Finland wasn’t an obvious choice when Kunal Garg, originally from India, was looking into higher education options abroad. But the lack of tuition fees at the time and the Finnish study grant system tipped the scales in the Nordic country’s favour. Today, almost 10 years later, Kunal says he is grateful to his former self for being open to the opportunity. Kunal did his master’s degree in nanoscience at the University of Jyväskylä and specialised in cell and molecular biology.
But focusing on research wasn’t enough for Kunal, and in 2016 he co-founded a company to develop a diagnostic test for tick-borne diseases. It has been a fast ride since. In 2019, Kunal was named the Young Research Entrepreneur of the Year in Finland and one year later made it on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Europe in Science and Healthcare list.
The reason I wanted to start a company in Finland is… that I didn’t find publishing scientific papers a sufficient incentive to continue pursuing science.
I’m not undermining the importance of making one’s research findings public for the benefit of our communities, but I had long dreamed not just of building knowledge but also of creating economic value. Ultimately, I want to end up with a self-sustaining cycle wherein basic research transforms into a product and revenue from the product helps discover new knowledge. The TEKES TUTL funding [today Research to Business funding] from Business Finland helped us in initiating the cycle I have described above. Also, I found a mentor in Dr Leona Gilbert, who works hard to grow our company and even harder to make me a better scientist.
What I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur is… job satisfaction.
At the end of the day, I don’t dislike my work and that is important for me as it allows me to grow professionally without feeling trapped. Running a company is a double-edged sword. I cannot get bored because I wear multiple hats at the company, which manages science, customer support, manufacturing etc. On the other hand, finding time to concentrate on just one thing is also a challenge because my responsibilities are shared across various tasks in the company.
My favourite things about Finland are… Karelian pie, Karelian pie and Karelian pie! I find myself fond of the Karelian pie regardless of breakfast, lunch or dinner.
As mentioned earlier, Business Finland funding helped me gain research experience. The City of Jyväskylä helped find a home for our company, and Turku Science Park aided in clarifying our business model. But it is running my own company that has helped me grow the most in the past five years, as I have been able to accumulate experience beyond scientific research.
The advice I would give to anyone considering starting a company in Finland is… to find a mentor that connects with your professional goals and is willing to help you achieve those goals.
Starting a company is like painting on a blank canvas. Mentors can teach you to hold the brush and recommend the starting colours to gain meaningful momentum. Please be mindful that a good relationship with a mentor is akin to any other significant relationship in your life with friends or family. Thus, do not expect every experienced professional you meet to become your mentor.
The process for registering a company with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office is straightforward. Still, a founder needs to be clear about the steps they need to take to sustain the company’s vision before registering the company.
What I enjoy most about living in Jyväskylä is… walking around the Jyväsjärvi lake during the summer and on the frozen lake during the winter.