Open innovation researcher turned to a hackathon startup entrepreneur. Now, he brings people together to solve challenges related to software development.

Hello, Mikko Järvilehto. Tell us, who are you and what do you do?

“I am a competition coder. My expertise falls in the arrangement of good competitions.”

Would you say, you like what you do?

“I have studied and researched open innovation and I think a person has to do what s/he has been trained for. I have organized dozens of innovation competitions and got good feedback, which has always led to a better performance, creating a circle of positive feedback.”

Your name is linked to a company named Ultrahack. What does your company stand for?

“We import international talent, do matchmaking and offer some real challenges to solve for those who turn to us. All that develops skills and creates new business. I have personally been midwifing the birth of new occupations in Finland, such as drone pilots.”

“I met Eerola, one of the founders-to-be of Ultrahack, when he won one of my competitions. From the mobile industry we found another founder, Kivikangas, and started to develop the idea.”

Tell us about innovation. What is it actually, and what’s your best innovation?

“For me, innovation is a new idea that can be spread commercially. However, in order to innovate, one needs technological, economic and artistic capacities and most importantly a passion. Sometimes, with passion alone, you can go far because you are eager to learn all the time.”

“I have won one innovation competition in 2008 in Eindhoven but my best innovation ever, I would say I got before that, in 2003 when I came up with an idea of a virtual zoo and an interactive way there. That innovation still waits for its realization.”

Let us talk about technology and innovation. What’s your favourite piece of technology, and what is yet to come?

“I’m dependent on my wristwatch, Polar M600. It’s my personal coach. I cannot live without my iPhone 7, either. My Ultrahack contacts are all there, and there are already 3000 people in that field worldwide. I feel a certain responsibility for them. Though I need to admit that my push notifications are on for too much trivial social media, such as cute kitty pictures.

“A device that I would like to have is an AR lens, let’s call it a Sauron-AI. With it I could see through distances. I could set up sensors all over the globe and with just a movement of my eye see what happens in a particular place of my choosing. I could also see my good friends in my office, or other friends in the neighboring office.”

Being an innovator, what is creativity to you and how would you say it can be developed?

“My creativity is intrinsic. I have a three-year-old daughter and watching her I see that her creativity and aesthetic eye is also endogenous. Creativity is born from an aesthetic experience: from seeing beauty in something new that is well done. Sometimes, luck strikes and good contracts may also offer an experience like that.”

“One can embrace creativity by taking care of the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: by sleeping, eating and exercising well, and then by surrendering to aesthetics. My goal is to sleep eight or nine hours per night; nowadays I sleep six or seven. Some people in business world idolize short sleep but there’s nothing in it to idolize.”

With your insight into the world of innovation, what is it that you would like to bring to Finland?

“Earlier I have lived a couple of years in Silicon Valley. I’d like to bring a piece of that valley to Finland and to break borders. Finland is still too homogenic. I get a heart attack when I see someone with a foreigner’s background in some leading position in Finland. We need more open innovation and more turnover in leadership positions and tasks that require expertise, from Finns themselves. When University of Oulu opened its attitude and circles, people started to flow in and the nepotistic network got smaller.

Another thing that I want is to establish Hackathons as an acquisition tool, not just as a fun trendy thing.”

Why did you decide to join us at SHIFT?

“2017 is the first year that I participated in the SHIFT. In 2016, I couldn’t come as I was doing Ultrahack promo in Iceland. However, I have been in the startup scene for a while, especially in Oulu. In Turku, I have witnessed the birth of the scene that rose around the Turku Lab Challenge. So, I went and asked the SHIFT team about how I could take part at SHIFT 2017, and they invited me to the Boardroom Challenge.

I like the general attitude in Turku: It’s in a good way friendly and humble, especially amongst the startup entrepreneurs. When I compare that attitude to the bureaucratic culture in the academic world, I see the clear tension between them. It will be fascinating to see what new will be born out of this tension when these two worlds and attitudes collide.

Furthermore, now that I came to think about it: Turku Castle was a big centre of innovation in its age, wasn’t it?

SHIFTers should meet you to discuss open innovation and hackathons. What else?

“I’m a diplomat of Liberland. It’s a startup nation that aims to have a 7km2 land for itself between Serbia and Croatia. Worldwide, the state has 450 000 potential citizens, and consulates in 50 countries. The government resides in the US, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Liberland would be a crowdfunded nation whose finances would be handled with crypto currency and other things, like voting, digitally.”

Last but not the least: pitch Ultrahack for us, please.

“Ultrahack is not a traditional hackathon, but a melting pot. We have international partners and the best competitors who get to solve truly remarkable challenges. We have the most lovely people at work: they have received top points after every competition. Join Ultrahack now so that you can grow and develop with us!

The Santa Claus of technology, Ultrahack from Finland.”

Check out Järvilehto’s SHIFT video message (in Finnish):


SHIFT Boardroom Challenge is a 45-minute show that brings together four growing companies, their ideas, and a board of business professionals.

Photo: Roope Lehmuslehto/Betta Digital Oy