Higher education and research have long been the key tasks of universities. In Finland, universities are moving fast from their traditional role to a more advanced role of turning research into competitive products and services and enabling the establishment of new deep-technology businesses.
Over the next few months, we’ll introduce you to some of the most impressive university spinoffs, starting with the University of Helsinki. It offers comprehensive assistance to researchers in commercialising their results, with Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS) in charge of turning university-born innovations into commercial successes.
Here are five of many Finnish companies with roots in the research projects and laboratories of the University of Helsinki.
Founded in 2019, Uute Scientific has a strong research and technology background from both the University of Helsinki and Tampere University. The startup is tackling the worldwide problem of immune-mediated diseases, such as allergies, asthma, type-1 diabetes and coeliac disease, with its unique solution, harvested from Finnish nature.
Known as Reconnecting Nature, it is a natural extract of diverse microbes from forests and agricultural environments that aids in correcting the development of the immune system. Delivered in the form of fine powder, the microbial extract can be added to various skincare products or integrated into fabrics to enhance the proper function of the immune system in both humans and domestic animals.
“Currently, about 500 million people are affected by immune-mediated diseases […]. This is due to urbanisation and the fact that there is no longer exposure to nature’s diverse microbes,” explained co-founder and CEO Kari Sinivuori. “We believe that it is better to prevent these diseases than to treat the symptoms.”
The solution has sparked a lot of interest from cosmetics, clothing, toy and pet care brands in both Finland and abroad and proved attractive for investors. Early this year, Uute Scientific closed an additional financing round of 1.2 million euros led by Butterfly Ventures. Following the fundraising, the company is planning to boost its growth and co-operation with international consumer goods giants, as well as aiming for an initial public offering (IPO) in 2023.
On a mission to improve urban dwellers’ quality of life and make cities more sustainable and citizen friendly, MOPRIM offers smart mobility solutions helping to measure the mobility of individual users and identify their modes of transport, as well as visualise travel times and distances and the carbon footprint produced. The exciting transport mode detection technology used by MOPRIM originates in research carried out at the computer science department of the University of Helsinki.
Listed among the most innovative Helsinki-based artificial intelligence companies, MOPRIM provides cities with valuable data to better understand urban mobility and traffic patterns and gives residents handy tools to review their mobility habits and make greener transport choices.
For example, MOPRIM was one of the developing partners behind CitiCAP, a mobile application allowing inhabitants of the Finnish city of Lahti to monitor the carbon dioxide emissions generated by their mobility and encouraging them to use more climate-friendly modes of transport by rewarding them with virtual currency to buy various products and services. The app received a great deal of international praise a few years ago.
“We are increasing people’s awareness of their mobility-related decisions and carbon footprint,” commented Petri Martikainen, executive chairperson at MOPRIM.
More recently, MOPRIM’s Move Together mobile app was picked by the town of Heinola to promote cycling and other healthy forms of mobility, such as walking, running and skiing, among its residents.
Spun off from the University of Helsinki in May 2020, TeamFluent is a result of an extensive, multidisciplinary research project called dLearn.Helsinki, which aims to create a practical tool to develop the teamwork skills needed in today’s working life. The project brought together key stakeholders from business life and education, and the solution was later widely piloted and validated with private and public sector organisations.
Understanding that poor teamwork may be costly for businesses, TeamFluent offers a digital tool that helps to develop vital teamwork skills easily and, what’s most important, in the context of real-life situations at workplaces. A goal- and data-driven approach allows to efficiently follow the team’s progress, as well as benchmark it with other teams having similar challenges and learning opportunities.
“Collaboration, interaction and problem-solving skills are needed at all levels of education and professional life, and learning them is not a given. These skills can be acquired, but it takes long-term practice in actual study and work situations together with others,” said member of board, professor Auli Toom. “TeamFluent supports precisely this kind of learning, specifically taking into account the goals and circumstances of individuals and teams.”
On the lookout for new partners and customers and pushing its activities further, TeamFluent last year participated in the KIUAS and New Nordic Leads startup accelerators, as well as attended the SLUSH event held in Helsinki in early December.
A spinoff from the ImmunoViroTherapy Lab at the University of Helsinki, Valo Therapeutics is a developer of novel, adaptable immunotherapy platforms for cancers and infectious diseases. Its unique technology combines the best qualities of several clinically proven immunotherapy concepts – oncolytic virus therapy, peptide vaccination and viral vector-based immunotherapy.
In late 2021, the company raised around 11 million euros in pre-IPO funding from the likes of Freeman Road and MMJ Group Holdings. Most of the funding will be used to prepare and initiate a phase-one clinical study of its lead tumour antigen-coated oncolytic virus candidate, PeptiCRAd-1. The platform turns oncolytic adenoviruses into targeted tissue-specific cancer vaccines without the assistance of multiple genetically modified viruses.
Expected to hold an IPO in 2022, the company started the year with the acquisition of intellectual property rights from the University of Helsinki to a technology which utilises pre-existing immunity against pathogens to enhance the therapeutic efficacy of its PeptiCRAd platform.
“We have a strong and enduring innovation partnership with the University of Helsinki. This successful IP acquisition is part of our goal to strengthen and optimise our immunotherapy platforms, which have wide applicability in immuno-oncology, personalised cancer treatments and vaccines,” commented Paul Higham, CEO of Valo Therapeutics.
Spunoff in 2016, Karsa is developing state-of-the-art instrumentation for ultrasensitive chemical threat detection. Its innovative chemical ionisation mass spectrometry technology was originally developed for climate change research but is currently being used for, among others, the molecular detection of drugs and other illegal items in air cargo.
“Karsa develops systems that detect chemicals with extreme sensitivity,” noted co-founder and CEO Hans-Juerg Jost. “Our mission is to bring state-of-the-art chemical detection to protect the society from chemical threats.”
A member of the European Organisation for Security (EOS), Karsa is bringing its user-oriented technological solutions to the global market. In 2020, the company expanded to Germany, focusing on operators in academia, military, law enforcement and the broader homeland security market.
Karsa’s innovative solutions are also at the core of groundbreaking research. Last year, its multi-scheme chemical ionisation inlet (MION) was used to provide key insights into fine particle production processes in coniferous forests and heterogeneous processes on marine aerosol.