Posts in the entrepreneurship category

tanja-verho

Boring lectures held in huge auditoriums where everyone is checking their mobile phones and planning the great escape? Forget about that. Experiential learning or learning by doing is the way forward in education. And TAMK’s Proakatemia, a student-orientated environment, masters the concept pretty well through its nonconventional teaching and learning approaches. The student is the one to discover the theoretical part and hands-on teamwork, how to combine the two and how to balance them. Nonetheless, he is not alone in this adventurous journey. A team of fellow students and an experienced coach is the best type of assistance he will ever need.

Tanja Verho is one of Proakatemia’s coaches whose vision is to develop future entrepreneurs and really good workers. To inspire her team of students to find their motivation and drive in achieving their goals. To find their own path in life. She does that by asking lots of questions which are not always comfortable. Those questions though, invite to self-evaluation. And it is well-known that self-evaluation leads to lasting change.

 

Tanja, please introduce me to the coaching and learning approaches used in Proakatemia.

At Proakatemia, we have a four-hour training session with our team twice a week. There is a specific theme for each session and we prefer that people don’t use their mobile phones, nor laptops during that time. We are learning by dialogue. We discuss projects, business models and organizations, leadership and teamwork.  Students read a lot of professional books about marketing and communications, leadership and management along with economical and financial aspects. Later on, they have to write essays on some of the models and techniques they found interesting and want to test on their own companies. If it works, then that’s great. If it doesn’t, they still learned something new.

They can also attend seminars and webinars, listen to TED talks and read academic articles. The main way though, is through project work. Doing projects for their own companies with real customers who pay them.

We recently had a training session about product conceptualization, their own company products and services and since my background is in service design and design thinking, I gave them some insights in a five-minute speech. No longer than that. This is a different kind of learning and studying style because the coach’s role is not to give out theory and prepare the training session, but to assist the students in revealing the answers to their questions.

When is the right time for the coach to step in?

Students have to learn to be patient and to listen so they can prevent their first reactions from igniting into them. When they feel stuck, then it’s my time to ask questions. “Why do you think this is going this way?”, “What scares you?”, “What would be the best way to move forward and solve this issue?” and so on.

Most of the time, we already have the answers but we are scared and unsure about ourselves and how to further proceed. When students discover the answers by themselves, it’s more motivating and empowering, rather than me providing them.

That’s a great way to learn but I’m certain it brings up some challenges too. Which are the main ones?

I personally see challenges as possibilities to learn. Of course, there has to be chemistry in a team. Realizing you don’t like someone who’s part of your team should give you a place to reflect upon your own attitude and how to deal with it. As coaches, we are supporting them in solving those kind of issues and talk about what bothers them. One of our roles is to challenge everyone in the team to work together. Problems usually occur when there’s a lack of communication.

Chemistry is one thing and there are lazy people every now and then. If they don’t show up to our mandatory sessions and they are not actively involved in projects and teamwork, we question their motifs. When motivation is an issue, those people are in the wrong place. It’s not easy for them to admit that because they feel like giving up. However, there is a sense of relief that comes with that realization and knowing that you can do something different elsewhere.

Selling is another challenge for most people. When you’re talking about companies and entrepreneurship, you need to sell your products and services. Money talk and selling your own skills and expertise are difficulties to Finnish people. Nowadays, it’s much easier to do that because we have the knowledge for it and atmosphere in Finland has changed in the past years. Students coming to Proakatemia are open-minded and have the desire to improve and change their mindsets.

Is your team involved in any interesting projects nowadays? Any particular achievements you’re proud of?

There are sixteen students in my team of which two are doing a three-month exchange. Some members of my team are involved in a sports and business conference taking place next year, in January. Others are producing advertising videos for companies (Alma Media, for example) and writing articles for different events too. They participate in volunteer projects for the community when needed.

Some of the recent past projects included three cafeterias opened in the Tampere area and the whole team was working there. It was their own project and altogether, the turnover was between 60,000€ and 70,000€. Which is not bad, considering they are still student entrepreneurs.

You graduated from Proakatemia ten years ago and now you’re back in a different role. What made you return? 

When I look back, I’ve always been the teacher type. I like interacting with people and I think everyone is a learner. I ask the right questions and help people figure out the answers by themselves. Something magical happens when a person is able to learn and change her attitude for the best. That’s huge for me.

I remember Proakatemia as a fascinating place during my studies. I was a junior coach at the time. After graduation, I did marketing, service design and even established a sign language translating service, where I learned a lot about human behavior and what motivates people to do certain things. But my dream was always to return to Proakatemia when I’ll have something to give back.

Now I have the experience I can relate to and share it with my students. As a coach, I’m happy if my students found their direction in life and know where they’re heading to after graduation. I think they have succeeded. They are building their characters and we are supporting them. I believe that every coach in Proakatemia shares the same vision.

Most educational institutions are struggling to keep a track of their graduates. How do you know if your students have succeeded or not after they left Proakatemia?

We still have meetings after they graduate to see what they’re doing. If someone feels lost, we can have a development discussion and help him regain direction and focus.

Proakatemia is built on trust. That’s one of the most important values we have here. In the first year, a student learns about teamwork and has to trust its colleagues, co-owners and coach. I know all of my sixteen students. They’re all different and some of them share things about their personal lives with me. They know they can talk to me about anything. It’s all about trust and knowing that someone cares about you and is there to support you.

Is that a realistic and achievable goal within a larger group?

I think it can work if you divide the group into smaller pieces and establish relationships based on trust.

You’ve been an entrepreneur for more than ten years now. Is there such thing as a recipe of a successful entrepreneur?

It has a lot to do with failures. You have to learn about them and have the courage to make mistakes. If you ask me about my failures, I can’t even remember them. I made so many. I always reflect upon them afterwards because the second time is always coming and I have to be prepared.

If you have the courage and the attitude to trust the entire process of entrepreneurship, you’ll find your way and be successful.

When I look at our students, they are doing things. Of course, they are thinkers also, but overall a good combination of doers and thinkers. You need them both.

 

Text: Andruta Ilie

Photo: Harri Hinkka

 

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.