Catching up with the Skolar Award finalists

As Slush approaches, our ten finalists are dealing with feelings of excitement and, understandably, nervousness. Let’s find out how these bold researchers stay focused before the big day.

The week before Slush has been full of final touches, pitch practices and travel arrangements. But the most important thing for the Skolar Award finalists has been to eliminate all elements of uncertainty from the big day. One of those elements is excessive nervousness.

“Although I feel more under control now than earlier I’m still very nervous. It’s all becoming more concrete. We’re actually going to go on stage soon,” said Ivana Trapani during the Skolar Award premiere. That’s where the finalists pitched their ideas to an audience for the first and last time before the finals.

Martti Kaasalainen, who sat next to Trapani, smiled and nodded. He doesn’t have a proper routine for dealing with nerves, but a hobby of his helps.

“I do climbing on my free time. It can be nerve-racking to be several meters high and try not to fall. You have to control your nerves to stay safe,” he explained. Although the emotions can be similar, at least at Slush there’s nowhere to fall.

Dealing with media

Some of the contestants, Svante Henriksson, Olli Kärkkäinen and Janne Hakkarainen, have already been profiled and interviewed on Finnish media, such as Yle and MTV3.

“It was great to be interviewed, usually no one’s interested in my propeller head stuff!,” Henriksson says and laughs. He studies hurricanes and how they could be made less destructive.

Kärkkäinen in turn came up with a great routine to calm his nerves before a television interview that aired at around 6 in the morning: a simple cup of coffee.

“It’s a great way to trick your body into believing everything’s normal,” he says.

It seems that this far media coverage hasn’t given anyone a headache. And why should it have? The finalists have received hours of communications training and last minute advice from among others journalist Reetta Rönkä.

“When you’re giving an interview or presenting on stage and your voice is shaking, don’t focus on it too much. It’s normal to be a bit nervous”, she told the finalists at the final training session a few days before Slush.

Sharing experiences

That same session was a chance for the finalists to chat with previous  competitors. 2016 Skolar Award finalist Juha Koivisto could sympathize with this year’s competitors:

“I’m nervous, and I don’t even need to pitch,” he said. Koivisto remembers well the massive Slush venue, the lights and the eager audience. What he doesn’t remember, though, is his pitch.

“I was panicking a bit back then. My pulse was very high. Did I do well? Yes. Was it what I had planned? No,” he said with a smile.

In addition to Koivisto the 2017 finalists got to meet a wonderful character who manages to make even the grumpiest sulker smile.

Cancer researcher, 2015 finalist and this year’s judge Vincenzo Cerullo made an impromptu appearance and encouraged everyone by talking a bit about his own experience at Slush.

“You should concentrate on the fact that this could be the best thing that can happen to you. Just have fun! If you have fun, everyone else will too.”

Text: Kristiina Markkanen