In the autumn of 2020, Antti Löppönen got the idea to develop a smart seat for a kayak. Now, 18 months later, Antti has a high-quality prototype and is faced with the choice of either commercialising the innovation or using it for research purposes. How did Antti’s prototype take form and so quickly?
First prototype version using sensors from personal scales
Antti has been involved with kayaking on a competitive level for 15 years. In 2011, Antti was studying to become an electrical engineer, but his thoughts and energy were focused on his hobby instead of his studies. When his competitive career ended in 2016, Antti decided to go to school once more and become a physical therapist. The studies sparked a true passion – he had to learn even more.
After graduating as a physical therapist, Antti began his studies at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences in Jyväskylä. The studies engaged him fully, and Antti ultimately came away with master’s degrees in both health sciences and sport. He majored in physiotherapy and sport technology.
To secure his two master’s degrees, Antti wrote a thesis in competitive kayaking. This is when he got the idea to develop a smart seat for a racing kayak. Even though his career in competitive kayaking had ended years ago, the sport was permanently engrained in Antti’s heart and mind.
“I started thinking, what aspect of my sport would be important for its development and what hadn’t been studied yet. Kayaking is fairly marginal in Finland, which is why there are very few studies on it. I got to finding a variety of studies on the sport and pretty soon got the light-bulb moment. The idea was to develop a smart seat that would measure changes in centre of gravity during the performance. What happens on the seat is extremely important in terms of the actual racing performance,” Antti says in summary.
Now Antti had the idea, and the only thing he needed was a prototype. Practical realism also had its part in the birth of the prototype. Thanks to his DYI skills and studies in electrical engineering, Antti was able to manufacture the prototypes himself. He completed the first version of the prototype in less than six months from getting the original idea. Among other things, used sensors from personal scales to build the unit. Overall, the prototype cost Antti less than 150 euros. However, it was not possible to test the original prototype in practice. The components had to be replaced with ones of higher quality to ensure reliability and water resistance.
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Product Development Funding ensured the swift completion of a high-quality prototype
Currently, Antti is at the University of Jyväskylä completing a doctoral thesis on biomechanics. He also told others at the university of the smart seat prototype and his idea. Shortly thereafter, Antti found himself presenting the first version of the prototype to the Startup Factory’s Product Development Funding jury.
“I wanted to build a higher quality version of the prototype – one that you would be able to test in practice. People at the university pointed me towards the Startup Factory’s Product Development Funding and I decided to apply,” Antti says.
About a week from meeting the Product Development Funding jury, Antti was informed that his application for funding had been approved. It was now possible for Antti to make a prototype that he could test in practice.
Antti was very eager to push the project further, and the Startup Factory’s encouragement gave it a much-needed boost. Antti ended up building the prototype entirely from scratch. He added new features to the invention and used high-quality components. He was able to take the prototype to open water as early as June only a few months from meeting the jury.
“The entire process of applying for the Startup Factory’s Product Development Funding was very easy and smooth. Things moved along quickly, and the atmosphere was encouraging. The Product Development Funding gave me the courage to take the project to the next level, and the pace was astoundingly fast. Without the Startup Factory’s Product Development Funding, I don’t think I would have testable prototype at this point,” Antti explains.
“If you have an idea or vision, I highly recommend applying for the Startup Factory’s Product Development Funding. In addition to the funding itself, you will gain an amazing support team that encourages you to take strides forward even when your own confidence falters. The support and encouraging atmosphere were a far cry from something you see own Shark Tank,” Antti says with a laugh.