“You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook.”

That was one of the things keynote speaker Mr Aape Pohjavirta said in last Friday’s public seminar themed “The Role of Entrepreneurship & Innovation for Development” organized by DTBi and COSTECH. In the 1960’s people were excited about mankind building space colonies and hover cars, now the same people are safistied when they update their status on Facebook. “Have we stopped solving the big problems?” asks Aape.

Our globe is in a crisis from an uncontrolled population and resource-use growth – technology adoption and pollution can’t be the indicators for development as they were during the industrial revolution. But what is the alternative? Aape proposes a bold utopia, a future society built on sustainable level of consumption, digital economy and human values that are asset-light. He goes as far to ask whether Finland and Tanzania could build this together? Could Tanzania be the first nation in the world to have happy people with sustainable CO2-levels and prove the world that humanity has hope?

Aape Pohjavirta proposing a utopia of Tanzanian society

So how is all this connected to innovation, entrepreneurship and incubation? A key point in Aape’s presentation was a need for new culture of innovation and systemic change on the way we look at our planet.

Looking at history often helps us understand what we are doing (and sometimes what we should be doing). Aape told the history of Finland in a way no one had heard it before, and there were many interesting points related the topic of the seminar. Aape compared the earlier guilds of craftsmen and industrial workers to the technology communities of today – places to share ideas, learn from the more experienced and meet new people. This is something we can work on, and why we needs places like hubs, incubators and like. We need failures to find the innovations that flourish, thus we need to practise failing in a safe supporting environment. And sometimes failures create something bigger behind them.

Think of Nokia’s effect in the Finnish economy. 53183.

That’s the number of new companies Finland would need to compensate for the GDP loss if Nokia would not produce any profits (and hence taxes). 53183 companies, each with 1 million euro annual revenue and 10% profitability. Everyone seems to agree that Finland will never have another Nokia, but a number of smaller startups are needed to fuel the economy. In this sense Finland and Tanzania currently share very similar goals. Finland has a very developed innovation system, but a society based on status quo and little to drive the growth at the moment. Tanzania’s innovation system is only being formed but it already has tremendous growth, capacity to absorb new innovations and lots of driven young people with ideas and will to make a difference in the society.

So what can you do? Aape made some great points we can all keep in mind while driving our dreams and goals forward. Pick the one that speaks to you and follow it:

New ideas are not always seen as positive at first, the difference between an idealist and a startup is the first follower who believes in your idea and joins your efforts. Great companies are not born, they are built! It’s ok to quit but it’s not ok to give up. Best way to learn is to teach. Crowds are stupid. Use salesmen, never consultants. Great ideas matter, but great teams matter even more.


EDIT 15.1.2013 21:06: Typos corrected


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