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“When starting a new company, it’s wise to look far into the future”

Visiting the University of Eastern Finland late this May, Professor Duncan T. Moore gave a lecture on the major and sudden changes taking place in the history and industrial life of the city of Rochester in the US. The city was not defeated by a rapid decline in jobs or by an oversupply of highly skilled labour, and found new bloom through open-minded collaboration with the University of Rochester.

In the photo: Duncan T. Moore.
In Rochester, the change happened rapidly, in the course of just two decades. In the golden days of the 1980s, large companies operating in the city, such as Eastman Kodak, Xerox and Bausch&Lomb, employed an impressive 89,000 people, but this number has gone down to 7,000 by today.

“This has been a tremendous change, with many political aspects to it,” Professor Moore noted.

The University of Rochester was quick to get on top of the situation by, for example, investing in entrepreneurship studies.
One example of open-minded thinking in the area was the launch of a health care franchise, which offered health care companies real-time information about different countries’ disease situations and recommended vaccinations.

“Sound expensive? Information gathering takes time and, yes, it is very expensive. This is why it’s wise not to waste your own time doing it, but to buy the service elsewhere.”

“Another business idea was to provide information to support the decision-making of nurses on night duty, who may have to make quick decisions on how to treat a patient with a heart condition without having time to consult a doctor, for example.”

“When starting up a new company and workplace, it’s wise to look far into the future.”

According to Professor Moore, the University of Rochester is not afraid of making brave decisions, and some programmes have been closed down very quickly after realising that they fail to attract enough students. Decisions are made on the basis of current trends and interests.

“Business success relies on networking: you need to meet people, engage with them, and ask for help when needed,” he says.

“You also need to be passionate about what you’re doing!”

In the photo: Professor Duncan T. Moore.

Over the years, student entrepreneurship has been fostered at the University of Rochester by a variety of means, including courses, competitions and tuition waivers. The objective is to encourage young people to start new companies, and also to gain returns on this investment later in the form of fund-raising.

Similar dynamic of change in Joensuu and Rochester

In the panel discussion held in connection with the lecture, representatives of the Joensuu Science Park, the City of Joensuu, and the University of Eastern Finland found similarities between Rochester and Joensuu.
“Here in Joensuu, the closing down of the Perlos electronics factory happened very quickly, although it had been anticipated for years,” said CEO Jari Lauronen from the Joensuu Science Park.

“Here, however, the situation wasn’t quite as dramatic as in Rochester. A task force was set up quickly to address the problem, and resources for the work were made available at all levels.”

The Joensuu region soon witnessed the emergence of small companies in a variety of fields, providing employment to skilled labour.

The panellists also discussed whether, for example, it is possible to compare small companies in the fields of engineering and music.

“The goal is to create jobs, and in the music industry, immaterial property rights play a key role, making it possible to utilise them for years to come. However, musicians may struggle to find suitable distribution channels and right prices for their work. The pay is poor, meaning that they also have to take on pupils and give lessons. This is something many musicians are reluctant to do, as they feel that anything other than rehearsing their own instrument is a waste of time,” Professor Moore noted.

He asked students attending his lecture about their ideas of studying and about their plans for the future. Would they still find the job opportunities available in Joensuu attractive after graduation?

“Joensuu is geographically far away, but in the end, it comes down to the opportunities available, and how one grows as a student and as a person, he said.

“Internships, for example, could be a solution. Another thing to consider is the demand for expertise in a certain field; it pays off to study mathematical subjects in particular. This kind of an imbalance between skills and needs is also a major structural problem in the US.”

“Students play an important role, and we need to involve them in the development of education. However, they don’t have extensive business networks yet, and they don’t have the experience needed to run their own companies.”

“People often think that Joensuu is far away from everywhere. But to put things into perspective, the trip from Rochester to the largest city of the state, New York City, takes seven hours by car. In that time, you can get pretty far from Joensuu,” Professor Jyrki Saarinen said, chairing the panel discussion.

In the photo: Panel chair, Professor Jyrki Saarinen with panellists CEO Jari Lauronen from the Joensuu Science  Park, Strategy Director Janna Puumalainen from the City of Joensuu, Professor  Duncan T. Moore, Dean  Jukka Jurvelin from the University of Eastern Finland, and Director Jarmo Valtonen from the  Joensuu employment and economic development office.

In a successful team, everyone has their own opinion

Professor Moore offered some tips to students thinking about starting their own company.

“Expand your networks and get to know people from different fields! I wouldn’t invest in a company where everyone has the same background and education. Successful teams are teams where people have different opinions,” he said.

“A company needs to have plan, it needs to know its market, and it needs to be brave enough to change course, if necessary. For instance, our university offers a course where students have to test their business idea on six potential customers. This gives them excellent tips on how to proceed with their ideas.”

We’ve been hearing news from the Silicon Valley that start-ups are dying and big companies are once again taking over in, for example, the development of artificial intelligence.

“It is true that Google, Apple and Facebook are attracting a lot of students, including some of ours. They also pay good money. It is important for the students to develop their networks. The average age of starting a company is 38 in the US.”

“History is repeating itself. Big companies aren’t that innovative and, in the end, people want to be creative, that’s the way of nature,” Professor Saarinen adds.

Text: Marianne Mustonen
Photos: Varpu Heiskanen