One of the focal points of Actic15 will be Startup Sauna’s Demo Day, held at the end of the first  day of the conference.

By Karolina Miller

Startup Sauna is a non-profit accelerator for early-stage startups offering a 5-week programme. To compile the current batch, consisting of 14 startups from 8 different countries, the team  travelled more than 180,000 kilometres to find the most interesting cases.

To find a business card in the depths of his pockets, Kasper Suomalainen, COO and ‘Captain in Resident’ at Startup Sauna, has to empty them first. No wonder it takes a bit of effort for him to find the right one since the pockets are full of cards from Korea, Russia, and Africa.

Kasper and his team is sort of startup headhunter and this winter they started their journey  from Romania to hunt down the best tech startups in the region. The team went all the way to  Lebanon and then to Russia, Latvia, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

After covering the Nordics the team found time to visit Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Korea as  well.

This is not Startup Sauna’s first road trip – this is the 13th batch accelerated in Helsinki, Finland.

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Photo: This year Startup Sauna had two teams from Latvia. Dripit (in the picture) helps e-commerce  site owners understand their customer behaviour and engage with them in real-time. Another  team from Riga is Toneboard that helps lenders to improve returns by using automated speech  analytics.

“Each batch is different, and this one is no exception. It distinguished itself from others with highly  technical solutions: three of the startups have developed hardware either complementing their  software or to work solely,” tells Suomalainen.

“We have Noiseless Acoustics with an acoustic camera, saliva-based ovulation test from Vital Smith, and smart drones by Airvision,” Suomalainen recites the hardware-linked startups.

Startup Sauna’s region is the Nordics, Eastern Europe, and Russia and there is a reason to it:  “The engineering skills in the region are incredibly strong, but the challenge that engineers love  building products but lack the business skills still persists,” Suomalainen says.

In addition to the Wild East, Startup Sauna wanted to explore more exciting scenes to learn and  spread the know-how.

Modeo, furniture building app, was discovered in the recently founded startup ecosystem in  Beirut, Lebanon.
“Even though our ecosystem is relatively new in Lebanon, everything is highly organised and well-connected just as it is here, but what strikes me here is the Nordic way of thinking. People are  frank with you, and they get straight to the point,” reveals Emile, co-founder of Modeo.
Not all of the startups were surprised by the honest feedback that Startup Sauna has in it core  values.

Finnish startup SkenarioLabs, urban optimisation software, has previously had its share of brutal  feedback in the Finnish ecosystem and what they were looking for in the five-week programme was the focus. The 12-month old company was in the go-to-market phase, and they needed to validate  their customer segment. Originally they had two tracks.

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Photo: Russian team Revealytics, software providing metrics and analytics, have great traction.  More than 100 teams are using their product.

“From those two tracks we ended up to ten tracks after the first week’s one-on-ones with the  coaches, and now everything is condensed, once again, to a few key customer segments. Our  focus is now crystal clear and after Demo Day we will go straight to business and start selling our  product to the right people,” tells Topi Tiihonen, CEO of the SkenarioLabs.

Tiihonen has had an intensive month with his new startup family in Startup Sauna.

“This is an extremely talented bunch of people working with each other and helping each other in  every possible way”, says Tiihonen, who has been working alongside enthusiastic entrepreneurs  solving problems with ever-increasing challenges.

“The industry we are tackling is like an old dinosaur, reluctant to change. It’s inspiring to see that  our fellow entrepreneurs, like Palleter, trucking software, are also chasing down mummified  industries,” recalls Tiihonen.
Finally, Suomalainen finds what he is looking for. There is a South Korean journalist waiting for him  to tell her about the vibrant Finnish startup ecosystem.

“I’m a bit anxious about Demo Day,” Suomalainen confesses, “There are a couple of teams with extremely technical products and I hope they can deliver their key message in the 3-minute pitch.”

“Startup Sauna Demo Days are known for their ability to put up a show, and we sure will not let  people down this time either,” tells Suomalainen.

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