Stanford experience by Sakari Huhtanen

When you are reading this, it is easier for you to understand my opinions on Stanford IHP if you have some basic knowledge of what I’ve done during my time at Aalto. I started studying energy and environmental technology at the School of Engineering in 2016. After my freshman year, I wanted to get involved in some activities that would be outside of the normal teekkari (technology student) bubble. By accident, I got to know people at Aaltoes and got sucked in organizing different events and programs with them. The year of 2018 I had the privilege to be on the board of Aaltoes and act as the Head of Kiuas startup accelerator. Seeing dozens of founders working on something they loved and were passionate about made me certain that one day I want to be like them. Stanford is the number one university when it comes to startups, which made it a no brainer for me to apply.

Scandi gang somewhere at Stanford before fountain hopping

Eight weeks at the heart of the Silicon Valley offered plenty of unforgettable moments and lessons. Both in the classroom and in the fountains. Before I applied, I read many blog posts about how the IHP program at Stanford had been a life-changing event and whatnot. This didn’t happen to me. Instead of this, my time at Stanford made me even more confident that I’m on the right path and the choices I have made are the right ones for me.

Before I start describing my summer more, let’s go through some of the things about the application process, from my point of view of course. I’m sure that you have heard this before when thinking whether to apply or not: You don’t need to have a perfect GPA. Don’t get me wrong, it does play a role, but it is only one part of the equation. What you need to have is the best overall package. My application had very strong reasoning why Stanford would help me and why it would make sense to send me there. My personal statement, story and recommendations were covering what my GPA was lacking. Magnificent GPA surely helps you, but you can have other reasons that make you stand out.

I enrolled in three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Energy Essentials and Effective Negotiation and Persuasion. I didn’t do any “course shopping”, even though it would’ve been probably a smart thing to do. I got pretty lucky since the courses which I chose were a great fit for me.

Technology Entrepreneurship and Energy Essentials were the main courses for me and these were the courses I invested most of my time in. Technology Entrepreneurship is probably the most popular course during the summer quarter, and you should be quick to enroll since more people are trying to enroll than there are spots. During these eight weeks, you get a chance to develop a startup idea with a group of 6 to 8 people. The staff has been there and done that and they are the best people to help your team forward. Visiting lecturers vary from mountain climbers to Tesla co-founders. It’s astonishing to see how extremely busy people are willing to sacrifice their time for students. Students have a chance to pitch their ideas during the first weeks, after that you can and should go and talk to people with the most interesting ideas. Don’t be too nice when waiting for your turn because the teams are formed very fast and you might end up with a project you don’t really care about. The best scenario is that you come up with your own idea and present it in a way that people want to join your team.

Our Technology Entrepreneurship team: Renewell after the final presentation

Energy Essentials is a great course and it gives you an overview of the energy policies, energy production and consumption in the US. Fracking, natural gas, LCOE, solar energy and the duck curve are the keywords. This course won’t be the most technical one. Instead, it gives you the tools to analyze the pros and cons of different energy sources on a bigger scale.  Coming from Europe oil and gas industry seems very outdated but in the US, it is present everywhere. One of the biggest learnings during my summer was that the O&G industry is not going anywhere soon, whether you like it or not.

When choosing your 3rd course which you most likely need to get 8 or 9 units I would highly recommend to choose a seminar course. I chose Effective Negotiation and Persuasion but I had a bit different expectations for the course than what it turned out to be. For the students that have gone through the Finnish school system, I don’t think that this course has that much new to offer.

One of the main reasons why Stanford and Silicon Valley are the hub for startups is that entrepreneurship and networks are present in every course. Whether it is an entrepreneurial course (Technology Entrepreneurship) or more hardskills focused (Energy Essentials, Effective Negotiation and Persuasion) these concepts won’t go unnoticed. In every course you hear how their alumni have founded this and that company and how you can get access to this wide network of the best professionals when you have completed this course. This fact promotes entrepreneurship everywhere and the best thing is that you barely notice it. It is everyday life and in a way nothing super special. Everyone is looking constantly for new ways to do business and/or make everyday life better.

The most valuable asset with any university program/degree is the people. You should keep that in mind when starting your studies at Stanford or Aalto. My piece of advice would be that don’t take 3 super hard courses that require your undivided attention 24/7. Try to be active especially during the first weeks and consciously break out of your inner circle. Many people find like-minded people who are usually from similar cultures during the first weeks, which is great! But you should pay attention to that and go outside of your comfort zone and meet people who might not have spent all of their lives in the Nordics.

All in all, summer at Stanford has been one of the best summers I’ve had. It was also probably the most intense period of my studies (so far). If you want to maximize your learnings and get kissed by the Californian sun at the same time, Stanford IHP is definitely the go-to place for you!

Yosemite is a must visit during the summer. The nature there is absolutely unique.

I want to thank Aalto for giving this great opportunity. The biggest thanks goes to all the new friends who I met during my time at Stanford. You made it a summer to remember!