Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the Year 2019
Computational engineering researcher and Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the Year, Jere Heikkinen, wants to reform the Finnish sawmill industry with the help of artificial intelligence. Heikkinen’s company, Finnos, develops measurement equipment for log quality control.
When Jere Heikkinen was 17, he worked in a furniture store alongside his upper secondary school studies. From his workplace, he could see directly into the adjacent upper secondary school for adults, where mathematics lectures weretaking place.
Heikkinen was in the third grade of upper secondary school, but he hadn’t taken any advanced mathematics courses. Seeing the lectures piqued his interest, however. On top of that, his father promised him 200 euros for each mathematics class that he would get a ten out of ten for. Heikkinen, who had just moved into his own apartment for the first time, could use the money.
“I started my advanced mathematics studies right then and there, and completed all 15 courses in just over half a year. I took the whole pot promised by my father, 3000 euros”, Heikkinen says.
Mathematics created a career opportunity
In addition to money, Heikkinen’s studies in mathematics gave his future a direction. After upper secondary school, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Oulu’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.
From Oulu, Heikkinen moved to the now called Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology to do an internship in ionospheric tomography. In addition to his work, Heikkinen completed his master’s degree in computational engineering.
In the summer of 2007, Heikkinen got the opportunity to participate in a project at university for a company called Bintec. The company manufactured X-ray equipment specifically for the needs of the sawmill industry and needed an expert in X-ray tomography. This is an X-ray method that Heikkinen had experience with thanks to his internship.
“They needed someone who could develop and incorporate tomography-related algorithms into their X-ray system. I was made responsible for the company’s application development and putting together my own team”, Heikkinen explains.
The project also gave rise to Heikkinen’s master’s thesis on inversion problems and X-ray tomography.
Imaging is increasing the profitability of the sawmill industry
Over the years, the team assembled by Heikkinen began to mature the idea of founding a new company. Heikkinen and the other team members had plenty of ideas on how the sawmill industry, which had remained unchanged for a long time, could be reformed.
“In the 2010s, digitalisation had not yet entered the sawmill industry in the same way as it had in other industries. Our view was that with bold reforms, we could multiply the company’s operations”, Heikkinen says.
In 2016, the team put the plan they had spent a few years considering into action. When Bintec’s founders retired, Heikkinen and his team bought the company’s business and founded Finnos.
Finnos’ operations are based on laser and X-ray imaging of logs. Imaging allows you to get a lot of information about the quality of a log, such as what kind of end product is worth making from it. When each log is sorted and sawn according to the information obtained from the imaging, the amount of loss is reduced and the use of raw materials is more efficient.
“Our products increase the sawmill load factor by several percent. The sawmill can produce products in a way that has not been previously possible. For example, various special products can be made in small batches profitably”, Heikkinen says.
The sawmill of the future will rely on artificial intelligence
Finnos’ growth has been incredible. A year after its founding, the company’s turnover was 1.2 million euros. In 2018, the turnover was as much as 6.5 million and in 2019, when the company’s financial year was shorter, almost 6.4 million euros.
“We have had a steep growth curve. At the same time, we have constantly put effort into product development”, Heikkinen says.
Thanks to product development, Finnos has continued to move closer to its great vision of revolutionising the sawmill industry. Already at the time of founding the company, Heikkinen was convinced that the entire production process of the sawmill should be analysed by artificial intelligence. In this way, the log’s journey from sorting to the final product could be closely monitored and the production plan continuously developed.
“From the beginning, our goal has been to combine the information from the final product with the moment that the first decision of the log’s journey is made at the sawmill. The ability of humans to design different production plans at once is limited, and the design is based largely on heuristics, such as rules of thumb and guesswork. In comparison, an algorithm is able to explore millions of different alternatives while always considering the whole”, Heikkinen reveals.
Researchers and entrepreneurs share a certain curiosity
Heikkinen has made many important professional choices during his life. Immersing himself in mathematics at upper secondary school and joining the Bintec project at university gave his career a clear direction.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, Heikkinen has been working on his doctoral thesis on tomography, which is nearing completion. Heikkinen doesn’t want to give up doing research altogether, even though there is endless work to be done with his company.
“Once you really get into being an entrepreneur, you don’t want to let go of it. Then again, the same thing applies to doing research”, he says.
Heikkinen believes many of the same principles apply to entrepreneurship and research. According to him, one feature in particular is highlighted in both roles.
“You have to be curious about everything. When researchers or entrepreneurs encounter a problem, they don’t ignore it, but begin to look at why it exists and how it can be solved”, Heikkinen concludes.
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2018
PhD student Kunal Garg’s company, Tezted, is revolutionising the diagnosis of tick-borne diseases.
What problem does Tezted address?
“Ticks are the most dangerous animals in Europe and North America and carry several pathogens. However, people bitten by ticks are usually tested only for Lyme disease. In this case, the patient receives treatment only for Lyme disease, even though ticks can also spread other pathogens.
Current tests for diagnosing tick-borne diseases are slow and costly. Diagnosing multiple diseases from a tick bite requires up to 11 different tests, which in Europe costs at least 7 000 euros. The TICKPLEX test kit we have developed tests the patient for about 15 pathogens associated with ticks at once. Thanks to the product, the cost of testing is reduced by 90 percent.”
What kind of research are Tezted’s activities based on?
“I joined Docent Leona Gilbert’s research team at the University of Jyväskylä in 2014. For the past 20 years, Leona has been studying autoimmune diseases, that is, diseases related to the body’s defence system. I came up with a test kit with her that enables us to test patients for several pathogens at once.
According to current recommendations, you can only test patients bitten by ticks for one pathogen at a time. However, scientific evidence shows that up to 60 percent of those who become ill from tick bites suffer from several pathogens. In 2014–2016, we conducted a study on over 400 patients where the percentage rose to about 85 percent. We concluded that there was a need for a new company in the field and founded Tezted.”
What got you interested in entrepreneurship?
“I couldn’t imagine doing research for years, publishing a research article about my work and moving on to do something else. I want to influence people. In Finland, taxpayers fund a lot of research, so it’s important to ask what they get in return for their money. I don’t think my work makes sense if it doesn’t benefit people.”
What kind of attitude does entrepreneurship demand from researchers?
“A researcher interested in entrepreneurship has to know the details of their research, but they must also be able to explain it understandably to their grandmother, for instance. Others must be able to relate to you, otherwise you won’t get investment and you won’t arouse the interest your idea needs to succeed. The researcher must be able to identify what social and economic problems their work can address.”
What kind of plans do you have for Tezted?
“Our plans aren’t limited to TICKPLEX, instead we are soon going to move to testing other disease-causing agents as well. Our big goal is to reform the diagnosis of complex diseases. I hope that over the next few years, TICKPLEX will become the industry standard test and that it will be accepted and implemented by healthcare providers.”
Do you see yourself returning to research in the future?
“I’ve always been an inventor at heart. I’ll never stop doing research, but I’d like to continue it on the industry side. I hope we can hire someone to make TICKPLEX tests so that I can develop new test kits myself. I like both sides, research and entrepreneurship. I can no longer live without them.”
Founded in 2016, Jyväskylä-based Tezted Oy currently employs six people. The TICKPLEX product meant for laboratory use is already on sale in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, and the company is currently in talks to expand sales to other parts of Europe as well. Read more about Tezted at www.tezted.com.
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2017
Virpi Muhonen, Doctor of Cell Biology, was awarded with the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Muhonen was involved in a multidisciplinary Finnish research group developing a product that can remedy cartilage damage.
The research group consisted of researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Tampere University of Technology. Together they developed an implant called COPLA Scaffold which corrects the damage of the cartilage between joints. So far there has been no cure for the damage to the cartilage, so the need for solutions is severe. At worst, damage leads to osteoarthritis.
In March 2017, the researchers founded a company called Askel Healthcare.
“The way Askel Healthcare’s founders have launched a business is exemplary. They have developed an important innovation and found a niche market that nobody else has discovered. Virpi Muhonen is admirable to actively pursue academic entrepreneurship forward,” says Jouni Lounasmaa, the advocate for the KAUTE Foundation granting the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year award.
CEO, founder, Askel Healthcare Oy
tel. +358 40 489 3840
v.muhonen (at) askelhealthcare.com
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2016
Raine Kajastila was involved in the development of a technology which transforms an ordinary climbing wall into a new game platform for augmented reality. The ambitious combination of research and entrepreneurship brought Kajastila the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year award.
The Augmented Climbing Wall turns a climbing wall into an interactive touchscreen to which one can create climbing routes and play a variety of games either alone or with a friend.
The idea of a climbing wall with augmented reality features was born when Kajastila worked as a postdoctoral scientist at the Aalto University’s Media Institute at Game Research. In 2013, Kajastila made a research video with his research team to test the Augmented Climbing Wall prototype. The video reached over 70,000 views in Vimeo. Kajastila started receiving messages asking him to develop a product based on his research.
Kajastila got funding for Augmented Climbing Wall and set up a company called Valo Motion. Nowadays the Augmented Climbing Walls can be found for example in climbing centers. Augmented Climbing Wall encourages people from school kids to adults to exercise in a creative manner.
CEO, Valo Motion
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2015
Outstanding Young Researcher Entrepreneur makes a complete protein out of Finnish oats
Reetta Kivelä is the Young Researcher Entrepreneur of 2015
The public has voted an oat researcher to be the Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the year Reetta Kivelä. Reetta Kivelä, Doctor of Food Sciences, of Gold & Green Foods Ltd has developed a protein derived from Northern beans and oats, intended to challenge minced meat, the mainstay of everyday cooking.
“The world does not know how to use oats. We now have the opportunity to make use of oats in new and bigger ways. Out of the entire food industry, only we have the know-how as to how to utilize oats,” says Kivelä.
Northern agricultural areas, and the plants that can successfully grow there, are becoming more important in the international food market due to climate change.
“We produce a complete and tasty protein. We want to show that oats can be used in many ways, not just in your breakfast porridge”, Kivelä emphasizes.
The Young Researcher Entrepreneur is a EUR 5000 prize that is awarded to a researcher that has created a research-based business. The aim of the award is to encourage young researchers to pursue careers in entrepreneurship.
Last year, the Young Researcher Entrepreneur award was awarded to Doctor of Technology Johanna Småros, the founder of the RELEX. Supply chain management software developer Relex has just closed a giant EUR 20 million investment round, and it is listed as one of the industry’s fastest growing companies in Europe.
The Young Researcher-Entrepreneur competition is organized through the cooperation of KAUTE Foundation’s Academic Entrepreneurship Fund and the Startup Foundation. This year the competition was decided by a public vote. Dr. Kivelä received 79% of the 4172 votes cast.
For more information:
Gold & Green Foods
+358 50 369 9842
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2014
Johanna Småros and her researcher colleagues founded RELEX Oy, a developer of automation supply chain management software that can reduce food spoilage by up to 40 percent.
The 2014 Young Researcher Entrepreneur is Ph.D. Johanna Småros. She is a logistics researcher who holds a doctorate from Aalto University is one of the founders of RELEX, the Logistics Company of the Year. Småros founded the company in 2005, together with two researcher colleagues. Today RELEX has grown and operates in four countries employing 75 people. The company’s demand prediction, inventory optimization, replenishment automation and supply chain analysis tools are used by, amongst others, Plantagen, Altia, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa as well as British drugstore Booths and German construction supplies company Kemmler Baustoffe.
Ten years ago, Johanna Småros, together with her logistics researcher colleagues Mikko Kärkkäinen and Michael Falck wrote a research paper and presented their ideas to improve the management of retail logistics.
“The problem was that the stores were not able to integrate our improved models to their systems,”says Småros.
The researcher trio solved the problem by founding RELEX, which commercialized their research ideas into software as a service product that is easy to connect to existing retail ERP and POS systems. The RELEX system ensures that the shop has the optimal amount of inventory, consumers get fresher products and the sales forecasts for seasonal and holiday demand are improved. For example, as a result of RELEX’s software, Stockmann’s Delicatessen reduced food wastage by an average of 40 percent.
“This is hugely important, not only economically but also ecologically, as the goods are no longer wasted and dumped in the trash,” says Småros.
Next: Germany and the United Kingdom
The fast-growing company is already the market leader for new deliveries in the Nordic countries. In the near future, RELEX Commission aims to achieve the same position in the much larger German and UK markets, Småros says.
Deloitte has listed RELEX as the fastest growing supplier of efficiency-enhancing supply chain management systems in the EMEA region. Due to its profitable growth, Kauppalehti has recognized RELEX as one of Finland’s top startups.
“We want to encourage other researchers to follow Johanna Småros’s example. These new businesses can be used to utilize significant research findings and create new jobs,” says KAUTE Foundation Advocate Jouni Lounasmaa.
The Young Researcher Entrepreneur prize in the amount of € 5,000 is awarded by the KAUTE Foundation and the Startup Foundation. The award was presented to Småros on Entrepreneurs’ Day September 5th, 2014.
Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2013
The Young Researcher Entrepreneur of 2013 is Anssi Lehikoinen, PhD. The award is a new Finnish entrepreneurship prize which aims to recognize new businesses developed by researchers and encourage other young researchers to become entrepreneurs.
“This is very important for the society, because a new business can be used to promote the utilization of major research findings and create new jobs,” says KAUTE Foundation Advocate Jouni Lounasmaa.
International demand for precise measurement methods for process industries
Anssi Lehikoinen, PhD, is currently President and CEO of Rocsole Oy, the company he founded in 2012. The company develops and commercializes process industry monitoring methods based on capacitance tomography and on-line measuring devices.
“Our product can be used to adjust the amount of deposit inhibitor chemicals used in process industries – thus reducing energy consumption of the use of these chemicals,” Lehikoinen says.
Since its founding, Rocsole Oy has been active in international markets. At the moment the company’s primary market is in North America. Customers include the basic process industries, the petroleum, chemical and food industries as well as process industry equipment manufacturers. In the future new markets will increasingly require accurate measurements for the precise management of various processes. As an example, Lehikoinen mentions closed water treatment systems, which currently do not have sufficiently reliable measurement solutions by which to determine the accumulation of deposits in pipeline. Also improvements can be made to the measurement of the moisture content of many powders.
During its very first year of operations the company’s turnover surpassed EUR 200,000 and the forecast for 2013 was EUR 1 million. Roscole Oy has been accepted to participate in TEKES’s Young Innovative Company program.
Breakthroughs in research lead to business success
Anssi Lehikoinen, born in 1979, completed his doctoral degree in 2012 at the Department of Applied Physics at the University of Eastern Finland Department. His doctoral thesis researched the applicability of a type of tomographic imaging method – impedance tomography – for soil research as well as pipeline flow monitoring in industrial processes. Lehikoinen developed computational methods to address inverse problems. These methods can be used to identify errors in both the measurement and modeling of image reconstruction. As a result of his research, tomographic methods have been made more robust allowing for their use in practical applications.
This is a breakthrough that has allowed for the commercialization of measurement methods and thus the generation of new businesses.
Two companies founded based on research
Before Rocsole Oy, Anssi Lehikoinen founded Numcore in 2008, which was sold to Outotec in March of last year. Both companies’ products are based on Anssi Lehikoinen’s research and its application in various industrial processes. Lehikoinen was also granted young researcher award for his outstanding doctoral thesis by the University of Eastern Finland in 2013.
The Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2013 competition was organized by the Federation of Finnish Enterprises’ Young Entrepreneurs and KAUTE Foundation’s Academic Entrepreneurship Fund. The jury’s decision was unanimous.
“Anssi Lehikoinen has demonstrated his unique capabilities to understand new issues in his research as well as his ability to network with the international research community. Furthermore, in addition to his duties as CEO he has been active in his companies in commercializing solutions to scientific and technical problems,” said chair of the jury Jarmo Hallikas.
“Thus, in his activities Anssi has successfully combined entrepreneurship and innovative research.”