SHIFT Business Festival changing how Finland networks

SHIFT Business Festival changing how Finland networks

What does a medieval castle, an old prison, the Finnish city of Turku, and a business festival have in common? It is where SHIFT took place during the end of May, 2017. The two-day business festival kicked off the summer season in Turku on the southwest coast of Finland and brought together over 2,000 participants.

SHIFT is not only about business and tech but also about humans and human connections. The idea for the event is based on SHIFT board member Erika Halonen’s concept and was presented to Alexander Törnroth, the CEO of SHIFT, in the fall of 2014. The concept is to bring people together: to share, learn, and engage with like-minded people. The first event took place in May, 2016 and was very successful, with over 1000 participants, 80 partners, 250 growth companies and 50 investors in attendance. Year 2017 doubled most of these numbers.

Törnroth initially thought the idea was terrible due to the current economical situation of Finland in general since the country was still recovering after the financial crisis of 2008 and because there were no big companies in Turku, but the idea grew on him over time. Halonen and Törnroth wanted to brand Turku as the city of unconventional thinking and forerunners.

“We wanted people to be able to network in a relaxed environment, combine it with art that brings people together and makes the discussions flow, at the same time as they can learn from each other. The idea of active participation through for example workshops and panels was that people don’t need to just listen and learn, they can be active participants and teach and inspire each other,” explains CEO Törnroth about the concept of SHIFT.

A participant of the event, Tiina, says that the event is interesting and has so far given her great insights into how business might be done in the future and new contacts for future business. “I will come here next year again, because of the way we [participants] can actively learn things from the speakers and from each other,” Tiina said. “We can schedule meetings with other participants in advance, which is great for networking. The only downside this year is the cold weather, but it could have been worse.”

Another aspect at the core of the event is sustainability. Törnroth doesn’t believe that new business can be established relying on unsustainable business practices. The aim of the event is, therefore, to set an example to others by using sustainable electricity, recycling, and as many sustainable materials as possible throughout the event. For example, much of the furniture used at the official after-party was borrowed from the recycling center Turun Ekotori, a supporting partner of the event.

This year’s theme (Human and Machine) brought interesting keynote speakers to discuss various topics around automation, artificial intelligence, the future workplace and what the future in general might look like. The world’s first cyborg, Neil Harbisson, spoke about how he decided to implant an antenna to his skull to be able to hear the sound waves of colors due to his colorblindness. Melody Hossaini enthralled the audience with her positive attitude and explained how companies could become more purpose-driven. The futurist Gerd Leonhard discussed how we should embrace technology, but not become it, because we have one thing that cannot be automated: humanity.

SHIFT doesn’t impact only the people attending the event. It also has a huge impact on the city of Turku and on youth looking for work experiences through volunteering. The event impacts the city’s businesses as well as the transportation system. It can create international opportunities due to the international companies and participants that attend and if and when their participant number grows in the future.

According to the German student Despina Hatzigrigoriou, 23, who volunteered on SHIFT’s marketing and communications team, the event has a great impact on Turku in terms of bringing together diverse citizens like young professionals, entrepreneurs, and students, as well as international professionals. With the many, diverse attendees, there are great networking opportunities.

“SHIFT is not only an event, it is an initiative to bring together different experiences across any boundaries. The goal is to make an positive impact to society and there’s still more to come I believe,” Hatzigrigoriou said, adding that volunteering for the event has been a very valuable experience to her.

Hatzigrigoriou was introduced to a new working culture within the not-for-profit sector and also connected with many young, like-minded international individuals within several different fields.

Törnroth hopes that people see volunteering as a valuable experience for their future careers. He believes entering the job market will be easier when someone has already gathered some experience — experience that may be difficult to gain from solely studying. This year, around 200 volunteers took part in making SHIFT happen, so it truly is a team effort.

For the future of SHIFT, Törnroth sees the event growing internationally, but not exceeding 5,000 attendees, as it would not be possible for all the participants to meet, and losing the human connection.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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