The rapid pace of digitalization, accentuated by the pandemic, has underscored the need for innovative solutions to support businesses, particularly small enterprises. Recognizing the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, the My Business Hub project embarked on a journey to foster collaboration and support within the business community of Vantaa, both physically and virtually. This article sheds light on the project’s results, focusing on the Business Vantaa Hub – a digital community platform that aims at bridging the gap between businesses and service providers.
The My Business Hub − Competitive Growth in Neighbourhoods (REACT-EU ERDF) project, led by the City of Vantaa in partnership with Metropolia UAS Myyrmäki campus and Laurea UAS, set out to enhance the resilience of pandemic-affected small businesses in Vantaa . Focusing on the Myyrmäki district, the project’s endeavours aimed at consolidating business services, promoting cooperation, and introducing the new innovative community platform, Business Vantaa Hub. Within the project, Laurea was primarily responsible for orchestrating workshops designed to identify entrepreneurs’ needs and collaboratively craft the platform’s features making use of service design approaches.
Entrepreneurs’ needs prompted various measures
The project’s foundation relied on comprehending the needs of entrepreneurs. A series of workshops were orchestrated for both entrepreneurs and service providers, such as educational institutions, business associations and Vantaa’s economic development services, fostering co-creation to ensure inclusive service design. This approach entailed user-centred solutions, propelling networking and partnerships.
The workshops revealed various aspirations, including the desire for increased collaboration with educational institutions, tailored training in modern marketing and IT skills, improved communication with the City of Vantaa, and support for entrepreneurs’ wellbeing. These articulated needs underscored the holistic nature of entrepreneurial wellbeing and highlighted its significance on a societal level.
Based on the identified needs, corresponding business events, training sessions, and collaborative projects were formulated to facilitate business development among the companies involved. During 2021−2023, a total of over 110 entrepreneurs participated in different activities, workshops, events, and collaborative projects organized by the project. Collaborative efforts were conducted across multiple projects with some of the entrepreneurs.
Enhancing awareness of business support services
Given the vast amount of information available, especially online, resource-constrained small businesses may struggle to access vital information and networks. One of the central goals of the project was to increase the awareness and usage of available business support services.
In January 2022, an initial survey was commissioned from Taloustutkimus, focusing on a representative sample of 200 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating within the Myyrmäki district. The survey covered a diverse range of pandemic-affected sectors, including restaurants, wellbeing, passenger transport, and creative fields. The survey examined awareness and usage of available business support and development services among these SMEs. During the summer of 2023, a similar survey was conducted by Iro Research among 150 SMEs in the Myyrmäki area, spanning the same sectors as the prior study. It is worth noting that the results of this second survey demonstrated an increase across 11 of the 13 areas examined. These findings suggest that the project contributed to establishing connections between small businesses and essential resources.
Business Vantaa Hub – nurturing resilience and building community
Voiced as central needs by the entrepreneurs, offering opportunities for peer support and networking, as well as better access to business support services was considered integral in increasing the resilience of small businesses. This goal in mind, the novel community platform was designed to facilitate communication and cooperation within the business community of Vantaa, making sure all its members have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard and initiate matters important to them.
Launched in March 2023, Business Vantaa Hub has garnered over 300 registered users, consisting of targeted demographics, such as entrepreneurs and representatives from educational institutions and the City of Vantaa. Designed with a focus on sole entrepreneurs and micro-businesses lacking the support of a larger team, Business Vantaa Hub serves as a dynamic tool for modern networking, offering entrepreneurs a space for peer support and idea exchange. However, its core concept extends beyond this, encouraging entrepreneurs to connect personally with professionals from collaborating educational institutions, business associations, and the City of Vantaa. In addition to peer support and networking, the community platform provides easy access to business services found on the Business Vantaa website.
Thematic discussion groups constitute the platform’s core, spanning topics such as financing, recruitment and business development. The event calendar further facilitates user engagement by listing events related to entrepreneurship and networking within the Vantaa region. Furthermore, users have the option of creating their own discussion groups on topics of their choice. In response to initial feedback, an additional section dedicated to current topics has been introduced, allowing members to post updates regarding ongoing events or opportunities. Given that the chosen platform’s interface lacks a language selection functionality, a resolution was reached to establish a designated English-language discussion group: Business Vantaa Hub in English. Nevertheless, users are encouraged to use English across the entire platform.
The platform also provides opportunities for service providers, who can share their expertise within themed discussions in various groups. In these spaces, they can also showcase their organization’s training programs and services offered through RDI projects, for instance. Consequently, the platform may function as a channel of external communication for entrepreneurship-related organizations. Moreover, organizations can establish dedicated groups to share information about their non-commercial business services, fostering stronger collaboration with Vantaa-based entrepreneurs. Additionally, the event calendar serves as a tool for promoting events tailored to businesses, thereby augmenting the resources accessible through the Hub.
Based on initial feedback, the platform shows potential to enrich the local business ecosystem. However, due to delays in procurement, it is still in its early stages and requires support, particularly in community management, to reach its full potential. The Hub will continue as part of Vantaa’s economic development services, responsible for necessary resources and strategic planning to maintain and advance the platform. Ongoing research will be crucial to ensure the platform’s development aligns with the evolving needs of its primary users, entrepreneurs.
Sustaining SME resilience
The My Business Hub project yielded results in the form of Business Vantaa Hub as well as the burgeoning business community within Vantaa. Through efforts to foster collaboration, empower entrepreneurs, and enhance awareness of support services, the project sought to strengthen the resilience and growth of the local business community.
As the platform continues to evolve, its success hinges on active participation, encouraging a rich exchange of ideas, expertise and knowledge among its members. Our aspiration is for the Business Vantaa Hub platform to evolve into an adaptable and inclusive space, serving as a valuable resource in the entrepreneurial landscape of Vantaa.
Recognizing the critical role of supporting entrepreneurs’ wellbeing in cultivating thriving business environments, our project encountered challenges in engaging expert parties as platform moderators. This difficulty led to the exclusion of a dedicated space for wellbeing within the platform. Nevertheless, our findings highlight the ongoing need for additional support in fostering entrepreneurial wellbeing. Therefore, it is evident that addressing the wellbeing aspect is crucial for enhancing the resilience of SMEs and warrants continued attention in future initiatives.
About Business Vantaa Hub
The Laurea UAS project team, consisting of Anssi Kuusela, Rina Kallio, Jenna Pennanen and Saara Valtonen, was involved in various phases of platform development. Firstly, Laurea was responsible for the execution of workshops focused on needs assessment, the establishment of a novel business community, and platform design. These workshops were tailored for both entrepreneurs and business service providers. Laurea also conducted several interviews and contributed to the formulation of surveys. Additionally, Laurea participated in defining platform requirements and conducted broader research on aspects related to the accessibility of digital services. All partners also engaged in benchmarking activities.
- Hakkarainen, K., Lallimo, J., Toikka, S. & White, H. 2011. Cultivating collective expertise within innovative knowledge-practice networks. Centre for Research on Networked Learning and Knowledge Creation. Helsinki: Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki.
- Iro Research Ltd. 2023. Survey commissioned by the My Business Hub – Competitive Growth in Neighbourhoods project for micro and small businesses operating in the Myyrmäki district. Unpublished material.
- Stickdorn, M. & Schneider, J. 2019. This is Service Design Thinking. Netherlands, Amsterdam: BIS Publishers
- Taloustutkimus Ltd. 2022. Survey commissioned by the My Business Hub – Competitive Growth in Neighbourhoods project for micro and small businesses operating in the Myyrmäki district. Unpublished material.