Oviku has an unbreakable offer for home security
One easy addition and your door lock becomes pickproof. This is the sales pitch of Finnish startup Oviku and it has proved to be convincing.
The frequent flyer status of Tomi Ek has reached new heights since he founded Oviku in October 2013. Taking a moment to sit down in London, where he is scheduled to meet potential Taiwanese partners, a few days later he’ll be on a plane to New York.
These meetings are to finalise licensing and distribution agreements for Oviku’s patented innovation: a pickproof outdoor lock. Where this innovation distinguishes itself from the competition is that it can be easily retrofitted to existing locks. Once the mechanism is activated, it becomes impossible to open the lock from the outside.
“Other smart locks can be opened if you have the key,” explains Ek. “Where we differ is that when you close the door, our mechanism deactivates the entire key cylinder. I can’t pick the lock open or enter your home even if I have copied, found or stolen your key.”
The lock has two versions: manual and smart, the latter of which is controlled via a mobile app. The app can be used to share single use passcodes to open a door and receive alerts if someone unlocks the door from the inside.
For such a secure proposition, the origin of Oviku actually lies in coincidence. In early 2012, Ek was working on a lightweight helmet for figure skaters, when a friend asked about the item that was located next to his laptop. It was a lockable internal door handle developed by Ek’s father, Risto Laajanaho, a former prison security specialist.
“The friend instantly told me, ‘Throw away the helmet, you are going to make a career out of this’,” Ek recalls. “He introduced me to the Foundation for Finnish Inventions and two weeks later they had granted us their biggest individual funding for an inventor so far, 50 000 euros.”
The door handle became the father-son duo’s first patented product and Oviku was officially founded. But the real breakthrough came when the company started to develop the pickproof outdoor lock. Ek went on a market research trip to the US and stopped by the first hardware store he came across to buy a lock. He instantly realised that, unlike Finnish locks, Oviku’s innovation fits standard US locks without modification.
“At that one moment our market potential grew from 5.5 million people to 321 million,” Ek says. “Back in Finland we then realised the same US lock-type is also popular in Australia, New Zealand and large parts of Asia.”
Some two years of product development later Oviku has a portfolio of five patents (with six more pending), and the smart lock is ready to launch in Canada and the US this autumn followed by Finland and the Baltics in early 2018.
Make it or break it
Oviku now has a five-person team in Helsinki with a subsidiary in the US, and is on the verge of closing two distribution agreements in North America. Ek describes the US as the world’s biggest market for smart homes, but is also one of the most challenging to crack for a startup.
He has learnt this the hard way. Without disclosing details, Ek emphasises it is crucial to double and triple check the background of potential partners and ask for recommendations.
“And before you do any of those things, find yourself a good lawyer,” Ek advices. “Startups need to understand there is no point going to the US with the attitude of ‘I know how this is done’.”
It has been a valuable lesson, as Oviku is expanding its US operations and eventually hopes to open another subsidiary in Asia. It is a make-or-break year for Ek and his team, with the company aiming to create a whole product line around smart locks.
“We already have more products in the pipeline,” Ek teases. “I can’t reveal more, but they are patented products to reshape the security of smart homes.”