The autumn has seen many young startup teams take their first strides in impactful entrepreneurship in the University of Helsinki’s incubator programmes, and we’re on a mission to get the scoop on the twists and turns of all their journeys.
Next up in our series of team interviews is VacuumWood.Tech, a green construction technology spinout company from Aalto University now participating in the University of Helsinki's NEXUS programme, the incubator for sustainability solutions in the fields of deep tech and AI. We got a chance to pull aside CCO Panu Miettinen and CGO Teppo Toivonen at the NORDEEP deep tech summit in October and have a chat with them about the importance of combatting climate change with greener construction methods. In addition to the duo, the team includes CTO/CEO Pasi Herranen and CSO Maria Korppi.
“The construction industry makes up 10% of the global economy, yet it causes 40% of the planet’s CO2 emissions and uses 40% of the global energy,” says Panu Miettinen emphatically, when asked about the “why” behind their project. “And on top of that, climate change will hit us hard. If we want to see tomorrow’s buildings stay in good condition, we need to start adapting to climate change now.”
VacuumWood.Tech offers a completely new construction method that combines wood engineering and vacuum technology. The solution’s innovative building modules allow sustainable, energy efficient, and completely moisture resistant infrastructures that can withstand any kind of climate and environment—good news in the face of the growing number of floods, heat strokes, and other natural crises borne from climate change.
“We have moisture management and removal systems integrated into all our modules that monitor moisture content throughout the building’s life cycle. If there’s any problems, we’re able to remove the moisture without disassembling any of the modules, by simply inputting a vacuum pump and sucking it out. It’ll be as dry as it was in the beginning!” Miettinen explains.
VacuumWood.Tech’s modules are designed to work globally—amid Arctic blizzards as well as a desert’s scorching heat. The company’s first target group has been the industrial segment, the regulations of which their technology is already able to meet and deliver for. Work has begun in building structures like warehouses, vertical farms, industrial buildings, and bio factories.
Being an academia-based spinout, coming to work on their project in the Helsinki Incubators felt like a natural next step in VacuumWood.Tech’s journey. The team anticipated a diverse and multidisciplinary environment in which to develop their idea further and were met with exactly that. “For big problems like this, you need contacts with experts from a lot of different fields and of course the University is a good place to find a lot of these people,” says Miettinen.
Teppo Toivonen agrees. “The Helsinki incubators can help us a lot, because we get new contacts and exposure to new ideas. Now, we are going to as many events as possible and trying to get visibility with potential customers and investors,” he says, gesturing to the ongoing NORDEEP summit around him.
Miettinen and Toivonen also say that they were enticed by the Helsinki Incubators’ international network of mentors and experts, and its potential of being pivotal for their dreams of scaling globally. “The biggest mission for any startup is to get revenue and funding. Of course, we hope that everything we do in this programme will help us get more customer cases and get more financing. Because that’s the fuel that startups need to get launched into space,” Miettinen describes.
Regardless, the team is also looking forward to the practical lessons offered by the incubator, what comes to, for example, hammering down a clear business plan or perfecting a pitch. Toivonen makes a point to also mention the peer support the team has already received during the first third of the programme. “It’s teaching us to cooperate with each other. I think that’s often actually the main thing. What can we learn from other startups?” he says.
In the coming months, VacuumWood.Tech is hoping to grow their business with the help of investments. Right now, they’re in their seed funding round, seeking for two million to get themselves started. In addition, the team remains committed to making their modules even more sustainable and technically sounder through rigorous R&D work.
What drives these green innovators forward is the very real potential of their solution being something that makes the future better for generations to come. “I want to make a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. We owe it to them to take responsibility of the future. That's what we’re doing here,” Toivonen says.
“A sustainable world requires a lot of planning and the development of different technologies, because the construction industry has been very slow to change. Now we just need these disruptive technologies taken up into large scale use, because otherwise the change will not happen,” Miettinen, on the other hand, reflects.
The University of Helsinki's entrepreneurship programmes, the Helsinki Incubators, provides support and opportunities for bold thinkers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area interested in taking their ideas and turning them into impactful ventures. Interested in getting involved in our pre-incubators and incubators? Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on when the next calls open.