“When I look at how sustainability is being framed these days, it really bothers me how a lot of the onus is being dumped on consumers. We’re expected to consider the impact of our purchases before making them, but in a lot of cases, especially with furniture there’s simply not enough information available to do so!” exclaims SilvaTrace’s founder & CEO, Marianne Koppatz. “We know where our t-shirt's cotton is from. Why not the wood in our tables?!”
As Koppatz explains it, all lumber is not created equal. Depending on its provenance, the tree that lumber is refined from can either have been grown and harvested in ways that follow sustainable forestry practices – with ecological, social, cultural, and economic dimensions being considered – or it could come from unsustainable, or even illegal, logging operations, the negative impact of which is obvious.
“But as it stands, wood is anonymous,” Koppatz sighs, adding that this anonymity actively contributes against the spread of sustainable practices. To find out where any one piece of lumber originates from is hard – if not impossible – leading to a situation where bad actors routinely escape scrutiny and the good work done by responsible players in the industry is left to languish in obscurity.
It's these frustrations, along with the steadfast belief in more transparency being good for consumers, retailers, forest owners, and the environment that led to the creation of SilvaTrace and its service, Traceable Tree. As one of the 20 venture teams in NEXUS, the 6-month University of Helsinki mentor-driven Deep Tech, AI, and Sustainability incubator programme, the team, consisting of Koppatz at the helm along with Kha Nguyen as the tech lead and Jyrki Ollikainen in charge of business elements, has been hard at work during the programme with their NEXUS mentors, Sascha Fritz of Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Ari Huczkowski of Helsinki Incubators, Satu Apukka of Kide Science, and Marko Berg of the University of Helsinki, to develop their solution into a viable MVP and plan for what comes after NEXUS.
Utilising a mix of blockchain technology, chain of custody and provenance tracking, QR codes, and other advanced methods, Traceable Tree will provide a quick and easy way for anyone looking at a wood-based product to know where its raw ingredients have come from, what certificates are associated with it, and what practices have been involved to getting it to that point.
“The idea of being able to go all the way back to the forest plot at the exact date and time the tree was harvested, and then track it all the way through the logistics channels and processing stages to the final product is a game-changer,” explains Huczkowski, musing that the product, once launched, would most likely be first quickly adopted in high-end products like designer furniture, where the value it adds is most obvious, before eventually spreading to other sectors.
Fritz agrees, adding "SilvaTrace is about to develop a unique solution to trace back wood origins in order to provide the customer with a solid, content backed, product – targeting premium furniture manufacturers that have implemented SilvaTrace solution in their product. A great idea."
Indeed, the SilvaTrace team sees advantages at every step of the tree’s journey when it is elevated to the status of Traceable Tree. “Our solution will benefit everyone,” Koppatz declares.
For consumers, the product’s interface will ensure that they have all the information about provenance and certifications they need to make a purchase that’s in line with their values, and that the product is one they can be proud to own.
As for retailers and manufacturers of products, the added transparency of SilvaTrace’s solution would allow them to be certain that they are using raw materials which fit their sustainability criteria, as Traceable Tree would ensure that every step of the lumber’s journey would be registered on a tamper-proof blockchain. At the same time, the technology would allow these retailers and manufacturers to appeal to sustainability-minded consumers by pointing to that same blockchain as a sign of their products being the more responsible option on the market.
But above all, Traceable Tree would bring benefits to the environment. By allowing for all upstream decisions to be made based on the provenance of, and certificates associated with lumber, forest owners engaging in sustainable forestry management practices could easily demand a higher price for their responsible wood as the demand for their product grows. And as the adoption of SilvaTrace’s solution grows, those not engaged in sustainable practices would see their revenues drop as they could not provide the transparency and sustainability expected by the market, either forcing them to adopt better practices or leave the industry.
“SilvaTrace will become, I believe, similar to the Appellation Controlled system which is used for quality assurance in French high-quality wines, or DOCG in Italy,” Huczkowski says, echoing the team’s idea that this certification system would have far reaching effects.
“With their product, the team really brings benefits widely to end-consumers, wood manufacturers, forest owners, and the environment,” explains Apukka. “The idea of the product is really interesting, and I am certain that there is demand for this!”
As the NEXUS programme gets ever closer to its final on March 30th, the SilvaTrace is already looking forward to its next steps while also reflecting on all they’ve gained from participating in the programme.
“We’ve gotten so much from the programme. We’ve learned how to operate in the actual business environment, how to design a good product, how to validate our solutions, and so much more,” says a grateful Koppatz. “While we may not be an established company yet, we are rapidly moving in that direction, and with all the help we’ve gotten from the mentors and the organising team, as well as the networks they’ve given us access to, we’re certain that we’ll soon be ready.”
The team aren’t the only ones excited about their future: “The team – Marianne, Jyrki, and Kha – is really eager to move forward with this project, and I’ll be interested to see how their journey evolves,” Senior Mentor Apukka says.
"The technological backbone is still in itss early days but can turn into a valuable solution," Senior Mentor Fritz adds.
SilvaTrace is now in the stage of configuring their MVP and getting ready to start raising funding. The team is hoping to raise 100k€ to develop its back- and front-end applications, including the refining of their solution’s blockchain element, with the goal of completing their wood tracking method and launching a product by late 2024.
If you’re interested in learning more about SilvaTrace’s work or want to get involved with their work, you can reach out to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their LinkedIn page or website.
Sascha Fritz, Investment Principal at Robert Bosch Venture Capital
At RBVC, Sascha focusses on technologies and companies related to AI, enterprise SaaS, mobility tech, semiconductors, and healthcare to name a few.
Prior to Bosch, as Head of Venture Capital at a local investment company, he was responsible for managing the Seed and VC funds with broad investment foci as well as heading the company's Venture Capital Team. By leading numerous transactions, he backed his strong transaction and financial experiences. Before his role as head of Venture Capital Team, Sascha gained experience as an Investment Manager in the sector, and prior to his focusing on VC investments, he started his career as Consultant in Corporate banking.
Ari Huczkowski, Deputy Team Lead at Helsinki Incubators
Ari is a seasoned and experienced innovation ecosystem professional whose career spans four decades and multiple successful companies and incubators, Ari brings with him not only world-class expertise in start-ups, coaching and mentoring, developing FDI, and much more, but also a global network consisting of thousands of academics, professionals, and global visionaries.
Satu Apukka, CXO at Kide Science
Satu is the Chief Experience Officer at Finnish EdTech company Kide Science, an exciting start-up delivering play-based lesson plans to teachers worldwide based on University of Helsinki academic research, and has years of experience in marketing and sales in different companies. She is also specialised in influencer marketing and has worked with top Finnish social media influencers.
Satu’s primary role is to create positive customer experiences. For a product to be effective, she knows it’s essential to understand the customer journey all the way through: from a new customer at the start of their journey to the established customers who've built up an ongoing relationship. She is heavily involved in marketing activities, supporting international customers, and coordinating large scale partnership collaborations for Kide Science.
As CXO, Satu also values building the best team culture: where people are eager to grow as professionals, work together as a team, and help each other. Satu believes that learning new things and moving out of your comfort zone are crucial for your success.
Marko Berg, Deputy CIO at University of Helsinki
Marko has a finance related background through studies at Aalto University, and before joining the University of Helsinki he worked for over seven years in investment banking in boutique offices in Helsinki. His experience in analysing all kinds of different businesses gives him the overall business perspective. As a “numbers guy” without scientific substance knowledge he takes an outsiders’ commercial view in different cases.
He joined the University in late 2019 and has been building the University's role in spinouts, investments, reporting, and other processes. In 2020, Marko launched the University’s HELSEED programme to invest in student founded startups.