Kylteri 02/23

Let’s be real, not romantic, about entrepreneurship

As a researcher in the fields of entrepreneurial education, I absolutely do see the value and promise of entrepreneurship. However, it is also undeniable that a more considered and critical approach is needed. By being “real” about entrepreneurship, I am encouraging us all to take a holistic view: acknowledging the fundamental issues that should be addressed.

There are many forms of entrepreneurship today.

There are several different forms of entrepreneurship, and the journey for each venture or entrepreneur can look vastly different. While the so-called “Silicon Valley” model may be the one omnipresent in media, it is by no means the only one. Rather, it is the minority, perhaps with a disproportional stage presence. From sole-traders and light entrepreneurship to social enterprises, cooperatives, and partnerships, there can be many pathways. In just the first quarter of 2023, there were close to 14,000 new enterprises registered in Finland, most of which were individuals fulfilling important roles within the ecosystem as sole-proprietors, trade practitioners, light entrepreneurs, and more.1

This acknowledgement should help educators and students better address the skills we need to teach, as well as driving people away from the notion of a “one correct model” in entrepreneurship. Bootstrapping, entrepreneurship law, taxation, grant-writing, and futures-thinking could all be skills added to the entrepreneur’s toolbox. By encouraging alternative pathways, we understand that different problems and opportunities require different structures and systems. As with the forms of entrepreneurship, there is diversity within the individuals, which brings me to my next point.

Effort is needed on diversity and inclusivity.

The 2022 Atomico State of European Tech report highlighted that “for every woman VC, there are more than six men,” and the same report also showcased that “40% of Black, African or Caribbean respondents have experienced discrimination while working in the European tech industry” only in the last year.2 Concrete efforts towards inclusivity are needed. From founders and investors to researchers and experts, and governments and financial institutions, work is needed to ensure that all individuals can view themselves as members of this ecosystem. But everyone can play their part. For instance, educators can push for more inclusive discussions, provide tools for interdisciplinary collaboration, and pave tangible ways into entrepreneurship for everyone, regardless of their demographic, socio-economic, cultural, or other factors.

We, the members of this “Aalto ecosystem,” should do better to understand our own privileges, be humble, and be sustainable with our actions. Rather than viewing entrepreneurship as a panacea, it’s crucial to notice the vast number of resources required that actually make entrepreneurship a viable option in the first place. Moreover, we, as students and educators, should be more sustainable and ethical with these resources, financial or otherwise. It’s important to share knowledge and practices and do the best to extend this platform to those currently excluded. The 2020 Slush White Paper states that “the bottom line is that people are oblivious to problems that don’t concern them directly,” and so we need to both become more aware of these problems and to bring others into the discussions as well.3

A holistic and critical perspective on value is needed.

Entrepreneurship is, at its core, about creating and capturing value. This “value” is often focused upon financial metrics; however, this is beginning to change. As we look to address the many wicked geopolitical, societal, and environmental challenges we’re currently facing, a more critical approach towards value becomes necessary. If we truly aim to begin solving these challenges, then the value we seek must go beyond our traditional metrics, norms, and practices. Ideas like degrowth, decolonization, and mission-oriented approaches must be included in discussions on value as well.

We, as individuals or organizations, must engage with these tensions, along with the possible ramifications such approaches may have on our existing values and systems. It is not far-fetched to think that addressing these complex problems will be at odds with existing notions. It’s important to accept the complexity that tackling these challenges may bring, but, at the same time, instill a willingness in people to experiment and put forth their own ideas and interpretations. Entrepreneurship should thus aim to equip individuals with the ability to think critically, to challenge, and to begin to transform the existing societal and business paradigms, perhaps putting into jeopardy these so-called norms and conventions themselves.

Let’s acknowledge the fact that entrepreneurship comes in many different forms, let’s address the systemic and systematic issues present within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and let’s adopt a more critical view on value, understanding that doing so may require shifting away from our traditional paradigms. Let’s be real, not romantic, about entrepreneurship.

The author is a doctoral researcher and member of faculty for the interdisciplinary master’s program, International Design Business Management (IDBM) at Aalto University. His area of research lies within entrepreneurial education, experiential learning, and entrepreneurial ecosystems.


1. Statistics Finland, 17.5.2023, Registered new enterprises numbered 13,954 in January to March 2023.

2. Atomico, 12.12.2022, State of European Tech 2022.

3. Slush, 17.6.2020, Entrepreneurship redefined.