Weeefiner, born out of research at the University of Jyväskylä, sought the Incubator to gain a clearer focus on their business and enhance the business expertise of their research team.
"Our business expertise has developed significantly during our time in the Incubator. We have learned prioritization and focusing on the right things. In business, you cannot solely focus on research and product development; you also need to invest in sales and building the company's processes," says Mikko Hänninen, CEO of Weeefiner.
Before delving into Weeefiner's journey at the Incubator, let's first return to the company's roots at the University of Jyväskylä.
Weeefiner was born from the circular economy innovation at the University of Jyväskylä
In 2016-2017, the University of Jyväskylä developed a 4D sieving innovation, which is based on printing chemically active components. This innovation enables the recovery of dissolved materials from various streams, which can be related to water purification or the production of secondary raw materials, such as the recovery of precious metals or nutrients from water. To manage the intellectual property rights of this innovation, Weeefiner Oy was established.
Initially, the 4D sorbent was used for recovering metals from dissolved electronic waste, from which the company's original name derives (WEEE = Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). Later, this scalable technology was also applied for nutrient recovery.
"The technical nuances of our innovation culminate in obtaining solutions that are sufficiently clean and have a high concentration, allowing the reuse of raw materials without diluting others."
Weeefiner's 4D sorbent has several application areas, including the recovery of metals from dissolved electronic waste and the recovery of nutrients.
In practice, the technology can be applied to any element of the periodic system. The most common recovered materials are the most valuable precious metals, copper, and nickel. Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are collected for recycling as well.
"During the development phase, we realized that our technology had many application areas, which was also one of the reasons for our interest in joining the Incubator."
The Incubator supported the completion of the funding round
One significant aspect where the Incubator of Yritystehdas provided support was the execution of the funding round. The company's initial pitching to investors and financiers took place at the Financing Panel organized by The Startup Factory and The Venture Development Finland Ltd.
"At that time, we were asked what our company's spearhead was to progress. We responded that we would conduct several pilot processes and see which one would perform the best. We continued on that path for a long time, but eventually, we realized the need for better focus. Although different processes and applicable technologies have similarities among different application areas, each one requires its own often-lengthy development process," Hänninen adds.
"Our head coach Vesa Lehtinen supported us throughout the funding round. Vesa helped us shape the company's story and overall structure. We received assistance in determining valuation, building the pitch deck, and received tips on which venture capitalists to contact."
- Mikko Hänninen, Weeefiner
Embarking on a funding round requires extensive groundwork and careful preparation. Different financing options require financial eligibility and an understanding of one's own financial eligibility. Preparation also involves updating various documents and pre-answering common questions from investors. In the Incubator, coaches do not seek funding on behalf of the clients or participate in financing negotiations; the actions are in the hands of the clients themselves. The Startup Factory also recommends and guides its clients in utilizing the expertise of local financial professionals.
"Our head coach Vesa Lehtinen supported us throughout the funding round. Vesa helped us shape the company's story and overall structure. We received assistance in determining valuation, building the pitch deck, and received tips on which venture capitalists to contact," Hänninen elaborates.
Read our business coach Vesa's tips for finding investors.
Weeefiner has completed 50 customer projects during their time at the Incubator and has won awards such as the "Save the Baltic Sea" award.
During the funding round, the company reviewed the feedback and questions received from investors after each pitch and developed their pitch deck based on that. They also discussed the received offers, their terms, and whether it was worthwhile to accept them. Read our business coach's tips on due diligence.
"We received really valuable tips and advice from Vesa!" expresses Hänninen.
Hänninen admits that the process of seeking a venture capitalist was a lengthy process that took several months and shouldn't be underestimated. However, in the end, it was worth it.
"Securing venture capital from Midinvest enables the growth of our company and the continuation of product development. Developing an entirely new business based on research is capital-intensive: it requires time, money, and expertise to develop and commercialize the technology."
The biggest achievement during the Incubator was obtaining a venture capitalist's involvement
According to Hänninen, the greatest reward of the two-year Incubator program is the acquisition of a venture capitalist, which enables the company's ongoing development.
The work done by the company has not gone unnoticed. Weeefiner was awarded the "Save the Baltic Sea" award in spring 2022, which brought significant visibility to the company. In spring 2023, Weeefiner's entrepreneurs Mikko Hänninen and Elmeri Lahtinen were awarded as Young Researcher-Entrepreneurs.
The duo is grateful for both acknowledgments, which indicate that their years of hard work are appreciated. They plan to use the prize money from the Young Researcher-Entrepreneur award to support their well-being. The company's endeavors have required a lot.
The team also receives praise, as they have grown from one full-time employee to a team of twelve during their two-year journey.
"We have a great team that allows us, as CEO and CTO, to not be constantly on the move. Each team member's contribution is significant, and we want everyone to see the impact of their work on the company's development."
Weeefiner's Sanna Lindeman presenting Weeefiner's 4D sieving technology and its applications.
The Incubator program's Performance Program also sparked a focus on the well-being of the growing team.
"Our team member Saara has been interested in the aspect of personnel management, and under her leadership, we have developed matters related to employee well-being and performance. Saara has created a well-being calendar for us, which includes varying campaigns and major themes on different aspects of well-being."
"We want to be known as a company that invests in its employees, where genuinely satisfied and motivated people work. Through this, we aim to retain our employees and attract new ones to our team," explains Hänninen.
The incubator provided good conditions for growth
Weeefiner, which has recently received considerable media attention, aims for rapid growth and the goal is to achieve a seven-digit revenue this year.
"We are continuously growing in Finland and have acquired several large globally operating companies as customers, with whom we will initiate exports. We want to achieve strong but controlled growth and continue product development."
"We can easily recommend the Incubator! It provides significant help for those coming from the research field with lower business expertise. For more experienced entrepreneurs, there are specific themes to focus on. We have received a lot of expert coaching from the entire Startup Factory's coaching team."
- Mikko Hänninen, Weeefiner
During their time in the Incubator, Weeefiner's revenue developed steadily. They completed approximately 50 customer projects, and the first equipment deliveries were made in summer 2022. The results did not come by themselves; systematic work was done, with support from the incubator coaching. Vesa Lehtinen, Weeefiner's head coach in the Inubator, says that the same principles apply to startup coaching as they do to sports coaching: if the person being coached lacks sufficient goal orientation, commitment to success, or an open attitude towards coaching and the coach, the coaching will not lead to results.
"The coach never performs the task for the person being coached. Success is best achieved together, through hard work and committed dedication to shared activities to achieve the goals. Weeefiner's team has been an excellent example of how research can be turned into business and how researchers become business leaders! Congratulations to the company on the next steps of their development!" Lehtinen says.
Mikko Hänninen, CEO of Weeefiner, feels that Weeefiner received a good foundation for further growth even after their time at the Incubator.
"We can easily recommend the Incubator! It provides significant help for those coming from the research field with lower business expertise. For more experienced entrepreneurs, there are specific themes to focus on. We have received a lot of expert coaching from the entire Yritystehdas coaching team."