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2018 - Year of Exploration

2018 was a year of exploration: succeeding, trying out and killing different programs, and making the mission crystal clear.

Sakari Huhtanen

January 14, 2019

During early 2018, we had a clear image what our product would look like during the next years. We had a solid portfolio which just needed some scaling up and perfecting the details.

Now, this sounds like a perfect case example from Lean Startup. You have been trapped by vanity metrics and you haven’t really understood what are the needs of your customer. There was a serious danger for Kiuas 12 months ago to follow this path.

We started with two programs, Kiuas Accelerator and Incubator plus two events Kiuas Team Ups and Bootcamps. We strongly believed that Finland needed more new startups. The research done by one of our team members clearly stated that even though the revenue and employment created by startups in Finland had grown significantly during the last 8 years, the number of new startups created had stagnated. We analyzed where we can provide the most value and understood that it is during the earliest stages of the startup. Almost every accelerator out there describes themselves as an accelerator for “early-stage”. Naturally, it is a little problematic to differ when early-stage nowadays covers everything from pre-seed to series B. We wanted to target students, researchers and people who had graduated recently, i.e. first-time founders. This was our way to differ from everyone else.

During 2018 there was a lot happening that would shape Kiuas and its’ future. I would point out three major turning points.

1. The success of Kiuas Accelerator

Kiuas team members Timo and Aaro amazed all of us with their will to push our summer accelerator to the next level by all means. The application period was hands down the best ever in Kiuas’ 8-year history: we tripled the number of applicants from the previous year.

One of the key learnings from Kiuas Accelerator was the importance of batch spirit. Our startups did their part and even more: one team from Estonia contacted other startups before the program started. They wanted to get to know other entrepreneurs well in advance in a professional way but even more importantly, they wanted to make new friends. Ridline gave a great lesson for the other startups but also for us organizers.


“There really was a community feeling. There really was a community helping each other to find new contacts and giving recommendations to your own networks to work with our community members etc.. Sparring as well, challenging, encouraging. I did not find anything negative between any members of the community. Positive atmosphere all the way”


These 10 weeks were super intense and I’m pretty sure that it is the absolute maximum time people can keep up with that kind of pace. The summer culminated in the biggest Demo Day ever in our history. This time we left our dear Startup Sauna premises and went to a cinema. Although we didn’t watch any movie, we were at Tennispalatsi with over 600 people in the crowd cheering for our superstars.

Kiuas Accelerator was awarded as the best accelerator program in Finland
Kiuas Accelerator was awarded as the best accelerator program in Finland

2. Trying out and killing different programs

Just two minutes ago I told you that we very confident about our programs. The thing was, that during the summer we were not happy with our other product(s) and what we had achieved during the first half of the year. We found it very difficult to create a feeling of community inside our Incubator program – the very same thing we noticed to create so much added value during Kiuas Accelerator. Also, one fundamental flaw we couldn’t fix was creating the sense of urgency to the startups in Incubator. You could argue that this sense should come from the founders themselves but still, we couldn’t help them with that.

Startups clearly needed something more intense and a community behind them to push them forward, whether they like it or not. The startups should move quickly, they should test and iterate fast, pivot or persevere. Kiuas startups in our minds should constantly move forward: if they are not moving forward, something needs to chance. Sometimes it is a pivot or then it is killing the company. Kiuas wanted to enable these iteration loops in the first ever Kiuas Start. We thought the program was a successful one and also the startups agreed: they gave us a 9,5 grade on a scale from 1 to 10.

We also organized two Team Ups with Helsinki Think Company in order to get more people into the startup ecosystem from the University of Helsinki. The feedback we got from the Team Ups was something like this: “They are really cool events.” That was it. Cool.

Based on the feedback, results, and studies on matchmaking events, we understood that the Team Ups are not in the core of Kiuas. Some of the studies even claim that 100% of those startups whose founders haven’t known each other for a long time, fail.

By the way, two crazy fellas from our team set up Kiuas in Chengdu, China. It is an understatement that they had a really action-packed winter and spring there. This time we ran into the Great Wall of China but these ventures are the ones which make this ecosystem so fascinating.


3. Making our Mission crystal clear

This one was the most important one. During the springtime when we were questioning many of the things we were doing, we had a trip to the Bay Area. We had the most fruitful conversation of the year during a car ride from Mountain View to Los Angeles: we weren’t quite sure whether we were concentrating on the right things and using our time in the most efficient way.


The conversation continued after we had landed in Helsinki. The whole Kiuas team sat down and basically started from the very basics. It was a cloudy summer day when we defined that our mission is that we are here to help early-stage startups. But more importantly, the teams behind the startups. Since our target group consists of many first time founders, we want them to maximize their learning. That way it is more likely they will create success stories, if not immediately (their current startup) but in the near future (e.g. their third startup).


Kiuas exists to make Finland the country with the
highest amount of self-sustaining startups per capita in the world

After the definition of our Mission, we continued to test and kill programs a little bit more. Based on the feedback we have gathered, the team is positive that we have cracked the code and we are ready to move forward with two of our existing programs Kiuas Accelerator and Kiuas Start. This was the best year in the history of Kiuas or its’ predecessor Summer of Startups. This may sound like a cliché but I’m 100% sure that next year will be even better. There was always only one person I wanted to recruit for this job. Luckily I succeeded with that and now Aaro and the new ambitious team will take it from here.

During 2018, Kiuas helped directly 102 startups and indirectly even more.

Melissa, Henrik He, Henrik Ho, Harri, Veera, Niklas, Venla, Juhana, Lauri, Henri, Timo, Nguyen, Sindre, Pirkka, Aleksi, Tiina, Ella, Aaro, Anttoni, Verneri

I feel truly privileged to have worked with you during the last year. Thank you.

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Sakari Huhtanen

January 14, 2019

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