Friday, December 5, 2008

Thank you Finland

The work we are doing at Zipipop is intimately and symbiotically tied to the thesis research I am currently undertaking as the final part of my MA in New Media at Media Lab (University of Art and Design, Helsinki).

Finland may not have the most investment opportunities; however, for a startup like ours, it has offered us a unique opportunity to undertake the initial development of our company under the protective wing of Finnish higher education.

Finland does not charge tuition fees (even for foreigners) and local students even receive student benefit; however, this is not sufficient for living, so most students do some supplementary paid work. And currently there is considerable flexibility in combining studies with external work. This is partly the reason why Finnish youth stay in school longest in the OECD countries: with 43% of all Finnish 20-29-year-olds enrolled in education (highest among OECD countries, average 25%). (OECD’s annual Education at a Glance report)

I met my co-founder Helene Auramo on a creative management course in Media Lab. At the time she was taking part in the cross-institutional International Design Business Management course, while studying at the Helsinki School of Economics (from where she has now graduated). Within no time we realized that we had a shared passion for all things entrepreneurial and – with an enthusiasm only the naïve can possess – we decided to start Zipipop.

From the outset, we were then able to tailor our studies directly towards the development of Zipipop, eg – I did an extensive personal study project on Zipipop and Hele did considerable social media marketing research. So, although we were studying, we were almost working full-time developing the Zipi World. In addition, we benefited greatly from the bright, passionate and informed people at Media Lab and the Helsinki School of Economics.

In June 2007 we moved into our first office and started officially working full-time with the occasional 'relevant' course to sustain our student benefits – this was the same situation for the first four Zipipop partners. To pay company costs and supplement our income, we started doing some external 3rd party work and were fortunate to receive some governmental development grants.

Zipipop, however, has now become a fully-fledged company with a growing international reputation and additional non-student partners – so the time to cut the university umbilical cord is nearing. Therefore, we are approaching, and have been approached, by a number of potential angel investors.

That said, we will continue to cultivate our ties with the universities since, apart from enjoying and benefiting from the relationships we have there, student groups have been proven time and again (think Facebook) as one of the best ways to secure uptake of new internet services.

But on a personal level, I would like to thank Finland for offering me this unique opportunity to learn, grow and – fingers crossed – develop a company of international significance. Of course I had to win my privileged place at Media Lab, however, how many other countries would provide such no-strings-attached opportunities to a foreigner?

Much thanks indeed, Richard