For the final interview in our series of Biosphere alumni stories, we met with Henri Yoki and Panu Ahola, who came to the programme to work on Exaum, their solution that aims to accelerate the green energy transition through innovative grid balancing technology.
Grid balancing refers to the continuous management efforts of transmission system operators (TSOs, such as Fingrid in Finland) that are needed to sustain the standard fixed frequency of 50 Hz in national power grids. This is done by setting up and tendering a market of reserve- and balancing operators.
With the increasing influx of renewable energy sources on the market, grid balancing is more in demand than ever before. Exaum offers an affordable and flexible option for it through the use of AI to predict and optimise the use of industrial-scale electric heating: “Before coming into Biosphere, we hadn’t truly understood how impactful our solution can actually be to society. We want to accelerate the clean energy transition, and this really was the best place to learn about impact,” says the CTO of Exaum, Ahola.
Although Ahola didn’t have previous experience in entrepreneurship, he came into the programme with an open mind: “My background is in automation, and I worked for 15 years in the corporate world. I think these grass-roots entrepreneur circles are a refreshing change. I now have a better sense of control in my working life, and I’m freer to think about what I actually want to pursue in life and how I can do something that genuinely matters,” he reflects. Henri Yoki, on the other hand, had founded and exited two other companies before Exaum, making it his third venture. Nevertheless, he also feels that Biosphere’s diverse group of entrepreneurs has been an exceptionally powerful force in nurturing an understanding of how important and multifaceted making an impact truly is: “It’s been really refreshing to be surrounded by so many different people with different projects and points of view. We are lucky enough to also have a humanist Paolo Micheletti in our own team who balances Ahola’s and my business and engineering perspective with a human approach,” CEO Yoki says.
Indeed, both Ahola and Yoki name the programme’s sense of community as its most motivating factor: “I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years, and sometimes it can be incredibly lonely,” Yoki says. “In Biosphere, it was clear from the start that there was this wonderful group of other entrepreneurs to share knowledge with, who could provide us with many new ideas. You never know where the best advice comes from. The programme has also provided access to many inspiring people in the wider start-up ecosystem, which is alive and well here in the capital region!”
Throughout the programme, Ahola and Yoki have developed their business concept further: “We already had our business model somewhat in place and we had a general idea of where we wanted to go with it. In Biosphere, we’ve been developing our model further, while also designing and building our MVP, so that we can prove that we know this technology inside and out and that we’re able to provide a viable product for the market,” Ahola describes. Yoki and Ahola both agree that the mentoring they received throughout the process has been a key factor in their growth: “We’ve gotten a lot of concrete advice from our mentors, Florence Korhonen and Aki Luukkainen. They have real experience on how to handle things and they have shown us how to work in the smoothest way possible,” says Yoki. Ahola agrees, saying: “They hold a lot of knowledge, particularly in finding different sources of funding in the sustainability sector. Their advice has been very, very helpful to us!”
Looking back, Yoki and Ahola feel proud of the leaps their solution has taken over the past six months: “We’ve become more and more sure about our technology and about the impact of our solution—that there’s a real need for what we’re doing. We’ve grown from a simple idea to having an actual, meaningful product. That has been a huge thing for us,” Yoki phrases. But what’s next for them? “Right now, our goal is to show that we can do this. That we have the technology and that we can create a large-scale business around it. Then we need to show that we can scale and operate on an international level, and take on new markets,” says Yoki. The team eagerly looks forward to a future in which all energy comes from renewable sources: “In a sustainable future, fossil-based energy production no longer exists,” Ahola says. “That’s the future we want to see, and want to get to quicker,” Yoki adds.
The call for applications to the next round of Biosphere is open until 13 August. See the programme webpage for more information or contact project manager Pedro Gensini at firstname.lastname@example.org or through LinkedIn.