Jana Saastamoinen: "Tartu people know how to organize quality events"

Jana Saastamoinen is the newest Head Organizer of sTARTUp Day! She first joined the festival marketing team in 2019 as an assistant; the next year, she was already the Head of Marketing. Now, after a few years' break, she returned to a new role.

sTARTUp Day core team in 2021

You were previously the marketing manager of sTARTUp Day, then you were away, and now you're back. What have you been up to in the meantime?

I've been away for two and a half festivals, and during that time, I continued to work within the startup ecosystem - organizing and marketing events. As event marketing is highly cyclical, I began to feel bored over time. It was challenging to develop marketing activities because events simply come to an end at some point.

Initially, I tried organizing one event. I enjoyed interacting with partners, thinking creatively, and I found that I particularly excel at solving last-minute problems. That's when I realized that project management is more exciting for me!

You're taking over the Head Organizer role in quite challenging economic conditions - 9 quarters of economic recession. The starting position seems daunting. How do you see it yourself? What should be the focus?

When preparing the budget, I anticipated that all the fun and nice-to-have things would need to be well calculated and that caution is necessary. But at the same time, I see that people are interested in sTARTUp Day, and we can manage because we offer value. It will be tough, but I am positive.

For attendees, I recommend purchasing a discounted ticket early and coming prepared to get the maximum value. This investment pays off if you know what you're going after.

When I attend events, I set specific goals for myself. For example, I research who else will be attending and who I definitely want to meet, I note down the times of the most exciting speakers, and walk around with an open mind. I also learn about the event production, but that's already a professional niche interest.

One customer feedback said they attended sTARTUp Day for the third time and only now realized what they need to do—network and schedule meetings through Brella.

sTARTUp Day has been in the same location for several years now, and we've established a good system with the afterparty—things seem to have fallen into place, with many ideas tested and the best ones kept in practice. However, the comfort zone can be very sneaky. What new energy do you plan to bring with you?

I want to set focus. In economically challenging times, nobody wants to waste their time. Therefore, I want to ensure that target groups receive value.

It seems to me that sTARTUp Day provides the most value to startups that are not yet fully matured and to people who are starting their entrepreneurial journey. I want to highlight this more in the program and seminars.

I want to bring back a bit of rebelliousness and expand the creative aspect throughout the festival so that people can truly feel they are at a festival, not at a conference.

Marketing team in 2020

But what is it that you enjoy and would like to continue?

Matchmaking has been very successful because we've been able to bring the right people to the event.

Over the years, the seminars have proven their value. We have consciously focused on practical value and avoided sales, which is confirmed by the constant lack of space in the seminars.

Inspirational speakers have also left a deep impression in previous years.

Tartu 2024 had a grand opening, and there are literally thousands of events planned. Will there be enough people for everything? In addition to sTARTUp Day, there's also Refresh and Digit on the horizon.

Each event has its target audience and different values. It's remarkable that so many events are happening here, and I hope this will enhance both Estonia's and Southern Estonia's international reputation. Tartu is a really cool place, and the people here know how to organize high-quality events.

Refresh focuses on UX/UI design and product development, while Digit focuses on software development. Both are practical conferences with a specific target audience, who probably won't attend sTARTUp Day. Together, these three events form a cohesive whole. Refresh and Digit emphasize more on-stage programs and seminars—you listen, take notes, and above all, learn. Of course, networking and parties are also on the schedule.

Refresh will take place on April 11-12 in Tartu at the Estonian National Museum (ERM).

Your background is in marketing and project management. What unique edge does this experience give you as the head organizer of sTARTUp Day?

I can easily look through visitors' eyes to see what's important to them. Within the team, I can better support people because of this. It also benefits in partnership relationships, as I can think in more detail about how to market sTARTUp Day so that everyone gains value from it.

Marketing involves many stakeholders, and managing it is like project management, just in a narrower field.

sTARTUp Day is a business festival. Do you remember opening your first company? What is your biggest personal lesson from entrepreneurship?

My first business was in 7th grade when we crafted hand-made jewelry as a mini-company. In high school, we ran a student company where we sold vegan subscription boxes for one school year. From there, I learned that it's not wise to do business with friends because mixing friendship and business relationships can create complicated dynamics that I couldn't handle at 17 years old. The company did well, and we sold out each month, but it was tough. 

If you want to start a business, you must go all-in; you can't do it alongside school and extracurricular activities. You can earn pocket money that way, but if you want to treat it as a real job, you have to dedicate yourself fully.

Imagine it's the year 2042, and the annual business festival sTARTUp Day is taking place. What do you see? How do you feel?

It would be really cool if it happened in 2042, and I imagine myself walking around there with pride, knowing that I had a small contribution to it.

I hope it still takes place in Tartu, with the community involved and innovation happening each year. I hope it's very different from what we do today. There would be holograms and people flying with jet-packs. Maybe there's a great conference center where we have enough space by then. The afterparty could be on the moon. I'd definitely buy a ticket!

What is the essence of sTARTUp Day for you?

Personally, for me, it's the organizing team. It gives me energy when I come to the office and find people who are my friends. It's so nice to come together with the extended team because everyone is happily working towards a common goal. We have a very supportive team, which is quite rare in my opinion.

The festival's essence is the vibe, which is unique and not found at other festivals. Anyone can organize a stage program, but the atmosphere of sTARTUp Day is the result of year-round community and team collaboration. 

It's the vibe of Tartu!

Noora, the Head Organizer of Digit and Refresh, once said that if she got one euro every time I said I wanted to move back to Tartu while living in Tallinn, she would be rich. I'm so happy to be back!

Jana in 2021, 2022 and 2024

Interview by Riin Lisett Rei.

sTARTUp Day is the biggest business festival in Baltics taking place 29-31 January in Tartu, Estonia.
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