'It’s been a long and enriching journey!' — first ever NEXUS demo-day crowns team aic.health & rounds out groundbreaking programme

The 1st round of the Deep Tech, AI & Sustainability incubator ended with a world-class demo day on March 30th, where 10 teams presented their pitches to an audience of over 170 attendees from Finland and abroad.

“I think first, we’re going to celebrate the win by taking a week off and just enjoying some holidays!” laughs Jakob German, team lead of aiC.health and a University of Helsinki reasearcher, when asked what’s next for the winning team of the NEXUS incubators’ demo-day’s pitching contest.

The event, a jubilant affair hosted in the grand festive hall of the University of Helsinki’s historic Language Centre building, drew an international crowd all gathered to witness the conclusion of the first 6-month Helsinki Incubators programme. As each of the 10 finalist teams got on stage to present, those involved with them from day one were all impressed.

“I think it’s quite amazing to see the teams and startups now, compared to what they were six months ago when we started with our launch event in Nuuksio,” explained Sam Laakkonen, NEXUS’ head mentor and the Senior Director for Sustainable Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cambridge University, as well as one of the three external experts, along with Michael Vormittag of Daimler Truck and Andrés-Leonardo Martínez-Ortiz of Google, who helped shape the programme. “I can see a massive difference in them. For one, they’re now much more business-like and, as we just saw, can now easily present clearly and engagingly. They’ve all earned the right to call themselves entrepreneurs.”

Juan-Manuel Cortés Galindo, one of the NEXUS mentors as well as former professional soccer player turned successful entrepreneur and VC investor, agreed. “I was impressed, because what I saw was a bunch of good entrepreneurs pitching well, looking for funding, creating this sense of urgency around their ideas. As a former high-performance athlete, I think that the learning process, the training, the discipline required to be an athlete is similar to what’s needed to create a successful startup, and I see that the programme has given them just that.”

After the 10 teams were done pitching, the assembled audience of ecosystem players, investors, professionals, and other invitees were given the option to vote on which pitch was the most impressive. The result: German and the rest of the aiC.health team, Vilma Lammi, Pablo Markaide, Essi Vilpola, and Feiyi Wang, were declared best in show with their product and presentation.

The team’s winning solution involves bringing machine learning to process and personalise medical records based on electronic health record data, highlighting relevant information pertaining to a patient's visit while suggesting diagnoses in a probabilistic manner. This would reduce doctor's time spent reviewing records while broadening the diagnoses considered, improving the health system's sustainability and reducing the risk of misdiagnosis.

“We’re very ambitious with our startup,” German explained, “After our one-week break, it’s back to work. We’re looking forward to continuing with the development and validation of our whole product, looking for partners and clients, and seeking investors,” adding that the team couldn’t have gotten where they were without NEXUS or their mentors, Tamir Huberman of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Martínez-Ortiz, and Satu Apukka of Kide Science.

‘This was like a mini-MBA!’

As the first six-month Helsinki Incubators programme, a lot of uncertainty surrounded NEXUS at the start. And while in the end only 10 of the programme’s 20 teams got to present on stage at the final, all of the teams were nevertheless incredibly grateful for the invaluable and eye-opening experience NEXUS and its expert-led weekly workshops and mentoring sessions provided them.

“It’s been a great programme,” explained Carlos de la Torre, a University of Helsinki doctoral researcher whose team BlinkApp, a fintech working on AI-powered white-label budgeting tools for banks aimed at younger customers, was not selected for the final. “It’s been really great to be part of the workshops, and especially being in contact with the mentors. I feel it’s been a constant growth process for all of us, my team, my startup. From the business perspective and the technical perspective. I don’t know where we’d be today if we hadn’t participated in NEXUS.”

Pedro Camargo, a University of Helsinki professor and NEXUS finalist involved in two teams, WeSAFE and ReLight, was equally grateful for all that the programme provided him and his teams. “Before starting this programme, I knew absolutely nothing about businesses or startups or entrepreneurship. I was just an academic!

“But I knew that business can be a true agent of change for our society, because you know, research and the university can only go so far,” Camargo continued. “So, true change also requires business and companies, and I wanted to learn more about the research to business transition. The programme enabled us to get so much in terms of opportunities, learning, and training, and we had excellent mentors that helped us through this journey.”

Indeed, for all the teams, the support they received from their mentors was invaluable. “These experienced professionals helped open so many doors to the teams,” explained Alfonso Gutierrez, Senior Manager for Global Corporate Partnerships at the University of Helsinki. “They explored possible Proof of Concept opportunities, made intros to potential investors and partners, helped the teams get customer feedback within their networks, and gave concrete and invaluable insights based on their own startup, corporate, and investor expertise. We are incredibly grateful for all the NEXUS mentors for the help they have provided our University.”

Even for those with more experience in business, the programme was extremely useful. Robert Eden of team Causality explained that even though he’d experience from attending both the former Helsinki School of Economics and the London School of Economics, neither compared to NEXUS: “This six-month incubator has been the best business school that I’ve ever been through. It’s like a mini-MBA!

“What makes it different is because it’s for real, you know. You’re working on a real case – your own company – and you’ve got to think about it from all these different points of view,” Eden continues. “And what could be a better business educational experience than working on a real company, and being instructed by mentors, teachers, getting all of these resources – for free!”

‘We are working to bring out the power of knowledge for the world!’

The end of the first six-month programme, which is powered by the City of Helsinki, was also an opportunity to take stock of all that’s been achieved in bringing University of Helsinki research out into the world.

“Today, we really saw what’s happened thanks to these six months of really intensive work,” said Dean Sasu Tarkoma. As the dean of the University’s Faculty of Science, Tarkoma has been closely involved with the development of NEXUS and championing the real-life impact potential of the University’s research. “We saw great pitches, and heard great ideas. There’s really a huge potential for big breakthroughs and impact here, and this demo-day was a great end to the first chapter of these very exciting incubator programmes!”

NEXUS Programme leader Andrés Archila shared Tarkoma’s enthusiasm. “There have been so many successes during the 6-month programme,” Archila explained. “From the fact that the teams all developed MVP’s, fine-tuned their products or solutions for global markets, entered in discussions with corporates and investors regarding possible investments, partnerships, or new business opportunities, and applied and received funding for PoC’s and Research to Business projects.”

In total, Archila goes on, NEXUS teams have raised 2.6m€ from various sources. This includes 1.4m€ in R2B funding from Business Finland for teams NAPA and HydroXgel, as well as 28k€ for team WeSAFE from the University of Helsinki’s own funds to further develop their proof of concept.

Taina Kyllönen, the CCO of the University and head of the university’s innovation was also delighted to see the results from NEXUS: “What we saw today was really great,” said Kyllönen. “It’s extremely encouraging to see this many promising, well-developed ideas be born from our programmes. I’m especially happy to see the figure of 2.6m€ in funding secured by the teams, which shows to us that the market sees real potential in what our University of Helsinki community and research has to offer. The Helsinki Incubators really are one concrete way in which we are working to bring out the power of knowledge for the world!”

Eyes set on the next NEXUS

And while the 6-month programme is now over, Archila, Gutierrez, and the whole Helsinki Incubators team are already looking towards the next NEXUS programme, the call for which is set to open in April. For those considering applying, the demo-day winner had plenty of words of encouragement:

“The reason I joined was that I come from a scientific, clinical background. I studied pharmacy and I came to Helsinki to do a PhD combining data science and genetic epidemiology, but my ambition was to combine science with business. Because through implementing scientific ideas, innovation, through business we can reach the highest impact on society – on people – and actually create the most value for everyone.”

“So, when I saw NEXUS as a programme which was a platform that would give us the chance to actually step into this intersection of science and business, of academia and making something out of our ideas, I knew we had to join as a team, to join this journey and learn all that we did,” German continued. “It’s been a long and enriching journey! In the end, the programme is about getting the experience, getting the inputs through the workshops, the mentors, the guidance, and collaborating with other teams. That’s what enriched us the most, and why I think others should join the NEXUS programme.”

More information

The next NEXUS call opens in mid-April.

For those interested in finding out more about the programme or collaborating with NEXUS teams and startups, please contact Andres Archila, Project Manager for NEXUS by email at andres.archila@helsinki.fi or by phone at +358 50 521 5286.

For those interested in joining NEXUS as a Mentor or Expert, please contact Alfonso Gutierrez, Senior Manager for Global Corporate Partnerships by email at alfonso.gutierrez@helsinki.fi or by phone at +358 50 432 1815.