Entrepreneurship stories: EdTech is about passion and growth

Sanna Lukander, founder of Fun Academy
Sanna Lukander, founder of Fun Academy

Why does a person choose to become an entrepreneur? What are the motives that drive an individual to take risks and overcome difficulties? For some, it might be the freedom, for others, the potential to do business and earn money. For Sanna Lukander, the CEO and founder of Fun Academy, it’s the motivation to make a change.

For me, it’s definitely about the opportunity to do good, to help people through EdTech. I’m quite lousy at the business aspects of running the company, but I want to do projects that offer quality education to children in need.”

The inspiration to become an entrepreneur did not catch Lukander during the initial steps of her life. Still, education has always been a part of her path, and she reminisces her childhood, where starting your own school was a dream for the future, and the daily reading consisted of books about pedagogical knowledge. Her mother was a teacher, and Lukander herself ended up working for publishing companies, focusing on educational materials, for over 15 years.

Taking a leap of faith – and falling

A decisive opportunity arose when Rovio, the Finnish gaming company behind the Angry Birds concept, wanted to start their own publishing services. Lukander jumped on board to lead the new unit.

It was an amazing experience to be able to work in such an international environment and with a new creative mindset. Previously, I had not worked in tech, and I quickly realized that the education- and learning industry has a lot to gain from working with technology.”

Despite the positives, everything didn’t go as planned, and a few years later Rovio decided to focus solely on games. This was the start of something new for Lukander, who took on the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur head on and turned the EdTech content into a spinoff.

It wasn’t planned, I just happened to be in charge of the unit and wanted to continue doing that.”  

In Finnish there is a saying about learning something the hard way (“Oppia kantapään kautta”), and for Lukander, entrepreneurship turned out to be one of these lessons. After a shining start, dark clouds appeared in the sky for Fun Academy.

I think our big mistake was, as we were a pure tech company to begin with, that we made some errors and poor decisions regarding the tech we were developing, and thus we set out to look for content that was unfit for our project. We had an immature business model, and our time just simply ran out in relation to the funding we had.”  

Ultimately, the obstacles resulted in the company having to lay off the majority of the employees.

Everything that happened resulted in a burnout. It took me a year to get back on my feet. I think it struck me quite hard as I never really had planned to become an entrepreneur and running my own business was something new for me.

Come back stronger and discover how you want to work

But looking back at the past darkness, she still finds a silver lining; now Fun Academy can do projects Lukander is passionate about, without having to manage continuous operations of a larger team.

It’s what I call a new start. Now we do projects of content creation, and we have a strong and reliable brand for partnerships.”

During the past year, Fun Academy has collaborated with a multitude of projects in different parts of the world. One important one being an emotional support tool for refugee children from Ukraine in Finland, created together with the Protect Children -association.

Besides realizing the right way to run her company, Lukander has also amassed further insights and lessons during her career as an entrepreneur. One example is the fact that she isn’t the best leader, but not the worst either.

At one point in my career I decided that I wanted to be a better boss. This inevitably forced me to look into the mirror and realize my flaws, and those were only highlighted by the initial failure with Fun Academy. A large part of the success or downfall of a company stems from the leader.”

On the other hand, I see myself as a good motivator and have skills in getting a team to work together with passion. That’s one of my biggest strengths.”

The experience gained along the years and being honest and open to yourself about your weaknesses have made Lukander a stronger and more complete entrepreneur. Speaking with her, you can recognize the passion for a better education for all, and a humbleness for just being able to work with the theme her life revolves around. Being honest and straightforward takes you a long way, she points out.

If I could say something to my younger self, I would encourage trying entrepreneurship already at an earlier stage. I was raised to be very cautious of mistakes, and running my own business, I’ve come to learn that it’s allowed to try and fail. That’s how you grow.”

A support system is vital for entrepreneurs

For young entrepreneurs, who are still quite new to the lifestyle and all things that come with running your own company, Lukander recommends connecting and sharing thoughts and experiences with other people in the ecosystem. She knows for certain that being too alone with your struggles and challenges can have dire consequences.

Helsinki Education Hub is an excellent center for this sort of networking and peer support. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs are left alone with their problems, and it is really valuable to get backing and assistance at an early stage, both in regard to business and your own wellbeing.”

Joining the Helsinki Education Hub community and gaining access to the business development services is a perfect way to start your journey as an entrepreneur. In general, it’s always a good idea to start a company in Finland, because the infrastructure is there and it’s relatively safe to take risks, Lukander explains. She wants to see more hungry and scalable startups.

As long as education and learning are not digitalized in a sensible way all over the world, there is a clear need for passionate and ambitious EdTech entrepreneurs.”