01ZenRobotics R&D manager, hardware, Maciej Borkowski
02Pekka Simula, Oncos CEO
03Oncos MRI machine
04Mikael von Euler, Oncos chief medical officer
05ZenRobotics machine at work
06ZenRobotics facility at Viikki, Helsinki
07Whiteboard diagrams at ZenRobotics
08ZenRobotics CEO, Jaakko Särelä
09ZenRobotics halogen lamps used for near-infrared spectroscopy
10Arctic Startup founder Antti Vilpponen
11Oncos ultrasound machine
12Harri Holopainen, CEO of Microtask
13Zipipop head Helene Auramo
15Co Zone founders Veera Mustonen and Marjo Hinkkala
16Finland’s minister of economic affairs, Mauri Pekkarinen
Every year, 900 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste is created in the US and the EU alone. That gives you some idea of the potential for ZenRobotics’ invention: an intelligent robot that can sort this waste.
Currently, most waste is sorted manually, burned or simply dumped. With the ZenRobotics Recycler, humans can be freed from the dangerous work of sorting pieces of glass, metals, plastics and wood. What makes it stand out from other industrial robots, used to build cars, for instance, is its ability to recognise different materials and grab irregular shapes.
“There is a need for this in the market,” says CEO Jaakko Särelä. “Currently, the waste industry is using 19th-century technology, and the pressure to find new innovations is huge.”
The brains behind ZenRobotics include co-founders Harri Valpola – who has been researching artificial intelligence for 20 years and has a PhD in machine learning – and Tuomas Lukka, who became Finland’s youngest doctor when he received his PhD in quantum chemistry at the age of 20. Extra staff have recently been hired from Nokia.
Established in 2007, the biotech company Oncos Therapeutics develops cancer therapies based on oncolytic viruses. Oncos’s team of scientists are developing viruses that attack the cancer tumor from the inside. So far, 220 late-stage cancer patients have been treated and full clinical trials for the treatment will start later this year. “In many cases, we have been able to stop disease progression,” says CEO and co-founder, Pekka Simula.
Microtask takes big jobs and divides them into small ones, distributed to people all over the world. The firm employs people mainly in Asia, and everybody works over the internet.
“We want to create jobs for people in developing countries. This way, they can do pleasant work when it suits them,” says co-founder Harri Holopainen. Sometimes the work can be done by volunteers, as in the project with Finland’s National Library. Thousands around the country are helping digitise the library’s archive and volunteers have so far performed more than 2.3m “microtasks”.
Helene Auramo is just 28 years old but already a seasoned entrepreneur. The social media consultancy she runs together with Richard von Kaufmann was founded in 2007, and now has some of Finland’s biggest firms on its client list. Last year, Zipipop was named the most promising startup in Finland by the IT magazine Tietoviikko.
Auramo realised early on that companies would need help with their exposure in social media. “There just isn’t enough knowledge about these things, and many firms don’t know how to form a broader strategy,“ she says.
Auramo is enthusiastic about Finland’s future as a start up community. “There’s a lot of people here who want to change the world, and you have a better chance of doing it through your own company.”
Veera Mustonen and Marjo Hinkkala set up their consultancy in December last year. Both have long careers behind them at Nokia; now they help companies work better and more efficiently in virtual teams.
The consultancy is at a development stage within Protomo, an “innovation apparatus“ at the Aalto University. The first pilot projects are just starting. “I had thought of leaving Nokia for a long time, and when this turmoil started to happen, it felt like a suitable time,” says Mustonen.
“Starting your own business is a dream for many people at Nokia.“ Hinkkala agrees. “The best thing Nokia can do for Finland is to free engineers. That could speed up the process of getting new innovations out,“ she says.