eye-opening experience and something that has positively impacted my career in many ways. Looking back, the internship period cleared my thoughts on what I want to aim for – something that was very unclear before the internship.

My time as a Startuplifer was hands down one of the best experiences my time as a student! Thinking of applying? I can definitely recommend!”

 

Roope Hovi

Webflow, San Francisco 2015

Roope has studied Software and Service Engineering at Aalto University. In spring 2015, he left for San Francisco to work in Webflow that is a web design tool, CMS, and hosting platform in one. Their stack includes e.g. GraphQL, node.js, React and OpenResty. Roope has been working for Webflow ever since and now has already four years of Webflow career behind.

Roope, how the Startuplifers experience has affected your career?

“Startuplifers program sounded like something that was too good to be true. What’s funny is that it was even better than I could have ever imagined. Lately, I’ve started to think that my decision to apply for Startuplifers internship may turn out to be one of the most remarkable career choices of my life.”

All our Startuplifers have their unique stories, but they all are normal people, who wanted to accelerate their learning. If you are interested in hearing more about working at a startup in San Francisco or Singapore, drop us a line. If you are interested in applying, you most probably also have what it takes.

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