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.
“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.
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.
“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.