Kari Aho is the CEO of Secapp. The Secapp platform for critical communications and alerting originated from a university project and is nowadays used by over 100,000 professionals in daily operations as well as in various catastrophes and serious emergency situations. Aho graduated with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology in 2006 and completed his doctoral degree in 2010.
Kari Aho started his university studies in 2003 at the Department of Mathematical Information Technology. After upper secondary school, Aho applied for a study place at the University of Jyväskylä, with information technology as his first option and physics (Nanotechnology) as his second option. He also applied for a study place in information technology at a university of applied sciences. He was admitted directly to both the UAS and to physics at JYU based on his certificates, but not to information technology, which was his first preference. At first, Aho thought to accept the place in physics and apply again for information technology after his military service.
“Later in the summer, I received a letter informing me that the admission score limits had been lowered by a couple of points and they asked if I was still interested in a study place in information technology. I accepted and started the studies after my military service.”
Aho chose telecommunication and mobile technologies as his study line. He had mathematics as his minor, which was obligatory in those days. In addition, as optional minor subjects he took the basic studies in economics and business as well as a larger set of management. “I found it important to acquire a technical understanding of what the implementation of different entities requires from the viewpoint of technology, what is feasible and on what schedule,” he says.
“I wanted to supplement technical expertise with economic and managerial competence, since I aimed at starting a business of my own in the future.”
Aho proceeded quite swiftly with his studies and graduated with a master’s degree in 2006. He got involved in some joint projects of the university and companies and was able to complete his master’s thesis so that it responded directly to practical needs. Naturally, he was interested in postgraduate studies as well. His licentiate thesis and doctoral dissertation soon followed. Aho defended his doctoral dissertation at the age of 26 in 2010.
“Life was not just studying,” he explains. “I was also the sport coordinator and a board member of Ynnä (a subject association) and later one of the founders of Linkki Jyväskylä, the subject association for information technology. Of course, there were also the more informal sauna evenings and student parties.”
Aho sees that for his work career, the most significant studies, in addition to mobile technologies, included courses in programming. “Even today, it is important to understand what development work and product design call for from theprogramming point of view,” Aho says. “Problem-solving skills and figuring out larger entities have been a great benefit.”
“It pays to join international projects if you get the opportunity. Obtaining language proficiency in the relevant field as well as working skills in English are a big advantage in the labour market.”
Aho gained work experience in an international environment in joint projects between the university and Nokia Research Centre, first as a research intern and then as a researcher. Project work speeded up Aho’s studies. In 2008, he moved to Magister Solutions to work as a researcher and later as a research team leader, from which his career continued to being a business director. As the business director, Aho was responsible for building new project and product business for the company.
From 2011 to 2013, they carried out a cooperation project with the University to investigate more efficient communication for danger and emergency situations together with the National Police Board of Finland, a health care district, rescue service, and educational institutions.
“This led to the development of Secapp, which was eventually spun off into a company of its own. Incidentally, of the four members of the subject association Linkki, three are also board members or founders of Secapp. Our cooperation has evolved and continued since our university years.”
Aho has been involved in the activities of junior and regular chambers of commerce, which offer a platform for building networks as well as provide new opportunities for cooperation projects. From 2016 to 2019, he was a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and led the Regional ICT Committee.
In 2020, Secapp received the Start-up of the Year Award at the Kasvu Open event. This brought valuable visibility, potential customer relationships, and a promising foundation for funding negotiations. The award gave him confidence that a professional service for critical communications and alerting has excellent possibilities to succeed in the global marketplace.
Secapp has improved safety and security in, for example, schools and companies, and it has also gained recognition for the promotion of national security in Finland. In 2021, Secapp received the World Achievement Award for its work in exporting the technology and know-how of Central Finland. The services of the company currently have more than 100,000 end users, 800 organisations and customers in 14 countries.
“However, more important than technical service is a genuine desire and opportunity to save human lives. It is the best motivation to go to work in the morning.”
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