With a few days remaining in the call for our deep tech, AI & sustainability pre-incubator Compass, we’ve got time for one more inspiring programme alumni story. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Compass 2 alumni Max Ahonen, a MSc student in Chemistry at the University of Helsinki & the CEO of D-Style, to discuss his journey through the Compass programme, why he applied, and how taking part helped him go from just an idea to being at the helm of an ambitious health tech startup aiming to go global.
“Lately we’ve been working on the algorithms, and also looking at the design of our products,” explains the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Ahonen, describing the progress he and the rest of his D-Style team are making. “Soon we’re also going into research trials and trying different methods to see what works best.”
And while Ahonen and his two co-founders, Anmol Kumar and Ari Heiskanen, are focused on the future and hard at work trying to accelerate their burgeoning startup & diabetes management solution to the next level, we’re here with Ahonen to take a look back into the not-so-distant past to where it all began: Compass 2, held in the first few months of 2023. How has Ahonen, who less than a year ago was still an idea-stage solopreneur, gotten this far, this quickly?
Reflecting on his journey so far, Ahonen candidly admits: “I couldn’t have done this all by myself.”
Let’s rewind back to the start. It’s not that long ago that what is now D-Style was still just an idea, and Ahonen was only getting ready to take his first steps in entrepreneurship.
A diabetic himself, Ahonen had been thinking for some time about how he could utilise machine learning and AI to create a solution to improve quality of life for his fellow diabetics. “I had a concept, a vision,” he explains, adding that, having always been interested in entrepreneurship, he believed that his idea could have real impact on the lives of the half a billion diabetics across the world if turned into a health tech startup.
And so, when Ahonen saw the call for Compass and how it painted the programme as a platform for, among other things, launching impactful AI-based startups, he figured that applying with his Blood Sugar Control algorithm couldn’t hurt.
“I came to Compass not knowing too much what to expect,” Ahonen explains. “I saw it as an opportunity to get mentorship and network with a lot of people.” In the end, Compass turned out to be much, much more.
Taking part in Compass proved an encouraging and constructive experience for Ahonen. With the programme’s well-planned structure of informative workshops and the feedback – both positive and negative – he received from fellow participants and workshop experts, he successfully worked on developing his idea further, and what was once Blood Sugar Control turned into GlucoseCTRL.
One of the things that Ahonen is the most grateful for the programme is how it helped him focus on what’s important, and really give him concrete steps for making sure that what he’s developing really matches what the market needs: “There was a lot of emphasis on the importance of knowing your customers and developing your product further,” he says, adding that the programme helped him to understand that he shouldn’t get too attached to his solution: “It’s important to get feedback and keep innovating all the time.”
Ahonen is also happy that the programme let him create so many interesting connections with fellow participants. “I’m still in touch with a lot of the teams that I met through Compass,” he says, “And it’s been really nice to follow their journeys as well.”
Having graduated Compass feeling empowered and more well-versed in AI-related matters, Ahonen kept the ball rolling by applying to the University’s HealthX programme to get a deeper understanding of the health sector: “Because I was working in that field, I felt like I needed all the mentorship in that field.”
But HealthX provided him with more than just guidance. HealthX is also where he met his two co-founders, Kumar, a PhD in Neuroscience and Physiology, and Heiskanen, a seasoned entrepreneur and business professional.
The two had joined HealthX with a diabetes-related solution of their own, but as Ahonen explains, it didn’t take long for them to realise they were treading common ground with him: “We met at the first workshop and immediately saw a connection,” he recalls. Not long after, two teams had become one, and D-Style was born, combining Ahonen’s algorithmic approach with Kumar & Heiskanen’s more hardware-focused solution.
“We truly believe that we can help millions of people manage their diabetes better,” Ahonen explains, explaining that D-Style, now hard at work taking their solution global in the NEXUS incubator, is a mission-driven startup.
“There’s still quite a journey away from our goal of helping millions of people around the world,” Ahonen says, “but we’re working on our products constantly, and I hope that we’ll start seeing some results shortly.”
Looking back at the start of his journey, Ahonen is grateful that he took the first step of applying to Compass. When asked what words of advice he would have for his fellow University students considering applying to the programme, Ahonen thinks for a moment.
“Entrepreneurship opens so many doors,” Ahonen says, “of course, it comes with a lot of challenges, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome.” But by starting your own startup, he continues, you can have a lot of impact on people’s lives. As he sees it, to embark on a journey through a programme like Compass can really help those with visions of a better world get there.
As for final words of advice?
“Innovate with purpose, focus on the goal, but also make a lot of friends on the journey as well.”
The call for Compass closes very, very soon! If you're interested, be sure to check out the programme & apply by 23:59, 27 September at the link below.
Be sure to also check out our other Compass alumni Annika Lundström & Caterina Mandalios here!