Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. We hope you enjoy reading them!

Natalia Rincon is an architect and computer scientist with a truly global perspective. Natalia seamlessly blends her architectural expertise with her passion for urban planning and entrepreneurship, contributing to boards and projects that are meaningful to her. Her love for cities and people have driven her to co-found CHAOS, a startup focused on improving urban planning, where she is currently a CEO. She’s also currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Smart Cities at Aalto University. Natalia believes in giving back to society and cherishes collaboration with others, is committed to community building and helping those around her. 

With her expertise in urban planning, smart cities, data platforms, and tech, Natalia brings a unique perspective to support budding ventures in these domains. Her active engagement in various councils and organizations demonstrates her commitment to making a positive impact. Natalia takes great pleasure in mentoring Red Brick founders, leveraging her extensive background to provide guidance on fundraising, pitch deck preparation, business case development, market research and analysis. 

Natalia’s journey to start her own business has not been easy, albeit very rewarding. She began by meeting and talking to many people to share her business idea. Her journey was immediately fast tracked when someone recommended her to participate in a hackathon in Tampere, where her team won and validated their idea.

Natalia then found her co-founder, Paloma Bautista Sánchez, with whom the journey progressed as CHAOS transitioned into an incorporated company. They established a shareholder’s agreement and secured investment from angel investors that she met through Startup Sauna. Their perseverance and hard work paid off at Slush in 2017 when, with a fully developed app, they raised a successful funding round in one night, cementing the start of CHAOS’s success story.

She is one of the active mentors in Red Brick. When asked about her mentoring values, Natalia believes a good mentor listens and guides, leading by example rather than just giving answers. She values humility in mentees, as they’ll receive feedback and need to defend their ideas. “It’s important to speak up while being open to feedback, even if it’s not directly stated,” she says. “Investors also appreciate founders who can learn and adapt.”

Natalia further added that people often focus on the product and its marketing, but she emphasizes turning ideas into successful businesses by understanding the customers and reasons they would buy, which is important. Natalia’s mentoring style includes giving help where needed and asking tough questions to challenge and improve startup ideas.

Natalia advises founders to learn how to network, build their teams, develop a strong business case, and then proceed with their venture.

“It’s crucial to know who your target customers are and understand their profiles,” she says. “To succeed, you must grasp various aspects of your business, including your customer base and go-to-market strategy. Even if you have a fantastic product idea, you’ll face questions about these topics. Focusing solely on the product won’t take you very far.”

MySpeaker Finland – Keynote Puhua – Natalia Rincon

Natalia’s recipe for success

“Teams should have this magic. Some people call it chemistry. When you are likable and charismatic, you are able to radiate energy into other people. It is nice to converse with you and build a genuine relationship, it’s not just pitching and pitching. People admire someone who is passionate about something. When a person that has passion speaks, you can immediately tell they are genuine. I think that’s what we all want in the world, to find our passion. I think when you’re that kind of founder, you attract a lot of people, investors, attention, and buzz.

If you already managed to hook your audience, the next step is being super clear. State that this is my goal, this is what I want, tell the story in a very concise and clear way. It gives a strong impression that this person really knows what they’re talking about. The confidence and the clarity speak for themselves.

Accelerators help in networking, support, having a safety net, and getting creative ideas from other founders. Not everybody is a founder, some people just want to join the adventure, which is fine.

Lastly, you identify your go-to-market. I think this is how investors evaluate and really look at startups. When asked this question, what is your best-performing startup in your portfolio, the one you’re really proud of and the one you would always mention, investors always answer, it’s not the one making the most revenue, not one with the cool product, nor the special customers, it’s the one that has magic. Do it with passion or not at all.

Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Natalia for her insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. We hope you enjoy reading them!

It is no secret this mentor story covers one of our favorite coaches. Meet Orfeuo Lionor, the guy we are to blame for turning Red Brick founders into pirates. 

Orfeuo Lionor’s diverse background and love for coaching and education have shaped his approach to mentorship. He believes in the power of passing on knowledge and learning alongside others. His journey into the world of startups began with a passion for sales and a knack for exploring new markets. However, it was his involvement in hackathons that truly ignited his curiosity and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. In these intense 2-day events, Orfy discovered the power of rapid prototyping and the thrill of building something from scratch. He also immersed himself in London’s vibrant startup ecosystem, where networking events and “fuckup nights” provided invaluable lessons in resilience and learning from failure. 

His generalist experience covers product development, validation, and funding to mention a few. We sat down with Orfy to discuss his values, expertise, and to gain insights from his years of coaching startups.

For Orfy, it’s not just about the technology; it’s about the people behind the startups. When evaluating founders, he looks for traits such as curiosity, courage, coachability, and a data-centric mindset. He emphasizes the importance of de-risking business models and focusing on learning and experimentation.

One of the top mistakes Orfy sees startups make is building something without understanding their target market. He advocates for a “learning journey” mindset and encourages founders to validate their assumptions through experiments before investing heavily in product development. The learning part is the most important thing. The learning can be converted into something now or somewhere down the road. In this startup, or in a future startup. Another mistake is building too early – also called “MVP obsession”. People can really benefit from learning how to run experiments to validate assumptions before moving into MVP-mode.

“Know when to ask for advice, and be able to distinguish between good advice and bad advice, and know that advice is just advice; data never lies.”

Orfy’s pirate values

  • Fun: it’s a serious business but it’s also a creative industry. Might as well have some fun while we’re at it (that includes a dose of self-ridicule that can be healing)
  • Integrity: Acting with honesty,independent thinking, transparency, and fairness in all dealings with startups. Always giving back even if you do not get anything in return.
  • Empathy: Understanding the challenges and emotions of startup founders and providing support and guidance with sensitivity.
  • Collaboration: Working closely with startups thereby fostering a collaborative and supportive ecosystem. Many countries think of how to build stronger ecosystems. It’s all about the people, people willing to share things without expecting something in return. Orfy says, “Some of the most valuable lessons that I’ve gotten were from people who were willing to share strategies, shortcuts, tips, tricks, mistakes.”
  • Inclusivity: promoting diversity, inclusivity in a startup ecosystem, ensuring equal opportunities for all founders. A successful ecosystem is built on diversity.
  • Empowerment: empowering startups to take ownership of their journey, making informed decisions, and achieve their goals autonomously. “With coaching, you always know that there is a limit to it. But you can give people a basic outline of the theory, and they can build off of it themselves. Instead of giving them the fish, teach them how to fish with frameworks, tools, and exercises to learn how to de-risk their business model on the basis of data, to be data-centric.”

His advice for first-time founders is simple yet profound: focus on learning rather than proving yourself. Embrace each experience as an opportunity to grow and develop as an entrepreneur.

Early-stage founders should prioritize building a strong team with complementary skills. Orfy believes that finding the right co-founder is crucial and suggests attending hackathons as a great way to meet potential collaborators.

In essence, Orfy’s journey embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship—a willingness to learn, adapt, and collaborate in pursuit of building something meaningful. 

“Inspiration is in everything. Art and creativity, every day. Art is there to provoke people, and in startups that is very useful. You can be inspired by everything, there is so much inspiration everywhere. Looking at things from a different perspective, thinking out-of-the-box. Nature and environment. Philosophy and wisdom. Everything. Inspiration can come from everywhere.

Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Orfy for his insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!

Red Brick Accelerator welcomes 8 innovative startups to the spring program!

This week we kicked-off the Red Brick’s spring accelerator program with a batch of 8 new startups!

Founders are on a mission to solve important relevant problems out there. From optimizing railway traffic to reducing B2B emissions, using AI for sustainable supplier selection, and revolutionizing municipal asset management.

Meet the Red Brick spring batch ’24:

  1. Weivi – optimizing railway traffic with the goal of fixing train delays and increasing train traffic capacity.
  2. UpCycleo – simplifies & automates sustainable sourcing to tackle 90% of B2B emissions.
  3. Omahal – Cloud-based asset management platform for municipalities.
  4. Texus – a marketplace platform for idle spare parts management in the manufacturing sector.
  5. Done – a marketplace that connects local service providers with buyers.
  6. Medipal – a solution empowering individuals to manage their medical records, reports, and prescriptions securely and conveniently.
  7. Costifier – an AI software helping enterprises achieve cost-effective and sustainable supplier selection.
  8. Life Recorded – connecting generations by recording the extraordinary stories behind ordinary lives.

We are looking at an exciting 8 weeks ahead. Customer discovery, experimentation, strengthening value propositions, working on GTM strategies. And pleeeenty of feedback. Setting up a strong foundation for their next steps and taking companies to the next level.

The energy within the batch bounced up high from the get-go, with peer-support and exploring synergies with each other during the kick-off meeting.

Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these incredible startups. We are excited to be part of their journey, supporting ambitious changemakers and ramping up the development of their ventures.

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. We hope you enjoy reading them!

Tomi Neulanen has had a diverse career starting from the early 2000s and now provides valuable advice and mentorship to entrepreneurs and clients. He wore different hats, as a developer, an analyst, designer, and a project manager. He has also dabbled in sales and worked as a customer happiness officer. Now, he’s found his groove as a consultant at Sofokus Oy, a company that specializes in creating digital solutions that deliver real value to businesses. 

His experiences in consulting and founding his own startup have given him a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the business world. Tomi was known as the “talking coder.” He says that while you can turn a coder into a salesman, the opposite isn’t as easy. With his passion for problem-solving and his dedication to helping others, Tomi continues to make a positive impact in the startup ecosystem. At Red Brick, we have been lucky to have a chance to extend his impact to startups in our programs. 

Tomi is drawn to startups because of the founders’ optimistic mindset and their determination to overcome challenges and push for a better future. He finds inspiration in their passion and motivation to solve problems. He loves interacting with people during this stage of their lives and avoids putting them into limiting boxes. To him, everyone has something valuable to offer.

He believes that a founder’s resilience and unwavering commitment to their idea are the most important qualities they can have. One piece of advice Tomi gives to early-stage founders is not to shy away from making cold calls. Although it may seem intimidating, he warns against putting it off because it can have long-term consequences. Using simple tools like Google Sheets is a good start to compile a list of leads. By reaching out to many leads, founders can convert a small percentage into actual revenue, demonstrating the value of persistence and proactive outreach.

Looking back on his own entrepreneurial journey, Tomi remembers his own previous startup founded 15 years ago. They faced significant challenges due to the tough market conditions. The idea behind his company was technically complex, similar to how Facebook targets ads or conducts questionnaires with focus groups. He approached the project, as a web developer, purely as a technical challenge, without seeking input from others, and that turned out to be a big mistake. Working alone without a team and lacking the necessary tools for running a company held him back. But Tomi now uses this experience as an example when talking to founders building similar platforms, as they face similar challenges and can learn from his insights.

Don’t build your product alone, always ask for input

That entrepreneurial experience has led him to where he is now. He understands the excitement and potential when young founders come up with innovative ideas, but he also knows the downside of making endless promises without setting clear timelines. Tomi believes founders should commit to a specific period for their projects and establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or such to evaluate their progress. This helps them decide whether to keep going or move on, avoiding wasted time, energy, and resources. He also emphasizes the importance of building a diverse and adaptable team, effectively analyzing data, and using KPIs to make objective decisions. Tomi is a proponent of piloting solutions and believes in trying to solve problems before giving up.

Understanding the entrepreneur’s mindset, finding shortcuts and clever solutions for their challenges, and finishing strong are Tomi’s compelling assets. But he knows that he can only offer meaningful advice if he truly understands the founding team and their situation. Building trust is key, and his extensive experience in technology and various projects allows him to provide clients with different options to solve their problems. His work with clients is very similar to his role as a mentor, and he genuinely enjoys being around people and helping them solve problems. “Whether it’s students trying out new things, experienced entrepreneurs venturing into new businesses, or just people looking for solutions to everyday problems,” he says, “I admire and have passion in helping them find solutions and shortcuts that would help save their time and resources.”

Being helpful, as opposed to being right, is his ultimate goal as a mentor at the end of the day. His advice to founders would be to find a trusted advisor, who is somehow detached, with a wider viewport of what they are doing as founders. Self-reflection is also important; a founder should always find the time to take care of themselves.

Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Tomi for his insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our new “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!

Anastasiia Kozina, also known as Siia, is a strategic product designer who is passionate about creative problem-solving and using her skills to help others. Her journey in design began during her studies in Finland, where she was drawn to modern and interactive design techniques. She currently works at Nordkapp, a strategic consulting agency that supports companies going through change. Siia has experience as an entrepreneur, working in the dementia care industry as well as IT consulting.

Picture by Felipe Santana

Our journey with Siia began in 2019, when she joined Red Brick as a startup mentor. Siia believes in having an open culture and the importance of sharing knowledge and failure stories. She sees mentoring as a way to merge giving back to society and doing pro bono work with her expertise, allowing her to support teams practically to move forward.

“All the startups I have met are rooted in some kind of problem they themselves experience,” Siia says, “Seeing these teams wanting to change something so badly inspires me. I believe that this is exactly what humans should be doing, trying to actively solve their problems instead of passively watching from a distance. You meet a lot of brave people in the startup world who are ready to go out there and try something. That alone is incredibly powerful.” 

Siia is an entrepreneur herself. She co-founded Memocate, a research-powered startup with a mission to improve the quality of care for people with memory disorders and make their caregivers more confident in their abilities. Soon, they began creating multimedia materials for dementia care programs, hospitals, and municipalities. As a spin-off startup from the University of Helsinki, they’ve been learning how to grow business and create a successful team formula with board members, shareholders, and an excellent team to attract investors. They eventually found an angel investor who felt passionate about the dementia caregiving scene and helped them boost the business. However, the team kept struggling with the timelines required to close deals and discovered that EdTech solutions aren’t optimal for staying afloat through raising funds – in this field, investors tend to have specific demands to be interested in providing their support. They piloted a new idea using sensor technology to monitor patients’ communication and movements for more accurate care quality assessments performed in both public and private healthcare institutions regularly, which proved to be a totally different product with massive potential. Siia and her team had to learn to pivot the business in response to these challenges, the learnings of which she still applies in her mentoring rounds to this day.

Picture by Felipe Santana

Siia’s work with Red Brick began as a coach in UX design. She recalls thinking, “wow! There’s so much more I could do!” That is when her role transitioned from being a workshop coach to a mentor.

When asked about her first advice to early-stage founders, she says not to go on their journey in isolation. “Go out, validate, talk to people, learn more about the problem you are solving, ask for advice,” Siia adds, “be humble, accept that you don’t know everything.”

“If you’re building a startup, it’s very easy to go into a perfectionist state. Everything needs to be in tip-top shape, everything needs to be polished. That creates more work for yourself with already limited resources. Whenever I mentor startups, I ask them, ‘what is the most minimal thing you could do to get to your goal?’ whether it’s validating, selling or something else. That keeps you going and moving somewhere. Otherwise, your time is running out.”

As a mentor, Siia is on the lookout for humility as a key quality in an early-stage startup team. Siia believes that overly confident teams may not be receptive to advice and may not be open to learning. The team’s setup is also important, and having experienced entrepreneurs on the team can help steer the startup away from potential issues. Startups should define their positions and think about the smallest product they can validate and start selling shortly. She also points out that momentum is a very important factor to consider, as market expectations and challenges are changing. Doing research and meeting with other companies in the same space can help founders make informed decisions about the direction of their vision.

Siia shares the importance of engagement strategies for startups. “I noticed that many startups focus solely on acquiring customers without thinking about how to keep them engaged over the long term. Startups should have a plan for how to continuously engage customers, otherwise it can be a waste”. Siia also stresses the importance of team building for startups. Founders need to be critical when hiring new team members and should be honest with each other about their own limitations. She also encourages founders to care for each other and spread responsibilities so that no one person is taking on too much.

To better prepare for mentoring meetings, founders should come to meetings with a clear agenda and critical questions about things that block them from moving forward. For Siia, mentoring should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-time call, and startups should be proactive in asking mentors to continue working with them. Siia sees mentoring as a cycle of learning, where both the mentor and the startup team can benefit from the relationship.

When asked about her mentoring style, she says, “Let the team guide the process. I am there as a facilitator of their thinking. I am not the pool of answers and ideas, they should be owning those ideas and answers. Take the role of the one who can match them with those answers through asking the right questions.”

“You need to remember that people do not intentionally want to do any harm, especially in the professional scene,” Siia highlights, “if you want to change something, you should try to change how we approach things, rather than the people we are dealing with. Stakeholders are often not the problem, processes are.”

Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Siia for her insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. Her belief in the value of ongoing mentorship resonates deeply with Red Brick’s mission to support and grow innovative startups. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!

Changing our mindset from owning to borrowing

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!

This story features Antti Moilanen — co-founder of Lainappi. On their mission, Lainappi aims to make innovative items affordable by offering a rent-based marketplace.

The idea of entrepreneurship wasn’t new to Antti; it was something he thought about since high school. However, taking the step towards becoming a startup entrepreneur happened after taking a survey for Kimi Siefen’s thesis — his co-founder, and that was the initial sparkle. Together with Aukusti Eskola and Nea Liikamaa, they form Lainappi’s core team.

For the Lainappi team, their main goal is to develop an easy and sustainable way of renting everyday items.

We sat down with Antti who gets real about his startup life, the journey so far, and the green values Lainappi stands for.

Emily: How was the Lainappi team formed?

Antti: In 2020, Kimi, Lainappi co-founder, was writing a thesis about renting household items in Finland. The objective of the thesis was to figure out if there is a potential of individuals interested in a renting application. I took part in his survey, and so did our other co-founder, Aukusti. Both Aukusti and I found the topic very relevant, and we excitedly hopped on to provide a solution for the problem Kimi was exploring in his thesis.

Nea joined a bit later. She herself had a similar startup idea called bowit, “borrow it” shortened. She wrote us a very interesting email, and we could see that we shared the same vision and values. That’s why she is a valuable addition to our team!

As for the name, “Laina” is Finnish for borrow, and “appi” is short for application. If translated, Lainappi would be “borrow-app”.

Emily: Sounds like a values-driven project. What about Kimi’s thesis topic resonated with you?

Antti: I’m not a hippie, but I do have green values. Our planet has limited resources and the biggest problem I see is people going nuts and buying more and more. It looks like consumers want to buy all the time and I think it should stop.

I believe that our planet has limited resources. There is no benefit from over-consumption. We’re normalizing renting and borrowing.

There is no need to always buy something new. Sometimes, renting is enough.

Whether it’s for temporarily testing equipment, using tools, or even occasional clothes — renting is sustainable. People can also earn money by leasing items they are not using. Lainappi provides a safe space for a circular and sharing economy, while steering away from overconsumption.

Emily: Could you tell me about the highs and lows so far? How has the journey been?

Antti: There are a lot of those. Sometimes bigger highs, and sometimes bigger lows. Usually, there are quite many lows in a row, and then you get one high that makes it worth it. So, you enjoy it as much as possible, and then the cycle continues.

There are a lot of things happening behind the curtain that people don’t necessarily see. You mostly show the positive achievements. But what people don’t know is how many “no”’s you had to go through… before getting that one “yes”. That’s why you make sure to enjoy that Yes, because you know it’s going to get windy soon.

You learn during the process. In the early stages, it gets mentally challenging. It’s not for everybody. It requires setting up the right mindset. But once you accept it, you go with the flow.

What I love the most is the experience. Learning new things, a lot of new things, and growing at the same time.

Creating solutions that work makes all the lows worth it. From a customer perspective, being able to make a product that people use and then getting good ratings and feedback give us the motivation to keep going.

Emily: What is the team’s secret sauce?

Antti: Open communication, shared values, and finding harmony. One very important thing is not to give up. We move together towards a goal or a vision in harmony and accept compromises if they come. Even if things don’t go exactly as planned, the most important things are the journey and destination, and you will make it if you don’t give up.

Emily: What would be your advice for first-time founders?

Antti: Follow your intuition. Go and do it. First-time founders should jump in and enjoy the ride.

Emily: How did participating in a startup accelerator help you during your ride so far?

Antti: Red Brick came into the picture very early on, in 2020. We had a prototype at that time, and Red Brick gave us the tools and what to focus on as a next step to prepare for the MVP.

Emily: When not working on Lainappi, what do you fill your free time with?

Antti: I like golf. I do some fishing occasionally. And hanging out with friends.

Emily: Do you have a favorite startup quote?

Antti: Selina Kustula from Red Brick posted this meme once on Linkedin. It had a picture of three people driving a car, and it said, “It doesn’t matter where we are going, as long as we’re moving on.” The timing of Selina posting this quote was spot-on, it was really needed.

Red Brick Accelerator is supporting the growth of early-stage startups, ready to make an impact with their ideas. Check out the programs from our website and apply now!💚


July 8, 2022