VTT sent a total of five spin-offs on their way in 2013.
– Asqella and Posterfy represent the two extremes of spin-offs launched by us. Asqella is a truly specialised high-tech company, while Posterfy’s strength essentially lies in its business model, says Antti Sinisalo, CEO of VTT Ventures.
VTT Ventures is part of VTT, and its role in VTT’s overall mission is to generate new business activity in the technology sector. VTT is nonetheless an investor, like any other.
– The risk level of our investments is high, so we also expect to achieve high return on our investments, says Sinisalo, describing the company policy.
VTT aims to commercialise the results of research, and these are often exploited in the operations of existing companies, either as results of commissioned research or, for example, through licensing. Occasionally the results achieved will not yet be mature enough for market introduction.
– Investments are often needed to refine these kinds of results into commercial products. Spinning off is an ideal mechanism for doing this, says Sinisalo.
The precondition for both spin-off and licensing is that the investment being commercialised brings sufficient added value to the market.
– We’re not in the business of commercialising small improvements to existing technologies. The technology being commercialised should enable the establishment of an entire business operation.
Where technology is commercialised, VTT is always the first investor, either by itself or in collaboration with others. VTT can also transfer IPR to companies being established, or provide assistance in building a business model, creating a business strategy, or finding partners and investors.
– It means a lot to these enterprises that they receive support from us, and the right to take advantage of the necessary technologies. Our involvement as an investor also gives new companies credibility, says Sinisalo.
Asqella exports security technologies
Researchers are expected to have an ability to seek added value by applying the results of their research. For researchers with this kind of orientation it is only natural they become entrepreneurs and generate new business activity in Finland.
Arttu Luukanen, CEO of Asqella and spin-off entrepreneur, has studied technology for a long time, both at VTT and in other parts of the world. His aim from the very beginning has been to generate results that can be commercialised. The idea is that if there is no existing company to take commercial advantage of an innovation, it is always possible to set up your own company.
– A researcher must be capable of the transformation into business actor, someone who won’t get too bogged down on the details, says Luukanen.
On the other hand, as an ex-researcher, he understands that matters need to be investigated carefully.
Terahertz cameras see through clothing
Luukanen’s company, Asqella, was established by former VTT employees Luukanen, Mikko Leivo and Anssi Rautiainen. The most recent addition to the team, Aleksi Tamminen, had just acquired his doctoral degree at Aalto University.
– It took a while to build the kind of business plan a company could be founded on. This was more than just a couple of chairs and a computer. There needed to be investment in hardware, says Luukanen.
Asqella began its operations at the end of 2013 with the help of financing provided by four business angels, VTT Ventures, and Tekes.
Asqella develops and manufactures terahertz cameras, capable of screening people from a distance for objects concealed under clothing. The image is generated by the change in natural terahertz radiation emitted by the human body caused by a concealed object. Examples of camera use include touch-free security inspections in public spaces, at major events, on public transport or even at staff exits in shops.
The terahertz camera will enter the market during 2014.
Towards regulated markets in due course
Asqella’s potential customers include security sector operators, major events, authorities, and airports.
– The airport business is the biggest individual market area, but a hard one to access, as it requires expensive and time-consuming certifications, says Luukanen.
– We try to get the business going first with smaller actors, and afterwards push for the certifications required by airports and authorities.
Asqella’s international market prospects are also strong.
– One of our investors operates in Singapore and is opening markets to Asia for us. The Middle East is also interested in this kind of security technology.
Luukanen emphasises the importance of investing in marketing and sales. Asqella has just hired a sales manager for the U.S. market with experience in the security business.
– We aim at reaching a sales target of half a million euros and some 1-4 customers by the end of the year. The goal for next year is to quadruple turnover.
Dry your hands with and advertisement
While in the shopping centre toilets drying your hands, what if you were to see an advertisement instead of a plain white towel dispenser? VTT technology experts and the innovators at the HeyDay advertising agency established Posterfy and introduced an advertising display on Lindström towel dispensers.
At the Lindström office in Helsinki’s Kalasatama, Juha Karnasaari, Product Manager, Hygiene Services, presents the design faces of towel dispensers, familiar from any toilet facility.
– When drying your hands on a cloth towel, you’re in effect tied to the dispenser. With paper towels, you generally start hunting around for a waste bin straight away, but cloth towels mean you are staring at the dispenser all the time you’re drying. That got us thinking some time ago how we might make use of the front of the dispenser as advertising space, says Karnasaari.
In March 2013, representatives of the HeyDay advertising agency came to meet Karnasaari wanting to introduce a few crazy marketing ideas. The meeting resulted in an idea to incorporate electronic displays on the face of the towel dispenser that could be used as advertising space.
At this point, the necessary technology was under development in a VTT project that also involved HeyDay. It seems obvious that integrating a display in this way is barely worth the effort unless it is wafer-thin, uses very little power, and allows wireless updates.
– Connecting towel dispensers to the power supply can’t be done easily or cost-effectively because each toilet facility usually has several, says Karnasaari.
With the technology developed by VTT, the display is so stingy with power that it runs up to one year without recharging, and can be updated via a mobile network.
Posterfy provides the display
Beginning operations in December 2013, Posterfy was established on the basis of the technology developed in the project. The Posterfy innovation is a cordless display that can be placed anywhere and functions touch-free. The image on the display changes with hand movement, or, in the case of the Lindström dispensers, every time the customer pulls the towel.
– This is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our product: we can calculate the actual times an advertisement is shown, and invoice on that basis, says Kari Hjelt, Posterfy’s CEO.
Posterfy’s business concept also includes the production of advertisements.
Advertising revenue covers costs of towel dispensers
Lindström has 100,000 towel dispensers in toilet facilities all around Finland. The devices are leased to the customers, and Lindström’s service chain takes care of deliveries, installations, servicing, and maintenance.
– With the help of the advertising application, some of the towel dispenser costs can be covered by advertising revenue, which also makes the business model cost-efficient and attractive to the owners of the facilities, says Karnasaari.
Advertising concepts are always tailored on a case-by-case basis so the owner can choose to exclude advertising of its competitors, for example, or advertisements that conflict with operations. On the other hand, advertising display can help the proprietor promote sales of certain products by using individually maintained content.
Smart operation enhances maintainability
Lindström also wanted their towel dispensers to be smart in more than one sense. Connection to the mobile network now makes intelligent dispensers possible. For example, the papers used by cleaners to mark inspection times can now be replaced by information on the display. The dispensers can also send a message if towel rolls run low or servicing is required.
The new towel dispensers will be adopted by the first shopping centre in May.
– Our goal is for the dispensers to be in place at several dozen sites by the autumn, and by the turn of the year to be able to offer them to major chains, says Karnasaari, describing the company’s plans.
Technology and marketing expertise in the same company
Bringing together pioneering skills in technology and advertising has resulted in wireless displays for public spaces that update remotely, function touch-free, and calculate every customer contact. Posterfy’s business concept also includes the production of advertisements.
Posterfy Oy, established by the VTT experts and the HeyDay advertising agency, operates in a century-old wooden building in the middle of Leppävaara, Espoo, manufacturing touch-free displays with low power consumption, and selling advertising space for them. Posterfy was established jointly by Tomi Mattila and Kari Hjelt fron VTT, and Oskari Heikel, Olli Paloheimo and Tuomas Kannas from HeyDay.
The essence of Posterfy’s business idea lies in the combination of technology and marketing competence. Hjelt, who acts as CEO, and Mattila, in charge of product development, focus on the display’s technical development and cost-efficient production process, while Heikel, Paloheimo and Kannas, with 13 years of experience in digital and outdoor advertising, know how to conceptualise the advertising solutions brought to the display.
With Posterfy devices, the advertisements change through hand movement, making it possible to calculate the actual times an advertisement is seen and invoice the advertiser accordingly.
– This is a new feature in outdoor advertising, says Paloheimo, who acts as Posterfy’s creative director.
The product idea was first generated in a VTT commercialisation project. Posterfy began operations in December 2013, at which point VTT Ventures capital and IPR assets were transferred to the company. Partner Lindström also invested in the company. Also Tekes is as an investor of Posterfy and it also funded VTT’s technology commercialization project earlier.
– The concept was developed full-time for a year under Tekes’ Creating Business from Research programme, says Mattila.
Posterfy develops and manufactures the devices in collaboration with its subcontractors, and provides the software and advertising spaces as a cloud service. These then appear on the display via the mobile network. If necessary, Posterfy is also capable of producing the marketing material.
– We sell the advertising space on the devices, rather than the devices themselves. The device has to pay itself back in the form of advertising revenue, says Hjelt, describing the business policy.
Advertising people and engineers under one roof
– This spin-off wouldn’t have got far without our being able to combine technologies and marketing competence, says Paloheimo.
– Our image of VTT was quite conservative, not being aware of the extent of their world-leading technologies.
Research and marketing business both require creativity, and value silent knowledge and lessons learnt.
– We are all willing to expose ourselves to new ideas and to take risks. We complement each other and learn from each other, Hjelt says, with emphasis.
Posterfy’s business culture is further strengthened by the heating up several times a week of the old building’s sauna.