Veijo Hämälainen

TAMK’s most adventurous learning environment is undoubtedly, Proakatemia. A place incorporating a unique concept where coaches and students work in teams in fixed offices. A place where students not only dream of becoming successful entrepreneurs, but where they receive all the support and knowledge to turn those dreams into reality. Its teaching and learning approaches are eye-catching even for international visitors:” Not many places are brave enough to attempt teaching in the same manner.” stated Jennifer Johnston, Course Leader in Marketing and Sales at the University of Portsmouth in UK when referring to Proakatemia during an international week event organized by Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

Eager to understand Proakatemia’s functioning and authenticity, I stepped forward and invited Head Coach, Veijo Hamalainen to talk me into the matter.

Which criteria do students have to meet to study at Proakatemia? Can you describe the selection process?

We have had our own selection process for two years now and we discovered there are plenty of young people suitable to be entrepreneurs. We don’t use marks in our selection process. They have a two-minute video task to prepare by themselves. A video is easier to watch and it requires more thinking: you have to get a camera, write the content for it and think about what you want to say in only two minutes. There is also a curriculum vitae task and they can get a few more points on it, if they have some entrepreneurial background experience. Afterwards, they come to Proakatemia for the final task which involves writing a short essay, followed by a one-hour group interview. The overall result is based on the number of points accumulated from all tasks.

When I think of entrepreneurs, what comes in my mind are ambitious people with an enormous self-drive. Are you looking for those specific qualities in your students?

I disagree with you on this one. I remember an introvert student who turned out to be very special. She thought she didn’t have the possibility to continue as an entrepreneur because of her personality and having to do selling. Here, you have to acquire selling skills and make new contacts all the time. She graduated two and a half years ago and ever since, she has been an entrepreneur. She even has her own company now, called Hehku Visual.

It’s amazing to see how many kinds of people can also be entrepreneurs and find inside them the spirit to do things by themselves, and not rely upon others.

How do you keep your students motivated in the long run with the freedom given to them to choose their own courses and projects?

It’s not a problem to keep them motivated, it’s quite much in the air here. But a special aspect is if someone doesn’t do things properly or slows down others’ progress, that person can be kicked out from the team. Students own the companies and they decide what’s best for them. The person who is kicked out can still continue studying in Kuntokatu. Maybe it’s better for him to study all by himself because here is so much team work, team project, team everything and not all people are team people.

Entrepreneurship is so versatile and with such many ways of doing it, attitude is everything.

What kind of feedback do you receive from students?

One first year student came to me yesterday after a short presentation and said:” Thank you! I have to give you feedback.” “You want to give me feedback in your second day?”, I asked. He answered he felt uplifted, because he tried so many things and always thought that if he makes a wrong choice, he will end up with a narrow vision. I told him: “While you’re here, I hope you take different projects, read interesting books and try new things. Then it will be easier for you to decide what you want to become.”

Entrepreneurship is so versatile and with such many ways of doing it, attitude is everything.

Has Proakatemia got its own feedback system? How does it work?

Our feedback system consists of many discussions, for our main method to learn is through dialog. We have a monthly meeting with one person from each team and myself to discuss what things are working well, which are not, how can we change the ones that are not functioning properly etc. When the meeting is over, we write a short report and next month, we can evaluate if the changes we applied were good or not.

How many coaches have you got in present? What are their attributions?

We now have seven of them (one coach per team) and they do other work as well, besides coaching here. We provide selling services, coaching for companies in Tampere, and we take EU funded projects all the time. Our activity is quite complex and it changes every year. I, for example, created three leadership programs, one for Valio (market leader in dairy products in Finland), one for Tapola (meat processing plant) and the last one for Fixteam (Finnish company specialized in fixing cars.

Are you able to share any of those experiences with your students?

When possible, yes. Of course, it depends on the company’s policy and the issues they’re facing. Some cases are quite interesting and we can take teams from here when coaching companies. Team members get very excited because they know how much they can learn from those opportunities and you can really tell how much effort they put in. When I ask them to help me with a presentation, for example.

Can you recall a moment when you coached a company or an organization with a student?

I remember one particular occasion from 2000, when I went to Turku University of Applied Sciences with one of my students, Eva-Maria. She is the kind of person who loves reading and has a great memory. So when I used to formulate a theory, Eva-Maria would remember which book it was from and the author of it. Teachers there were in shock: “Amazing! How do you know all that?” “Oh, I just read those books.”, was her reply. She had more knowledge about books than I had.

Do coaches remain the same the whole period or do they switch teams?

Yes, they do. However, we have a coach changing week (one in autumn and one in spring) where coaches switch teams so the students get a chance to know all of them well. I coach a team and I also coach individually. The advantage of coaching individually is that you get to know each other better much faster and to develop trust. We know our students quite well because they tell us special aspects of their lives, they share with us problems they had, difficult backgrounds from their families etc. It’s all about trust and it gives us a good feeling to know we’re important to them even after they finish their studies here.

Which top skills do students learn at Proakatemia?

Courage- they can easily do things they are not sure will succeed. Being courageous is a great competence of our students.

The ability to get knowledge-if they want to know something, they know how to get that knowledge for themselves.

Networking- students come to understand the importance of a good network and how much a business depends on it.

Besides those skills, students learn basics of business, how to sell, how to market, how to pay taxes and other financial aspects crucial to start up a company.

 

Text: Andruta Ilie

Photo: Saara Lehtonen

Note: Jennifer Johnston visited Proakatemia during the International Week event organized by TAMK’s School of Business and Services.

 

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