With pitches and pizzas, third Compass cohort draws to a successful close

The third edition of the University of Helsinki programme for early-stage ideas in Deep Tech, AI, and Sustainability saw ideas from a range of fields and topics. After two months of work developing their ideas, teams were given the opportunity to present their ideas to a jury and celebrate their progress among friends.

On 11 December, amid snow-flurries and a biting arctic wind, the third cohort of the University of Helsinki's pre-incubator for Deep Tech, AI, and Sustainability Compass, gathered at the Helsinki Incubators space in downtown Helsinki for an exciting final showcase. After ten weeks of hard work developing and refining both their solutions and entrepreneurial chops, the 11 teams were finally ready to pitch their ideas to a jury, get their pictures added to the Helsinki Incubators alumni wall of fame, and celebrate their progress with their fellow Compass participants – and pizza.

“It was pretty cool,” explained Jakub Grad , a University of Helsinki student and one of the participants of the programme, summarising his feelings about the programme. In between bites of pizza, Grad described how his team, Pesämuna, consisting of fellow students Sanni Häkkinen and Chloe Kiernicki, of the University of Helsinki and Tampere University respectively, had come to Compass to learn more about the business side of things, and that the programme had rightly delivered, saying that ”this has been a valuable experience for us.”

A lighthearted competition

The showcase proper began with some congratulatory words by Maila-Kaarina Rantanen, programme manager for the third edition of Compass, who gushed of how proud she was of all the teams for the progress they’d made in such a short time, after which the teams rose to the stage one-by-one to give their 2-minute pitches to the evening’s jury.

The jury – Eran Ben-Shahar, Tanja Törnroos, Irina Blomqvist , and Pete Karumo – listened keenly to each presentation before presenting each team with pointed questions concerning their business models, revenue streams, customer validation, and more.

Following the pitches and some deliberation, the jury decided to award team Optiwood, consisting of Dr. Jiri Pyörälä, and Tommi Niinimäki, and their solution for a laser-driven timber quality mapping system as the winners of the evening’s lighthearted pitching competition.

“Taking part in Compass was a real lightbulb moment for us,” Pyörälä, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Forest Science and whose doctoral dissertation Optiwood is based on, later commented. “It really taught us a lot of new terms and ideas on the business side, while also validating our concept and giving us a clear vision of what steps to take next.”

The jury also gave honorable mentions to teams Wellsee and Willow for best pitch deck and best speaker, respectively, as well as some general words of encouragement to all. “You should all be very happy with what you’ve achieved,” said Blomqvist, head of the Helsinki Incubators, “And we look forward to seeing how you all continue on your journeys.”

“It’s nice that our work was appreciated and recognised,” Sarah Miselly of team Willow said of her team’s honorable mention. Along with the rest of her team, Miselly is working on a VR ecotherapy solution, and she said that following the programme, the team is feeling confident about having built a good base to continue going forward: “We’ve been really grateful for the opportunity that Compass provided us, and it really helped us nail down the basics.”

"A lot of potential here tonight"

“It was very interesting, very nice! There was a lot of potential here tonight,” said Ben-Shahar, reflecting on the night’s pitches. One of Compass’ on-call advisors and an experienced innovator himself, he added that based on his decades of working both in and with startups, he believed that “the most important trait of an entrepreneur is to adapt and be agile”, a quality he was happy to see clearly present among the Compass cohort.

His fellow on-call advisor and judge Törnroos, an entrepreneur, growth consultant, and marketing professional, had similarly positive feelings towards the Compass teams, describing them as courageous and creative. She added that she’d had great fun working with them as an on-call advisor, helping the teams think about how to address the pain points in their development processes, calling the enthusiastic group of founders “my kind of people.”

As for the final member of the jury, Pete Karumo, an experienced startup entrepreneur with experience across multiple continents who recently joined the Helsinki Incubators as the project manager for the TREMOR incubator for ideas related to social impact, he explained that he was very happy with what he'd seen, and said that he hoped that as many teams as possible would continue with their ideas.

Next steps

As for the Compass participants themselves, for now the teams are all looking to take a deep breath after the intensity of the programme before taking stock of where they’re at with their solutions, and what steps to take next, with some of the more eager teams already setting their eyes on the next rounds of the University’s incubator programmes in 2024.

Compass is the University of Helsinki's early-stage entrepreneurship programme, or pre-incubator, for ideas in #DeepTech, #AI, and #Sustainability. The programme is powered by Helsingin kaupunki – Helsingfors stad – City of Helsinki and Business Helsinki, and will return for a fourth batch in late 2024. For more information on this or any of our other programmes, please visit helsinki.fi/incubators