Kiuas Startups - Scientists as Entrepreneurs

July 14, 2018
Written by 
Sakari Huhtanen

Kiuas is located at Startup Sauna in the Aalto University campus in Otaniemi, which is the biggest university campus in Finland. In our last blog post Aleksi wrote how the whole Kiuas team consists of students from Aalto University and therefore it’s only natural that one of our main target groups are students. Because of our close ties with the university world, another main target audience for us are the researchers in the Helsinki region. One of the biggest challenges in the whole startup ecosystem is how to engage more researchers into building their own companies based on the latest results of research.

Measur, one of our Kiuas startups, is a great example of researchers who have chosen the scary route of starting their own growth venture. The startup measures their customers’ products using high-end devices available in different universities and companies across Finland. Equipment in universities often have a really low utilization rate, sometimes as low as under 1 percent, and they can cost up to millions of euros. With Measur both parties benefit — universities can increase their devices’ utilization rate and companies get access to equipment using the latest technology which they wouldn’t find elsewhere, and with a really competitive price.

After one of our bi-weekly meetings with Measur, I asked Teemu Myllymäki, CEO of the company, some questions about combining life as a startup co-founder and researcher.

How did you come up with this idea?

I was presenting my research in our bi-weekly group meeting with my current research group. I needed to measure a certain property of my material and needed a specific device for the measurement. I asked my colleagues if they knew of such a device. No one did. I then started asking around, and it turned out that the device that I needed existed within the same building. I then thought that if over ten professional researchers at the university didn’t know where I could measure the property I needed, there might be other people in the industry with the same problem.

Then I started collecting data about where the different types of devices are, and whom to contact if I needed certain types of measurements. Quite often my colleagues would come to me and ask if I knew where it would be possible to do some rare experiments. When the people I knew from the industry asked me if I could measure, or if I knew where they could measure the properties of their products, I decided to found Measur.

What were your first steps during the early phases?

Before anything else, I told a good friend of mine, Kalle Lagerblom, who’s also working on his doctoral thesis, that I’ve finally figured out which company we’re going to build together. After that, we made contracts for renting the devices from Aalto University Department of Applied Physics, and University of Helsinki Department of Chemistry. We had our first customers even before having built our website. We had to hurry to the bank to open an account before sending out our first invoice.

Soon we realized we might benefit from some help from more experienced entrepreneurs. At Aaltoes’ FallUp afterparty we accidentally met with Jasu Koponen, former CEO of Venuu, and Daniel Rahman, CEO of Integrify. After a brief discussion we agreed to meet for lunch later, and they became our mentors, and in a way, even members of the team.

Later, we spotted a Kiuas TeamUp event (the earlier form of what is now Kiuas Bootcamp) which we participated as a team. We attended several coaching sessions, learned a lot about presenting an idea, developed our idea further and made plans for scaling up. The next day Measur was second in the pitching competition and was offered a place in Kiuas incubator.

Measur pitching their startup in Kiuas TeamUp in fall 2017.

How does the startup world differentiate from the research world? Or are they actually pretty similar?

The stereotypes of scientists and entrepreneurs are totally different, but there are certain mental characteristics that are helpful in both worlds. Scientists must follow the evidence and build their publications according to the facts that they have derived from different sets of experiments. Sometimes, scientists have ideas of what the outcome of the research is and how the publications will be written, but the experiments show that the whole concept needs to be different and the original hypotheses are wrong. Then, new experiments need to be designed, and the publication needs to be written according to the new evidence.

Similarly, for a company to be successful, one needs to constantly evaluate and measure the success of it. If the data from sales, or feedback from customers, show that the company would do better if things were done differently, it’s better to take action. Sometimes large changes in the business plan need to be done, and a company needs to pivot into a different field of operation. Trusting the facts, and making decisions according to evidence is necessary for both scientists and entrepreneurs.

What are your personal learning goals and how has Kiuas helped you?

After MSc in chemistry and (soon) PhD in physics I think I know something about chemistry, physics and how research works. The next goal is to build a successful company and develop the skills needed to run a company as it grows.

During my time with Measur I’ve learned a lot, met amazing people and understood that no matter how big a challenge is, you can always break it down into smaller parts and by completing the small parts, you’ve completed the big challenge.

Kiuas has introduced our team to possible collaborators and customers from the industry and put us in the same table with several talented coaches to help us bring Measur to the next level. And the Kiuas team are really talented and nice people to hang out with!

“During my time with Measur I’ve learned a lot, met amazing people and understood that no matter how big a challenge is, you can always break it down into smaller parts.”

During this summer Teemu and his co-founder Kalle are finishing their doctoral theses and have their defences. At the same time they keep pushing Measur forward.

To learn more, visit the website

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