Launched in 2018, the international project aimed to develop entrepreneurial and educational networking in the cross-border regions of Finland and Russia. The formed consortium included representatives from the Russian (St. Petersburg Foundation for SME Development and ITMO University) and Finnish sides (Cursor Oy and XAMK University).

“The idea was to encourage university startups to go international, launch joint accelerator programs, and stimulate cooperation between Russian and Finnish universities,” says Igor Kuprienko, the head of ITMO's Center for Project Development and Fundraising.

According to the initial plan, the project was supposed to be over by 2020, but the deadline was extended to mid-spring 2021 due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the pre-set goals were achieved.

SUMIT + InnoCamp Startup School

One of the first projects was the InnoCamp business camp that brought together students and residents of ITMO University and XAMK’s accelerators. In spring 2019, its first round took place in Kouvola (Finland) where participants worked together on real-life cases of industrial partners. 

For example, the participants had to find ways of turning the seaport of Vyborg into a cluster with restaurants and art spaces, transforming a former Kotka port into a state-of-the-art business space, or turning a Helsinki airport into a hub for light aircraft. After the remote stage of the project, the participants entered the on-site stage.

“When working on international and interdisciplinary projects, students gain new experiences and unique emotions, as well as learn more about other cultures and approaches. Here, the headliner of the project plays a crucial role. We had Eric Christiansen from Denmark who brought us a brand new perspective on complex projects and introduced yoga into our daily routine. There were also professors from Stanford University and MIT striving to imbue our minds with the ideas of conscious consumption and creativity. This was a life-changing week,” recalls David Virabyan, an ITMO student.

The project also included SumIT Summer School that was previously held independently but then became part of the SumIT+InnoCamp program in 2020. The event attracted students and aspiring entrepreneurs from around the world, including the UK, China, India, Nepal, and CIS countries.

“My friend and I joined in August. It was an amazing experience! Although the school ran online, it was no less useful and efficient. I teamed up with other students and helped them with their projects. I enjoyed interacting with international students and speakers. The school gave me a strong foundation that I could then immediately put into practice. It was an eventful and productive week: we listened to experts in the morning and then worked on our projects. I’d also like to thank the organizers of the school who helped us overcome obstacles and resolve occurring issues,” adds Marina Prokofieva, a MISiS student. 

Web Summit conference

Designed for early-stage startups, the Startup Connect Contest brought together not only accelerator participants but also young entrepreneurs from Russia and Finland. The first place went to Mishka AI, a project proposed by a company in Moscow. 

“This is a kid’s best friend that can teach them how to brush their teeth and put them in bed with a bedtime story,” explains Igor Kuprienko.

The developers of Mishka AI. Credit:

The developers of Mishka AI. Credit:

The winners attended Web Summit, the world's premier tech conference, where they had the opportunity to compete with 70 best startup projects.


Along with courses on strategic planning, public speaking, project presentations, and investor targeting, ITMO University also hosted the PM-School in project management. 

“Our school turned out to be more socially- than business-oriented,” notes Igor Kuprienko. “I always tell students that there are no exclusively tech projects – all projects are social. And if not, then they are not good for anyone. At school, we encouraged our students to consider social aspects when working on their projects and think about their purpose and value to society. This is something that seems to lay just beneath the surface but many people forget about it.”

It is the only school of its kind that was held at a St. Petersburg’s university. Its participants learned how to prepare a draft, apply for funding, and communicate the project’s social significance. 

Student collaboration

The organizers note that although the three-year project has ended, it will continue its impact through active cooperation between students and entrepreneurs of South-East Finland and North-West Russia.

“Once every two weeks we meet up with the representatives of XAMK University to discuss certain topics,” adds Igor Kuprienko. “Our students and staff also attend these meetings, and a few months ago, we managed to engage student organizations, too. I hope that this initiative will result in many joint events, just like an annual competition in Kotka.”

The staff of the Startup Connect on their visit to startup hubs in Finland

The staff of the Startup Connect on their visit to startup hubs in Finland

Future plans include another school in project management, which will be open to students and employees of ITMO University, as well as residents of other countries. Meanwhile, ITMO and XAMK student organizations are going to hold joint hackathons and other events in order to strengthen cross-border cooperation.