Miniature radiation detectors, a boost for the immune system and solutions to problems in food production – these were among the innovations presented by University of Helsinki researchers to investors at the startup event Slush. In November, a total of 16 teams headed to the Helsinki Expo and Convention Centre, taking with them inventions both in the beginning of the commercialisation process and those that had already advanced to spinouts. We asked them about the Slush experience.
In the future, new ways to produce food are needed to solve the problems caused by, for example, the depletion of farmland as well as climate change, the effects of which can be observed all over the world. Helping in this is the delicious mycoprotein developed by the MyShroom research team, which can be produced under almost any conditions.
“We can grow mycelia, for example, without light at room temperature. As their nutrient medium, we utilise sidestreams from agriculture and food production,” says Associate Professor Kirsi Mikkonen.
The team headed to Slush to gain new contacts. For Mikkonen, the highlight of the event was the visit at the University stand by Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for research and innovation.
“It was a wonderful meeting. I got to talk to the commissioner and describe our research.”
A more detailed understanding of investors’ expectations was the key lesson from the startup event.
The DeNuSa team is developing a small and versatile device for measuring radiation, which could be useful to the police, border guards or pharmaceutical industry, among others. The device could be used, for example, in helping people to avoid major radiation sources.
“If necessary, it could be attached to, say a drone or a robot,” says Specialist Marko Arenius.
DeNuSa intends to devise a compact package using existing measuring solutions, thus opening up new uses. In fact, the team gained attention when presenting the prototype of the device to the public.
The team also shared their idea with Members of Parliament Kai Mykkänen (National Coalition Party), Antti Lindtman (Social Democratic Party) and Matias Mäkynen (Social Democratic Party). With the policymakers, the researchers discussed, among other topics, the benefits of large international research projects.
“All in all, Slush was a very positive experience.”
The HydroXGel team is developing new kinds of materials for 3D printing of cells. The goal is to use such materials to manufacture tissues and organs, and even offer alternatives to testing drugs in animals. At the moment, the hydrogels on the market remain inadequate for some purposes.
“They cannot be used either to produce complex cellular structures, or print with sufficient precision with 3D printing technology,” says Doctoral Researcher Askican Hacioglu.
The researchers headed to Slush to familiarise themselves with the Finnish startup field and look for new partners with whom the product could be tested. The event was a hectic but good experience.
“We found a few potential new partners, which was exactly what we were hoping for,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Andrew Kerr.
It was also useful to talk to other research teams from the University of Helsinki, among whom there were colleagues who are also currently working on projects receiving Research to Business funding from Business Finland or who have already established spinouts.
“We can always reach out to them and ask for advice,” Hacioglu notes.
What if unhealthy fats, such as butter and palm oil, could be replaced in food products with healthy oils? This would benefit both people and the environment. However, the nutritional profile of healthy oils must first be optimised to correspond with unhealthy fats without their adverse health effects. The Oleoflow team is developing a solution to this.
“By means of food science and materials physics, we are able to create a tough structure for healthy oils that will hold together and provide a pleasant mouthfeel,” says Project Planning Officer Anton Nolvi.
“The innovation has great commercial potential. We started with traditional bakery products, but there is great demand for new kinds of fats in the food industry in general.”
The team intends to launch its quest for global market success in North America and Europe. At Slush, they sought interest in their idea among investors to enable the establishment of a business in the near future. The visit to the event was useful.
“Getting feedback from investors helped us fine-tune our message.”
The MammalExpress team is looking for a solution to a problem related to the production of recombinant proteins in mammalian cells. Producing them is extremely expensive, which hinders the development of novel solutions, for example, for the needs of biomedicine and the cosmetics industry.
“Our goal is to lower the cost of producing recombinant proteins. This way, cell cultures can be used to accelerate, for example, agricultural production and stem cell research leading to better drugs,” says Associate Professor Jaan-Olle Andressoo.
The team hopes to establish a spinout by 2024. The team headed to the startup event to obtain preliminary feedback from stakeholders and gain renewed energy from the success stories of others.
“Slush was an excellent motivator,” Andressoo says.
One of the Slush veterans of the University of Helsinki is Uute Scientific, a spinout whose ‘biodiversity powder’ can be added to, for example, skin creams. The powder boosts immune system development in urban conditions, reducing the risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases.
The business already has 13 clients, who have launched a total of more than 40 products to the consumer market.
“Commercialisation has got off to a good start,” says CEO Kari Sinivuori.
The next goal is to secure world-class cosmetics giants as clients and expand the use of the powder into medicinal creams. At Slush, the team sought connections with international funders, and succeeded.
“I was overwhelmed by the presence of so many professionals from a range of fields. I spoke to investors, researchers and employees of other businesses,” says Project Manager Johanna Kalmari, who took part in the event for the first time.
At a breakfast session for decision-makers organised by the University of Helsinki, the team also had the chance to talk to politicians. Sinivuori believes that good discussions can have a tangible effect on policymaking.
“You’d imagine that research funding won’t be the first thing to be cut.”