With tickets to the Arctic15 startup event on the line, the second Compass pre-incubator programme for early-stage ideas in deep tech, AI and sustainability came to a close on 9 March with an exciting pitching competition featuring short, 90-second elevator pitches from 8 of the programme's 16 teams. The event, which was also an opportunity for participants to celebrate the end of the programme together, opened with words from Faculty of Science dean Sasu Tarkoma, and was streamed online to an audience spanning Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
"I'm really happy with all the teams and their pitches," said a grateful Pedro Gensini, Compass Programme Manager, after the event, which saw two of the 8 teams share the top spot. The two winners, Free Farms, a solution for helping refugee camps produce power, food, and water in a sustainable manner, and WHERE, an AI-enabled aerial imaging platform for urban designers to use data to detect trends and changes for better planning, were praised by the judges for the clarity with which they presented their ideas, as well as the great potential they both had to solve large-scale global problems.
For Manuel Dias of Free Farms, the win came as a surprise. “I’m really happy,” said the soft-spoken Dias, who hopes to one day collaborate with the World Food Programme. “It was unexpected, but I’m really happy to get reinforcement for my idea and hope to go forward with my project. Now I want to get the prototype up and running as soon as possible.”
As for Aleksandr Vasiliuhka of WHERE, he was equally delighted with his win, adding that he was glad to have been awarded a ticket to Arctic15, as it meant he no longer had to buy his own. “Now I’ll be able to focus on fundraising for my project!” he said, summarising his next steps.
The jury, which consisted of Irina Blomqvist, head of the Helsinki Incubators, Mario Aguilera, founder at Tespack, Svetlana Marmutova, Sustainability Strategist at Accenture and NEXUS incubator senior mentor, as well as Ramón Crespí, serial entrepreneur and also a NEXUS senior mentor, chose to also give honorary mention to Annika Lundström and Caterina Mandalios who make up team ReMinded. The pair, who both study Molecular Biosciences at the University of Helsinki, sought to address issues in mental health by helping identify each person’s individual moments of neuroplasticity when they would be most receptive to treatment.
“We’re really happy for this recognition,” explained Mandalios. “We’re both 22 years old, but we’re still doing our best, and it feels great to have people tell us that we can create positive impact with our idea and work.”
After the pitches, the judges sought to remind all participants that even if they didn’t win, their ideas were all valuable and deserved further exploration. “You have to remember that your ideas are good,” said an encouraging Crespí. “You have to keep believing in them, and you all have to take them to the next level!”
Aguilera echoed this sentiment, telling all the teams “You all did great!” Aguilera also sought to encourage those teams who didn’t win to keep working on their ideas, emphasising that each and every one of them had potential, and that he would personally help any team that wanted it. “Remember, you never lose, you always just learn!”
Learning was also at the core of what participants felt. “Even if I didn’t get to pitch today, I feel like the programme was a great way of learning,” said Niko Räty, a University of Helsinki doctoral researcher and one half of team Saunatime, which sought to offer up access to saunas in private spaces to wider audiences. “I now know a lot more about business things as well as the opportunities that are out there.”
Lundström and Mandalios of ReMinded were also grateful for all they’d learned, saying that the programme was incredibly useful and eye-opening, and that it had really complemented their more research-oriented backgrounds: “We didn’t have any information about the worlds of entrepreneurship or business before this, but now we feel like we can take on those worlds head on as well!”
Special thanks were also given to both the experts and the organisers. Dias, of Free Farms, in addition to being grateful for the visiting experts and on-call advisors, wanted to specifically thank Gensini for all the work he’d done, describing him as “the cornerstone of everything!”.
The Compass teams are now all off to figure out the next steps for their ideas, with some being expected to apply to the NEXUS incubator’s next batch when the call opens up later this spring, but all were intending on continuing work on their ideas, no doubt with the encouraging words of Crespi, who urged them to all keep going, on their minds: “You have to take a deep dive into how to solve the problem that your idea is solving, and remember to fall in love with the problem, not your solution.”
The next Compass programme will be organisied in autumn 2023, while the call for the next NEXUS incubator programme will open in the Spring of 2023.