Maria Pajuoja: “UPTEC startups’ founders are incredibly open to engaging in discussions”

At UPTEC, we have our doors open for new ideas, innovation, challenges and secondments. We welcome startups, big companies, universities and hubs from all over the world. Maria Pajuoja from the University of Vaasa, one of UPTEC’s partners in the OpenInnoTrain community, is the next interviewee of “Open Doors”, and she shares her six months of experience at UPTEC and the main reasons for joining our ecosystem.

Maria Pajuoja || Post-doctoral researcher

University of Vaasa || Finland || 5618 Students and 611 Personnel

University of Vaasa: A university with a heart

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your research project.

I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vaasa. My research focuses on how and why “regular” employees (i.e., not managers or the company’s founders) innovate. I try to explore their motivation to innovate, their actions, how they behave, and what impacts their willingness to innovate. Ultimately, the purpose is to help managers understand how they can help their employees innovate more and more effectively. I love to see innovation as something that can be done at all levels of an organisation.

Why did you choose to come to UPTEC?

I’ve been to two OIT secondments previously. When I told the OIT coordinators that I was open to doing a third secondment somewhere, a few people told me separately that they thought I’d really love UPTEC. Because they know me and they know UPTEC, I figured that it must be the right place for me!

What expectations did you have before starting your secondment in Porto? 

I met Raphael (from the UPTEC team) already in Vaasa when he was there for his secondment, so I had quite a good understanding of what to expect. I knew that I was coming to a vibrant startup ecosystem with a variety of different types of startups being incubated. I expected to learn a lot about the life of startups and their founders.

Were your expectations met?

Yes, definitely! Working in the co-working space with startups gave me a chance to observe the day-to-day life of startup founders and listen to them pitch to investors and customers, and solve hiccups with their products. I know so much more about the skills and capabilities that you need as a startup founder. I have huge respect for the work that they do, the commitment that they show their customers, and the unwavering belief that they have in their products.

Which connections to stakeholders in the Porto ecosystem could be made?

Besides the startups I got to know in the co-working space, UPTEC is very active in organising events for their ecosystem, and I’ve taken part in as many as I could. UPTEC startups’ founders are incredibly open to engaging in discussions and answering stupid questions from researchers! I see my job as being of service to practitioners: I want to research to answer questions that arise from the practical work of managing innovation and innovative employees. Therefore, the questions need to come from the practitioners. This secondment has been extremely useful in bubbling up many interesting questions; the problem is just choosing one of them for now!

What aspects of your secondment in Porto did you especially enjoy?

I’ve really enjoyed the Cheers events, which are informal, warm-hearted events for startups. I’ve met so many cool founders at those events! I was also invited to give the first Power Hour expert talk on leadership in startups, and I loved every minute of it. So basically, whenever I’ve had a chance to interact with practitioners, I’ve really enjoyed it.

On a personal level, I was here with my family, and we rented a house in the countryside. It’s been fantastic to get to know how people live in a small village and to become a small and non-Portuguese part of that very much Portuguese-speaking community. I feel like we were not just tourists here, and I really like that.

How will your project continue after your time here in Porto?

As I said, I’ve found many interesting research questions I want to pursue. One that’s been on my mind a lot lately is understanding how employees in companies in the sustainability arena (companies with an environmentally or societally impactful product, for example) innovate. From some of the talks I’ve had here at UPTEC, I see that values and being part of something bigger play more of a role than in “normal” innovation. Once the time is right for me to move forward with this question, I know I have contacts here that I can reach out to for further discussions.

July 4, 2024

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