AEC 2016 Winners’ Reflections on the Challenge

AEC 2017 Winners' Blog (© State Dept.)

(Helsinki – June 30, 2017) It’s been three weeks of summer holiday and our trip to America is starting to feel more and more real. It’s hard to believe that in less than a week we are actually going to hop on a plane taking us to spend an entire month in the U.S. As the adventure is approaching, it’s good to ask ourselves the question – How in the world did we, a couple of Finnish teenage girls, end up here?

It all started with an optional Business Studies course at school. To be quite honest with you, neither of us was too excited about the course and at first we just sat in the classroom bored, staring at the clock and counting seconds until we could go home. Little did we know that this course would lead us to fancy cocktail parties, meeting extraordinary people, attending various interesting events, and gaining experiences.

In the beginning of the course, our teacher gave us an assignment to come up with a unique business idea. However, coming up with an idea that is actually worth working on is not as easy as it sounds and soon we realized we had to get our heads in the game and start brainstorming. Our idea was not born overnight and our teacher started to get frustrated with our desperate faces and constant whining. Then one day, the perfect idea hit us like a truck. Let’s create the vegan ice cream of our dreams!

The project was close to our hearts due to the fact that we have both been vegan for a couple of years. As the vegan lifestyle has become more and more popular in recent years, a lot of good new products have kept regularly popping up on the store shelves. But one thing we both were missing was an ice cream that was both cruelty-free and deliciously decadent.

We wrote down our wildest ideas and sent the finished business plan to the U.S. Embassy that was hosting the Ambassador’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (AEC). In reality, even though we truly believed our idea was a winner, we had some apprehensions about how the embassy would feel about it. Surprisingly, we were invited to the Helsinki semi-final, and at that point our enthusiasm towards the project grew even higher. Our inner entrepreneurs had been born.

The semi-final went extremely well and we made our way to the final. Before the final, we put in a lot of effort to perfect our idea, which included a lot of recipe testing and researching facts. The final day arrived, and to our surprise our hands weren’t shaking, but instead we were feeling confident. The first day of the final included a lot of interesting workshops and we learned a lot about entrepreneurship. The night ended with an unforgettable visit to the U.S. Embassy hosted by the ambassador himself. We ate delicious vegan pizza and got to know the other great teams.

The following day was our time to shine. We proudly presented our idea of Ei Muuta (The moo-free ice-cream) to the other teams and the judges sitting in front of us. It felt good to get positive and constructive feedback. After listening to all the other presentations we waited for the judges to make their decision and announce the winning team. An hour had never felt so long. The moment the judges announced that we had just won the whole competition felt unreal and we couldn’t believe we had just made our dreams come true. We walked on stage with a smile on our faces and after numerous congratulations and pictures, we went home to celebrate our victory. However our journey had only just begun.

During the next months, we got to participate to various exciting events that the embassy kindly invited us to. At first, it felt strange to attend parties where all the other guests were significantly older than us, but it was also interesting to see a completely different world. In the back of our minds, we were also constantly thinking about our biggest prize, the upcoming trip to Lehigh University in the United States.

As there is only a week left before departure, how are we feeling? In essence, our feelings are very positive and we are pumped to meet new people from all around the world and experience new things! Of course there are a bunch of butterflies teasing us in our tummies, but we’re sure that we’ll tame them. It’s good to remember that we’re never alone and that there’s always someone that we can contact if we need to. We have got the support and safety of each other and if any problematic situations occur, we know that our families and friends in Finland and of course the amazing people working in the U.S. Embassy will have our backs.

We’re more than happy to have won this year’s AEC and we strongly urge everyone to hop on board next year! We are sure that you’ll not regret it. Be sure to stay tuned to hear from us. We promise to keep all of you updated. Have a great summer!

Best Wishes,
Ella & Kukka