Two years ago Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb made headlines in the United States suggesting Apple killed two key strongholds of Finnish economy: Nokia and paper industry.
Oulu-based hardware startup TactoTek is turning the situation upside down back: taking the know-how from both – electronics and printing – and using it to change technology industry for good.
After TactoTek named at end-August a high-level advisory board, including mobile industry veterans from HTC, Nokia and Sony, we decided to find out what is this well-funded startup is about. The firm, which integrates discrete electronic components and printed circuitry into the light, 3D injection-molded plastics, has grown to 40 staff and it seeks to hire 20 more.
The situation was different when serial entrepreneur Jussi Harvela took over as the Chief Executive a few years ago. The company was proud of its optical touch offering, and Harvela was travelling the world to show it to potential clients in electronics and automotive industries.
TactoTek, and several of its peers, hoped optical touch would replace capacitive touch, but the clients did not buy in – the technology was too expensive for the mass adoption, and not superior enough.
However, it was the plastical demo which raised clients’ eyebrows.
“We are not interested in optical touch, but how did you build this demo,” was the reply Harvela and co-founder Antti Keränen heard often. That was the signal to pivot — the team and investors decided to change direction and focus on getting the most out of the curved plastic demo it used for selling the product no-one wanted.
So, Harvela and Keränen were soon on the road again, telling clients optical touch was not competitive, but they had something more interesting to offer.
Merging electronics printed on a film and plastics is an industry extremely interesting globally. When the little-heard Tactotek said its advisory board includes HTC co-founder and ex-CTO of Sony we were falling off our chairs. Literally.
Harvela and his team have got the message across. Most basically when usual electronics device has a box around layers of electronics, TactoTek merges the electronics and components to the plastical cover – enabling massive savings on the space needed and on weight.
The team is not alone in this new space, but it has some advantage from its early move into this. “The clients are telling us that we are at least 2 years ahead of the others,” said Harvela in an interview.
Of today’s roughly 30 clients 80 percent are in the automotive industry and 15 percent in white good appliances, with the few remaining in wearables. Integrating the electronics to cover offers massive opportunity in the wearables market where size is a significant differentiator.
TactoTek has placed itself as the specialist IP holding firm – a bit like ARM in chip business – where the new products are developed together with TactoTek, which can do also first manufacturing at its plant in Kempele, near Oulu. For the mass-production manufacturing is then moved to partners of the big brands.
On the financing side, the EU gave Tactotek 2.5 million euros grant in June. The firm raised 1.5 million seed round back in 2o12.