Student entrepreneurship in Laurea – case: PuzzlePhone

Have you ever wondered why you cannot change your smartphone battery yourself? Or why do you need to replace undamaged devices every couple of years just because applications require more processing power? Alejandro Santacreu, a business student at Laurea, is developing a solution to these problems.

Alejandro Santacreu, from Spain, is a second-year student studying Facility management at Laurea. Santacreu’s company Circular Devices is developing a new modular smartphone called PuzzlePhone.

PuzzlePhone is based on the idea of three switchable basic modules: screen, processor and battery. That way, the smartphone’s features and processing power can be improved and upgraded for different purposes without having to buy a new phone. Similarly, a damaged screen or battery can be replaced with a new module when necessary.

Before moving to Finland, Alejandro Santacreu worked in Spain with consumer electronics and got to know the device manufacturing chain all the way from Chinese subcontractors to shop shelves.

- In my work, I noticed two things: smartphones are disposable goods when the battery or the screen cannot be replaced and their components are not standardised like in computers, Alejandro summarises.

Feedback from Cambridge VentureCamp

The story of PuzzlePhone began in early 2013 when Alejandro published the first YouTube video of the modular smartphone. At the time, the idea received little attention, but Alejandro nonetheless continued developing the concept.

Alejandro moved to Finland and started studying at Laurea Leppävaara in autumn 2013. He had already had his own companies in Spain but decided not to start a new business in Finland, at least not before finishing his studies. Things turned out differently.

- I saw a Cambridge VentureCamp poster on campus. Out of a few ideas, I chose PuzzlePhone and decided to enter the competition two days before the deadline, Alejandro says.

Alejandro was selected to the programme and got to visit Cambridge in November 2013 to meet investors and entrepreneurship experts. PuzzlePhone was met with an enthusiastic response, and Alejandro received plenty of useful feedback. At the venture camp, Alejandro also met Stephen Mallinson, an experienced English telecommunications specialist, who became PuzzlePhone’s first advisor and mentor.

With support from Laurea, PuzzlePhone’s first website and first images of the phone were published at the end of 2013. Little by little, Alejandro created a PuzzlePhone team.

- Industrial designers Jaakko Siltanen and Matti Sandberg, who have graduated from the Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), joined the team, Alejandro says.
- PuzzlePhone was no longer ‘my project’ it became ‘our project’.

Important media coverage

PuzzlePhone reached the next important milestone in the spring of 2014 when Alejandro presented the concept to investors at the international Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In April, PuzzlePhone began collaborating with the German Fraunhofer IZM institute, and Circular Devices Ltd – the company behind the phone – was incorporated in September 2014.

During 2014, PuzzlePhone slowly began to attract more and more publicity both in Finland and abroad. Alejandro emphasises the importance of media visibility in building relationships investors and other partners.

- There is so much going on in the world that our work will go unnoticed if no one ever hears about it. Coverage in a major newspaper is a good reason for me to go meet our partners and tell them where we are with the project, Alejandro says.

In December 2014, the PuzzlePhone project received funding from TEKES, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, to develop the first prototypes of the smartphone. According to Alejandro, the aim is to eventually start manufacturing PuzzlePhones in Europe, preferably in Finland. In addition to ecological sustainability, the core values of PuzzlePhone include high quality and social responsibility.

“We are all entrepreneurs”

Alejandro Santacreu grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and already founded two companies and also participated in other StartUp ventures. Some of them have been successful, some not.

- The most important thing in being an entrepreneur is to learn from your mistakes and do things better the next time around, Alejandro says.

In general, Alejandro believes that these days everyone needs entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of whether they are self-employed or work for others. Companies expect their employees to be innovative, proactive and able to learn from their mistakes. It is also important for everyone to find their own field, something they are passionate about and constantly want to get better at.

Alejandro has noticed that Finland is a good environment for entrepreneurs. The atmosphere is very open-minded, and it is easy to find support for your business. It is important to be active and to demonstrate that you can give feedback and learn from the feedback you receive from others.

- In Finland, people have also clearly realised that the future lies in startups, a new kind of entrepreneurship, and not so much in traditional large enterprises, Alejandro says.

Valuable partner network

- I am very happy about the support and team spirit we have so far experienced in our project, Alejandro Santacreu says.

Santacreu adds that in reality the company has not yet sold a single phone. However, it is important to understand the value of the things already accomplished: building a team, creating a partner network and testing different ideas and solutions.

- PuzzlePhone is our company’s first project. Even if it does not work out the way we have planned, we can still use the outcomes of our development efforts in future projects, Alejandro concludes.

Modified 4/1/2015 8:51 AM

​Alejandro Santacreu.