Volunteering for The Shortcut – How did I get here?

In the Fall of 2018, I took a leap into the unknown and applied as a volunteer for as many startup accelerators, hackathons and networking events as I could find near Helsinki. My purpose was to learn more about the growing tech startup market in Finland. My understanding of the tech industry and entrepreneurship was sorely outdated. My perspective was very different during my years in the hospitality industry. Being in such a focused world of hotel sales and meeting planning had rendered me clueless about how this other area had evolved. But tech and the startup scene are hard to ignore in my new homeland, and I felt compelled to gain some quick experience before finding my next career.

Dash, then Junction, then Kiuas, then SLUSH. I felt like I had practically moved to the Otaniemi campus of Aalto Universityand it for sure seemed like I was getting a free college education. I dove head first into the heart of the startup scene. I was mingling with the next generation of over achievers and tech superstars as they tested out their skills before joining the real world. And there could be no better place to observe and learn fast. The only problem was that I wasn’t a student. In fact, I found myself applying extra eyeliner and wearing high rise jeans just to look the part. Awkward.

At some point, I had to admit that my 15+ year age difference was distancing me significantly from the other volunteers. I could continue to tag along on more and more events, but I was never going to actually be able to join this community in my own right. So what next? The vibe was invigorating, the people were fascinating, the exposure was incredible. How can I keep this going?

In mid-December a new (but credible) acquaintance turned my attention to The Shortcut. It’s the community for potential tech stars and entrepreneur wannabes – but after they have graduated from college and also immigrated to Finland – ha! It is quite specifically the answer to my question of where to look next. 

The purpose of the group as described by their Mission Statement: 

“The Shortcut is a community-driven organisation that promotes diversity as an
engine for growth. We encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to
consider creating or working for a startup to best utilise their skills and aspirations.
We inspire and empower our community through gatherings, workshops, trainings
and programs that help them explore ideas, share knowledge and develop skills
to enable new talents required in the startup life.”

And, oh by the way, they are owned by Startup Foundationand affiliated with all those fun Aalto University organizations that I previously volunteered with. And they are located in Maria 01,which is a fascinating new startup workspace currently in transition from an old hospital to possibly the largest European start up campus, in the center of Helsinki. I couldn’t resist.

In February of this year, after returning from two months in the US, I made contact with The Shortcut. Since then, I have attended one info session and volunteered for Idea Development Weekand Digital Prototype Week. In a word, mahtava. I was impressed and relieved to find a  warm, welcoming environment, training programs with highly qualified instructors, and a diverse population of staff, volunteers and participants. The organization embraces the tech savvy, hardworking spirit of modern Finland but adds an incredible flare and energy of various cultures, languages and experiences coming together. I have been a part of so many conversations that include the typical expat topics: How did you end up here? How are did you survive the cold, dark winter? How long do you plan to stay? But they have also extended further into conversations such as Where do you want to take your career next? How can we integrate better into Finnish society? How can we help like-minded newcomers to Finland find their path?

For me, it seems like a place where I can learn about marketing topics that are relevant to me, meet tech savvy entrepreneurs who are refining their skills, and share my talents and experience.  Only a month after my first volunteer assignment, I would say that I already feel like a part of this community in a way that wasn’t possible with the other startup programs. And since this is a multifaceted organization with a physical address, I look forward to volunteering with events on a regular basis. I’m curious to discover which programs provide the greatest return for me. Easy to see how I arrived here. Let’s see what happens next.