A Less Miserable Story

15.5.2015 Kirjoittaja:

How I became an entrepreneur? How I end up being less miserable? I wrote this story for My Generation at Work -project in order to inspire youth around the world to pursue their dreams. The story was published by URBACT and here’s a link to the original publication. Below you can read it too.

Entrepreneurship has always fascinated me: the idea of being your own boss, fulfilling your dreams and actualising your skills for the benefit of the world. Still it took me around 15 years to realise that I could really be an entrepreneur because the current school system nor the world around young people is not supporting entrepreneurship, at least not yet.

After my comprehensive school I decided to go for upper secondary school and do a vocational degree at the same time in the field of dressmaking, because I was interested about fashion and making clothes. After graduation I was 20 years old and I wanted to study more about fashion designing but I couldn’t get in to art universities, which are really hard to get in if you are not talented enough. Instead, I got a summer job from a knit wear factory and worked there for six months. The following year I applied again to different kinds of schools of creative industries and got in for a nine-month-long course of interior decorating. I became really interested about that field, studied some more and gained also work experience in different places. Entrepreneurship was fascinating me all the time during the studies and working but I was lacking knowledge, courage and co-founders. Ideas I had a lot.

In 2009, while I was doing an internship in Germany, I had some spare time to look in the Internet some universities where I could study entrepreneurship, because I thought I would need some business education for starting my own company. Then I found about Proacademy, the entrepreneurial unit of Tampere University of Applied Sciences in Finland. At Proacademy there are no classrooms, teachers, lectures or exams. In there learning is happening self-organised way with the support of coaches in open space offices and dialogue rooms. Instead of lectures and case studies, the students learn entrepreneurship, creativity and business skills by doing real business projects with real customer companies through team company that they establish, and read professional literature that they reflect for the use of the team. Learning is measured regularly by learning contracts, customer and peer feedback and team demos. The process is supported by transparent and active community of over 100 entrepreneurial students working in one shared space. Proacademy is an active part of a larger business network that consists of customer companies, mentor entrepreneurs and alumni members. The network of universities with similar degree programs offers a perfect platform for building connections on an international level.

Proacademy sounded like the place I was looking for: like-minded people working together and achieving dreams through learning and doing business. I read about it everything I could find and decided that I would apply there in the next period of applications, which was spring 2010. First I needed to apply and get in to business administration degree at Tampere University of Applied Sciences. It wasn’t easy at all, because it’s one of the most popular university degrees in Finland, but I managed to get in, barely.

During the first year of business administration studies we learned for example marketing, economics, finance, book-keeping, languages, math, selling, and we had virtual learning environment where we established and ran our virtual ”companies”. During the spring of the first year of studies, it was time to apply to Proacademy. I visualized a motivation letter and attached my CV and my result of Belbin® team role test which is used for the creation of the Proacademy teams. Then we had interviews with a Proacademy coach and a team entrepreneur (the students at Proacademy are called like that). We were asked about our motivation and commitment towards different way of studying in which willingness and ability to lead yourself is in important role, because nobody is telling you what or how to do something, instead you create your learning goals with the team and only sky is limiting the possibilities of doing and achieving.

During the spring we got the results of the application process and I was relieved when I heard I got in. During the spring and summer I already learned to know my team of five other girls and six boys, from 20 to 29-year-old (the average age of our team was 25). Before we officially started at Proacademy, we took part in some community events where we got to know other Proacademy team entrepreneurs, alumni and coaches. During the summer I also started to read books about creativity and innovations and productization from a book list that was provided to us.

In August 2011 I officially started my team entrepreneur journey at Proacademy. With our team we started to establish our cooperative which we named ”Extempo”. During 2,5 years, which is the team learning time in Proacademy, we did approximately 130 customer projects and gained 20 customer ships. The projects were ranging from small projects at the beginning, such as selling children’s books and Christmas trees, to successful event production and establishing a summer café which we ran for two summers and after graduation sold the business to a younger Proacademy team.

In our team we had different kinds of experiences and skills, such as web and graphic designing, audio-visual production, marketing and communication and event producing. During the 2,5 years we could develop those skills and finally raised a revenue of € 230 000, travelled around the world in the final year and for that gained € 50 000 profit.

My personal path in Proacademy included working one year in Proacademy’s Marketing & Communication Team which had team members from different teams. The team took care of the national marketing of Proacademy and communication inside and outside. During the same year I was also a member of Proacademy’s International Team, also a diverse team entrepreneur group, and on the second year I started to lead the International Team. Working in the International Team included presenting Proacademy in English, hosting international visitors and organising events and learning journeys.

In our team we had leadership roles that changed every six months, so that everyone interested about leadership could have some experience about leading a team. During six months I was in a role of HR Manager of our team company and during the final six months I was leading our company.

One of my biggest customer projects were producing the 17th Tampere Flamenco Festival which is the biggest and oldest flamenco festival in the Nordic countries. Before Proacademy I was doing volunteer work for the festival but Proacademy enabled to turn that volunteer work into business. The festival lasts one week and is presenting high-quality flamenco art from Spain and also from Finland and other countries. I led a project with budget of € 60 000 and a group of six people. The whole project lasted almost one year. Afterwards the festival has employed also another member from our Proacademy team.

I was also part of our summer café project. Me and three other girls from our team wanted to have some project for the summer and we were thinking about how would it feel like running a café. Proacademy was a perfect place to try something like that and so we established a summer café in a park nearby my neighborhood. I felt that the park was lacking a café like that and so we learned during two summers that it was a really good idea to establish a café there. In two summers we made € 100 000 revenue and € 40 000 profit with the café.

During Proacademy I took part in approximately 20 different customer projects. I read around 40 books from the fields of learning, entrepreneurship, leadership, marketing, customer ships, selling, project management, event organising, creativity, innovations, business models, internationalization and story telling.

Our team learning journey was like a roller coaster ride, so to say. Two members left during the first six months because they found out that the way of learning wasn’t for them. I suppose they were lacking self-leadership skills. In the first spring we got an exchange student from Latvia for six months and our working language was changed in English. We also had some inner conflicts in our team and therefore the first spring was very tough for us.

After the challenging first year, we needed to start planning our final year which in Proacademy consists of a Final Camp -project that can be anything internationally related. We wanted to do something memorable and finally we set us a huge goal: a six-week-long trip around the world that contains international project. For the trip we needed € 50 000 profit and we had one year time to collect the money. We also wanted that the team goes together or nobody goes, so there was a work to do to keep up the spirit and motivation. We got lots of suspicions because nobody in Proacademy had done this size of a trip before, but those suspicions just gave us energy to push the dream.

Finally, again we had to let go two more members from our team because they weren’t committed to the team’s goal, and little by little, they were mentally and physically slipping away from the team. We had to make the hard decision that it would be best for the team and the individuals that those two members finish their studies in the basic business administration side of the university.

For the counterbalance of the challenges and difficulties, in May 2013 we got awarded as “The Team of the Year” at Proacademy because of our resilience, and finally in October the 2nd, 2013 we started our trip with the team of eight resilient members.

The route of our trip was Singapore-East Timor-New Zealand-Fiji-New York. In East Timor we did a project for the first public library of the country that was established by Kirsty Sword Gusmão, the wife of East Timor’s first post-independence President (and its current Prime Minister) Xanana Gusmão. We developed library’s financial systems, created a marketing and a concept plan, made a database and photographed and documented all the items. It was so rewarding to use our skills in order to help a local community in a developing country, and East Timor as itself, was an experience, which we probably wouldn’t have seen without our team’s trip.

To achieve the trip was our toughest challenge but it really was worth of all the hard work. Exploring the wilderness and submarine world, watching incredible beautiful sunsets and starry skies, relaxing in hammock, bathing in Pacific, driving through marvelous scenery and wandering in the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn were some of those moments that will live forever.

Here’s a little video from our trip (Finnish text).

It was in the beginning of November 2013 when we where waiting a transfer flight to New York at Los Angeles airport when me and Lauri Holja, my team mate, got an interesting email from our Proacademy coaches. Our university’s vice rector was suggesting that would we be interested to apply to present Proacademy and team learning at University-Industry Interaction Conference which would take place in Barcelona in April 2014. They were suggesting us based on the final thesis subjects we had. Lauri’s thesis was about leadership in generation Y cooperatives and mine was about developing the international network of team entrepreneurs.

Of course we were interested, and after we returned home from our trip, we started to plan an article with which we could apply for the conference. As we were planning and writing, we thought why wouldn’t we start doing business with the knowledge and experience about team learning and team entrepreneurship that we had gained during our studies. We knew that there is a need for updating education worldwide and with our skills and experience we could promote the way of learning that answers to the needs of today’s working life.

In March 2014 we officially established a new company called Less Miserables. Until now, we have held interactive workshops on e.g. team learning methods, creativity and innovation, knowledge creation and management, coaching and leadership and given presentations about team learning and team entrepreneurship internationally.

While running a business, I have completed also a Special Qualification in Teampreneur® Coaching at Team Mastery, an international training program for team coaches. I feel that developing yourself further is essential in business and in life in general.

The vision of our company is to enable team learning and team entrepreneurship for everybody in the world, and we want to inspire people to move towards more human-centered organisations and finding self-management and self-initiative in team working. We believe that through team learning it’s possible to have less unemployment, less misery, more entrepreneurship and more learning.

I think that the many conflicts and down hills in our team entrepreneur time have been the ones from which we have learned the most. Though it was really tough at some points and we had to let go four members from our team, those are points where the learning and development happened. And now when I’m looking back, I wouldn’t change anything in the process.

Also the personal growth and getting to know yourself more deeply have been the main benefits of the team learning process. Now I can better acknowledge my feelings, actions and why I am thinking and acting the way I do. That is valuable when working with other people and when considering leadership and coaching. At the latest at Proacademy, I noticed that learning is a slow process which lasts for your lifetime. Every day you can learn from your successes and failures, from other people, from other people’s successes and failures and by reflecting those learnings to your situation. Learning as well as entrepreneurship is continuous trial that requires resilience, goals and passion.

Being part of a great network has been very meaningful for me. I wouldn’t be here where we are now without that network. It has needed a lot of self-initiative though to start using the network and learning how to grow that. That is a skill I need as entrepreneur, so no contact has gone to waste.

In October 2014 I participated in and won the 2nd prize at Export Race organised by The Regional Organisation of Enterprises in Tampere area. The race took place in Denmark for two days. I took my network in use, contacted 40 people in different organisations and met 14 people during two days. That led to a future cooperation with an education development project in Denmark. From the jury I got acknowledgement about courage, business skills and the quality of the contacts. Three years ago I never would have believed I could ever have courage to do that kind of accomplishment. And probably without Proacademy I never would have.

I feel very lucky in every way that I had a chance to go through the team entrepreneurship path, and now I feel that everything is possible in life. As Walt Disney put it: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

For more information about Proacademy: http://www.proakatemia.fi/en/ and in Finnish: http://proakatemia.fi

-Maria

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