Perttu Pihlaja is a physicist and entrepreneur. He is also a pioneer of Finnish parkour and the first professional practitioner of the discipline in Finland. In 2007 this athletic young man was at a crossroads in his career. He had just finished his master’s degree and was going to start a doctoral dissertation work in particle physics. On the other hand, he was drawn strongly to parkour, which he had started to get involved with a few years earlier.
Perttu has always been interested in physics research and he greatly enjoyed his time at the University of Jyväskylä. He particularly appreciates the way in which the Department of Physics approached the students. “The professors always had time if we faced problems,” Perttu says. “It was easy to go and ask for advice and things were dealt with for as long as was needed to get the problems solved. You could ask anything whatsoever from the professors.”
Pihlaja found Parkour in 2003 and he soon met some kindred spirits at the university. The group of friends started to practice parkour on campus, developing new moves and training them together. As requests for performances increased, it became time to set up a company in 2006. “So that we could deal with invoicing,” Perttu says, laughing.
In the next year he decided to go for a professional career in parkour and leave physics research at the university, though just for a year at first. He doesn’t feel that he had to give up much:
“Physics studies have been of great benefit in this practice. A physicist creates mental models of how things work and then tests them. In parkour we are doing just the same; you have to realise how a move should be performed and then train it until you can make it successfully.”
Perttu Pihlaja says that he would never have believed fifteen years ago that parkour could become a career for him. So obviously something has changed in his own thinking over the years. Then again, Pihlaja and his friends were pioneers in their field, so it was hard to find this kind of employment elsewhere. They had to make it on their own.
Perttu had seen entrepreneurship up close in his summer jobs and while working during his studies. However, he actually knew very little about entrepreneurship. “It didn’t occur to me in those days that I could have attended the University’s courses on entrepreneurship,” says Perttu, talking about the early phases of his entrepreneurship. “It wasn’t relevant at the time, but nor were the courses advertised all that much.
“I also wish that I hadn’t passed the bookkeeping course so easily! I have had to expend a lot of effort later on just for basic things. I’ve had to learn things the hard way.”
In 2007 Pihlaja founded a parkour academy in Jyväskylä, and it has later expanded to several other locations in Finland. It has grown into the largest training organisation in the field. Pihlaja’s current job description includes a wide range of organisational and teaching duties at the academy as well as parkour and circus performances. He is also a popular speaker.
Pihlaja will be a guest star on a Lake Päijänne cruise organised for alumni entrepreneurs on 29 August, where he will share his own story as an entrepreneur and also lead a small workshop to offer practical tools for current or future entrepreneurs.
“I will talk about the support network established for entrepreneurs, that is, what kind of advisory and financial support is available to entrepreneurs. I will also discuss why it pays to make use of networks!”
The alumni entrepreneur cruise is intended for the alumni entrepreneurs of JYU, JAMK and Gradia. The aim is to find the best linkage points for collaboration and to develop the cooperation between The Start Up Factory and our alumni network.
The event is free of charge. Register for the cruise here:
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