You never know what you’ll discover about yourself during a business school class, especially one that is taught in Finland. In partnership with the University of Vaasa, Eusebio Scornavacca, Parsons Professor of Digital Innovation, led 14 University of Baltimore students on a Global Field Study where they worked on real-life business challenges from four Finnish startups. Scornavacca, whose own work has sent him around the world and helped him develop far-reaching connections, has a history of leveraging those connections to help push the University of Baltimore onto the global stage.
According to the World Economic Forum, Finland has the fourth largest knowledge economy in Europe and it is one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial nations in the world. Eight UB MBA students, a M.S. in Accounting and Business Advisory Services student, and five undergraduate business majors, traveled to the industrial city of Vaasa (about 1,860 miles south of the North Pole) to immerse themselves in to a unique business culture and to work together addressing the business challenges presented by the partner companies. The participating companies were from diverse industries and had different objectives. Our students rolled-up their sleeves to impress and most importantly to help solve a pressing business issue for each company.
This international partnership was fully embraced by the local community. The UB team was invited to a reception in their honor, hosted by the City of Vaasa and they also made the local newspaper Pohjalainen with the headline “American Professor, Student Group, Looking for Answers to Vaasa’s Business Challenges – “Interesting, Different, Promising.”
That’s a lot of pressure, but UB students who are known for being practical and professional about their work product, were more excited and exhilarated than pressured. Scornavacca also credits the diversity of the group – the blend of experience, ethnic, gender and age groups – as a real strength for the success of this initiative.
Prof. Scornavacca has a history with the University of Vaasa. As a matter of fact, he has been going to Finland for more than 20 years because of his leading research work on mobile technologies. He has previously been to the University of Vaasa twice before, collaborating with colleague, Prof. Panu Kalmi, in the area of using digital technology to enhance financial literacy.
“I decided to take the summer Global Business Study course to Finland so our students would have the unique opportunity to address complex business challenges from local start-ups, while effectively experiencing life in one of the most innovative, and socially developed countries in the world. The choice of Vaasa was in part to the long-term research partnership I have with Vaasa Prof. Panu Kalmi. Both the university and the city of Vaasa provided great support for our group. This partnership allowed us to have a level of access that no money can buy – like having a VIP backstage pass to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem” says Scornavacca, who also heads UB’s Center for Digital Communication, Commerce and Culture. “Our students were challenged to overcome jet lag, uncertainty from limited and unstructured information, understanding complex technologies and business models, as well as differences in language, culture and the business environment. And they nailed it!”
The companies that our students partnered with and developed a report and presentation for, included:
- Finhow, a firm focused on early childhood education and pursuing ways to use digital media for marketing their services in the U.S.,
- Taiga Chocolate, a company looking for a positioning strategy for the U.S. market,
- Somessa, Finland’s largest influencer media company who were looking to improve their capabilities using social media monitoring tools in the social media market, and lastly,
- Platonic Partnership, a gaming and digital experience company who were seeking to bring a product to the mainstream.
As for the students, they dug deep into examining each challenge’s strengths and weaknesses and making sure that their analysis encompassed issues such as organizational impact, cost, and feasibility — and of course justifying their recommendations to their clients.
For MBA student Murtala Sada, this was not his first time abroad, but he knew that the Finland field study was an opportunity to take him out of his comfort zone, looking at business processes and solutions with a different lens.
“I had high expectations prior to the trip about what we would learn and experience,” said Sada. “From a professional perspective, my expectation for this global study was an opportunity to use accounting, finance, and other areas like business operations, processes and solutions, all in a very different environment. I anticipated the challenges and welcomed the opportunity to think outside of the box.”
Sada’s group worked with Platonic Partnership. He and his team members had several ideas to address the client’s challenge so they set up additional meetings with the CEO and CTO of the company so they could have ongoing conversations about their research and proposed solutions. He saw this as a great way to get constant feedback from the executives and it also provided a better understanding of possible solutions that their proposal could address.
“Given the limited time we had to present our proposed strategies made the process adventurous,” Sada said. “We felt like we had a stake in the business and were compelled to research and present solutions that best addressed the challenges of our assigned startup company. When we arrived back in Baltimore, we had an email waiting for us from Juhana Lehtiniemi, who is the CTO, which stated their intentions to start implementing the strategies we proposed. How gratifying is that? They are moving forward with our proposal.”
“Takes a Startup to Know a Startup”