Media release 11 May 2017


Innovation utilising recycled material in water purification wins first prize in Joensuu Science Park´s Start Me Up Business idea competition

The winner of the first prize in the 16th Start Me Up business idea competition organised by the Joensuu Science Park, EUR 15,000 and facilities at the Science Park for one year, is Apila Group Ltd from Joensuu and Lappeenranta with their idea relating to water purification.

The second-largest prize, EUR 5,000 in the World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, went to “Marketing bank´ by Suvi Sorsa from Brändpa Oy, an idea facilitating the production and procurement of the marketing materials for SMEs with a cost-effective tool.

The third-largest sum, the Student prize worth EUR 3,000, was awarded to Jesse Korhonen and Timo Ilo for their innovation in aeroponic plant growing.  

Winners of the Start Me Up business idea competition in 2017:

First prize EUR 15,000:
“Circular economy breakthrough product from waste´ – Apila Group, Mervi Matilainen

World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 1st prize EUR 5,000:
“Marketing bank´ – Suvi Sorsa/Brändpa Oy

World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 2nd prize EUR 3,000:
“Wide-scale analytical tool for biosciences and R&D´ – Kati Hanhineva

World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 3rd prize EUR 2,000:
“VirtualAutoEdu – Virtual learning environment for studying the automotive industry´ – Teemu Tiainen

Student prize EUR 3,000:
“Aeroponic growing´ – Jesse Korhonen/Timo Ilo

Business Idea from Pielinen Karelia prize EUR 2,500:
“Bogie structure´ – Juha Tiainen

Business Idea from Central Karelia prize EUR 2,500:
“Housing for refugees from sea containers´ – Erkki Nenonen

Business Idea Originating in Research prize EUR 2,000:
“360-degree omnidirectional camera´ – Janne Laukkanen

Forest Bioeconomy Business Idea prize EUR 1,500
“Road dust binding agent´ – Kimmo Räsänen/Mfibrils Oy

Technology and Materials prize EUR 1,500:
“Fermented Super Quinoa Foods´ – Carme Plumed-Ferrer

Euros from Creativity prize EUR 1,500:
“3D selfie´ – Toivo Ylinampa

Brainstorm Idea prize EUR 750:
“Video game: Kalsarikännit – The Masters of the TV-World´ – Kim Orden/Firetail Games Ltd

Some Awards prize EUR 1,000
“Video game: Kalsarikännit – The Masters of the TV-World´ – Kim Orden/Firetail Games Ltd

A prize draw, EUR 500 – Will be raffled among all competition participants on 11 May

Presentation tour was reflected in the student category

A magnificent number of ideas, 183 in total, were once again submitted in several different categories during the competition period 1 February to 31 March 2017.

- The panel of judges wanted to interview the instigators of 16 ideas, the level of which was very high. Choosing the winners was a tough job, says Kari Pulkkinen, Development Manager of the Joensuu Science Park. 
The number of ideas originating in research, in particular, was delightfully high this year. The presentation tour in educational institutions attracted more than 1,000 students, which was clearly reflected in the student category.

- The cooperation with educational institutions went swimmingly, Pulkkinen says happily.
Although the purpose of the Start Me Up business idea competition is to find new ideas first and foremost for the business life in North Karelia, it has become a truly nationwide competition over the years.    

- Ideas came in from all over Finland this year too. Good prizes motivate people to participate, Pulkkinen believes.

More topical than ever

A large proportion of current occupations will disappear in the future. The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy Etla has estimated that the development of information technology threatens to wipe out more than one in three jobs in Finland over the next 20 years – or possibly even faster. According to a study conducted at the University of Oxford, up to 50% of jobs worldwide will disappear in a few decades.

New business stemming from creativity and open-minded ideas is needed to fill the resulting vacuum. The rate of change is constantly accelerating, which also means that the Start Me Up business idea competition was more topical now than perhaps ever before.

Prize pool of EUR 42,000

There were more than a dozen winning ideas in several different categories, and the monetary value of the prizes totalled EUR 42,000.   

The assessment criteria included the feasibility, innovativeness, business growth potential and international potential of the idea. The competition was open to any individual or company with as many ideas as they wanted. The only condition was that any business activity generated by the idea must be implementable in North Karelia.

The prizes of the Start Me Up business idea competition will be awarded to the winners in a ceremony organised on Thursday 11 May at 13:00–16:00 in the Temple of Challenge conference room of the netWork Oasis facility (building 3A, 4th floor). The programme for the event includes the Pitch Me Up sales pitch competition followed by the prizing-giving ceremony of the business idea competition at about 15:30.

For additional information, please contact:

Joensuu Science Park Ltd

Kari Pulkkinen, tel. +358 50 406 8716,
Timo Ruohio, tel. +358 50 597 4330,
Ilpo Pohjola, tel. +358 400 182 700,

Presentations and contact details of the winners

First prize EUR 15,000, facilities at the Joensuu Science Park for one year and EUR 1,500 worth of legal services from Asianajotoimisto Surakka Oy Attorneys at Law:

Apila Group Ltd – Circular economy breakthrough product from waste

A huge market awaits

In the system developed by Apila Group Ltd from Joensuu and Lappeenranta, water is purified using recycled materials – in practice, with waste. 

- This is the culmination of everything that we have done so far.

That is how important Mervi Matilainen, the CEO of Apila Group Ltd, thinks that winning the Start Me Up business idea competition of the Joensuu Science Park is. Apila Group won the competition with an innovation in which a product that purifies harmful metals from water was developed by applying a surface treatment to waste material.

- In a fun way, one might think that waste is being used to purify drinking water, Matilainen says.

To put it simply, in Apila Group´s innovation, waste water is run into a tank containing material to which the metals adhere, and the water is purified. Circular economy materials are used in the purification, and the manufacturing process is emission-free.    

The innovation of Apila Group, a company established in 2006, replaces activated carbon and ion-exchange resin on the market. The advantages of activated carbon, which is familiar from aquariums and exhaust hoods, include its cheap price and easy availability. However, carbon monoxide emissions are generated in the production of activated carbon; ion-exchange resin, on the other hand, is efficient but really expensive. The material developed by Apila Group is emission-free, relatively inexpensive and reusable. But effective!

- Under optimal conditions, we have managed to remove 90% of water impurities. When we tested our own product in parallel with activated carbon, however, the performance of activated carbon remained at 35% while we reached 70%, says Matilainen who has a PhD in chemistry.

With the award-winning innovation, Apila Group, a company previously known as an expert in circular economy, takes a big step from consulting towards concrete services. Matilainen and the company´s environmental expert Pirjo Rinnepelto say that it is also beginning to be the right time for these types of services. This was not necessarily the case a few years back.

- The economic aspects of circular economy, i.e. greenness and sustainability, have now started to be recognised as business factors. When this idea started in 2008, we were still caught in end-of-pipe technology, Rinnepelto says.

Apila Group plans to use the first prize of EUR 15,000 for, among other things, finished product development and market research. Matilainen and Rinnepelto believe that the prize money will also help them find other sponsors. There is potential for sure:

The company´s goals are on the international market. The limits on emissions are becoming more stringent, and the market for activated carbon is soaring from the current EUR 2.9 billion to EUR 5.1 billion by 2021. The slot we would need is not all that big, Matilainen comments.

In addition to the prize money, the winner will be provided with facilities at the Joensuu Science Park for one year. That is convenient for Apila Group because the company already has an office in the Science Park. In addition to Joensuu, the four-person company operates in Lappeenranta.


For additional information, please contact:

Mervi Matilainen – +358 45 111 3606,

Pirjo Rinnepelto – +358 40 149 4251,


World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 1st prize EUR 5,000:
Suvi Sorsa/Brändpa Oy – Marketing bank

End to agonising over ads

Marketing bank brings high-quality marketing materials within the reach of even the smallest of companies.

Brändpa Oy entrepreneur Suvi Sorsa wondered how she could ease the pain of her small business colleagues in procuring professionally crafted marketing materials; they are needed all the time, but they are expensive to outsource and, if you produce them yourself, require skills that few possess – which is often reflected in the end result.

That led to the idea of the marketing bank, an application that provides companies with such good tools that anyone can make ads. 

- The idea arose from practical needs. There is no service for small companies that would provide materials and design at an affordable price. In this model, the customer does some of the work, freeing up the resources of the designer, Suvi Sorsa says.

A company can save its own “components´ in the marketing bank; these can then be used in the application to customise materials to suit any need, from textiles to newspaper advertisements.

- As far as is known, this the only web application in the world that can be used to create ads. This will completely transform marketing, Sorsa believes.  

A very small monthly fee is required to access the marketing bank, and a free version is also available. You can save as much of your own material in the bank as you want, but even one purchased ad template created by a graphic designer goes a long way, Sorsa assures.

The same template can be reused again and again because the text and images can always be edited separately, depending on the purpose. For example, an online shop can add its entire range of products to suitable templates which can then be edited in the application to suit advertising purposes. 

The marketing bank provides a tool and practical support, while finishing is done by the company itself.

- This is not image-editing software; the application has been made very easy to use and operation is highly controlled.

The coding of the application was done by Kooders from Joensuu, and it is now complete. During May, test use of the marketing bank will start and, according to plans, the app will be available to everyone in early summer.

The entrepreneur from Uimaharju does not have to think about where to spend the prize of EUR 5,000.

- The prize money will go to company development and marketing Suvi Sorsa says.

For additional information, please contact:

Suvi Sorsa – +358 50 331 5958,


Student prize EUR 3,000:
Jesse Korhonen and Timo Ilo – Aeroponic plant growing

Idea hanging in the air 

Students from Joensuu intend to bring a plant growing method developed by NASA for space travel to the surface of the Earth.

Plant roots hanging in the air? What on Earth? It is not a miracle, but aeroponic plant growing. In the method developed by theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United StatesNASA decades ago, the roots of plants really hang in the air, which ensures that the amount of nutrients, water and oxygen available to the roots can be fully controlled. In other words, this makes it possible to create the perfect conditions for growth.

NASA was thinking of space, but the thoughts of two students from Joensuu, Timo Ilo and Jesse Korhonen, are firmly on the ground. Ilo and Korhonen became acquainted with aeroponic plant growing in the NASA Epic Challenge 2015–2016 training programme – and immediately realised its superiority, especially in difficult conditions.

- We did not invent the method, but we found that there were no commercialised applications of it. We thought that, if it works on Mars, it will work even better on Earth, Ilo says.

The aeroponic system can significantly increase greenhouse production and, in addition, it utilises a fraction of the amount of water that conventional growing requires and allows crop growing even in dry areas. The method is also less susceptible to plant diseases. However, aeroponic plant growing requires precision. For example, the water containing nutrients must be sprayed on the roots as a very fine mist so that the nutrients are absorbed optimally.

Ilo, who studies at the University of Eastern Finland, and Korhonen, who goes to Karelia University of Applied Sciences, decided to start developing the system for wide-scale greenhouse use. Last autumn, they won the national Karhunpesä business idea competition and were able to attend Slush so as to meet professionals of the greenhouse and agricultural industries. The first prototype is now ready, and the goal for the autumn is to get a proper greenhouse to build the pilot system in. That may also mean starting their own company.

Winning the EUR 3,000 Student prize in the Start Me Up business idea competition contributed to their having more faith in their own work.

- Many people have been excited, but there have also been many doubters. Now there is proof that someone else also believes in this idea, Ilo says.

Along with product development, the search for funding and partners is currently underway. The first partners have already been found, and cooperation has started with, for example, the Finnish Seed Potato Centre and the Viherkaste greenhouse in Liperi. As regards the pilot greenhouse, they are looking at Botania.

- The long-term visions are much more than a successful business.

The goal is definitely that this would benefit the world in some way, Timo Ilo says.

For additional information, please contact:

Jesse Korhonen – +358 400 522 741,

Timo Ilo – +358 41 435 0962,



Business Idea Originating in Research prize EUR 2,000:
Janne Laukkanen, Ville Kontturi, Toni Saastamoinen – 360-degree omnidirectional camera

Lenses with an added kick

Photonics expertise from Joensuu produces yet another innovation.

Janne Laukkanen, a laboratory engineer at the Department of Physics and Mathematics of the University of Eastern Finland, had been thinking for a several years with his colleague that companies manufacturing and utilising optics have several problems: firstly, the lens systems were often too big and heavy for many future needs, such as portable devices, unmanned aerial vehicles and nano-satellites. Likewise, the traditional optics offered by lens manufacturers was often insufficient in performance, or too high in price.

In the hybrid lens innovation developed by Laukkanen, the size and weight of the optic system can be reduced, which expands the possible uses of the optics, especially in applications where weight must be minimised. At the same time, the quality of the optics can be improved.  

Funding was applied for the project from Tekes last autumn, and it was granted. The project was officially launched at the turn of the year, and Laukkanen now uses half of his working time for lens development.  

- We are now in the process of designing an optical component, Laukkanen says.

The plan is to manufacture the components in Joensuu using 3D printing.

- It is a unique opportunity for us and can be a clear competitive advantage.

The EUR 2,000 Business Idea Originating in Research prize of the Start Me Up business idea competition was more or less a surprise for Laukkanen.

- This was a stunner, for sure. I had no clue what kinds of ideas others have, Laukkanen admits.

- The win came as a nice bonus since the project still has more than a year´s worth of time to be developed. Now it has been proven that others also believe in this idea.

Alongside development work, Laukkanen´s team also look at what kinds of solutions others have to offer – and then try to do things better. Janne Laukkanen admits that getting their own product on the market still requires a lot of work.

- The aim is to complete a working prototype within the next six months, and after that it will take at least a year before the first product to be sold or licensed is ready. 

The price level of the consumer market is so challenging that the first applications are likely to be industry-oriented.

- It could, for example, be a surveillance application or a device designed for 360 filming that is capable of performance that is not possible with current equipment, Janne Laukkanen says.

For additional information, please contact:

Janne Laukkanen – +358 50 447 3477,



Forest Bioeconomy Business Idea prize EUR 1,500:
Kimmo Räsänen/Mfibrils Oy – Road dust binding agent

Doing away with dust using fibre suspension

Wood fibre suspension that has previously been waste is now a valuable binding agent suited to many different purposes. 

Sometimes converting an idea into a product takes decades – as in the case of Kimmo Räsänen. The idea of using fibre suspension as a dust binding agent that originated in basic research decades ago, however, is now rapidly turning into a business.

What lies behind this are changes in legislation. According to the current Waste Tax Act, fibre suspension is also subject to waste tax and, on the other hand, the waste status does not limit its use as a compound. We are not talking about small quantities here either: approximately 750,000 tonnes of wood fibre suspension is produced annually as a by-product of the pulp and paper industry in Finland, and in the past it was either burned or taken to a landfill.

Simultaneously, fibre suspension has become a valuable by-product as a raw material for various uses. Potential applications include using the fibre suspension as bonding material in energy and dryer pellets, as a dust binding agent in road building and as a soil conditioner in potato cultivation.

This is the niche of Räsänen´s Mfibrils Oy that manufactures dust-binding recycled products from waste.

- This removes dust and logically, therefore, also health problems, Räsänen says.

According to Räsänen, fibre suspension helps with everything where the problem is dust: ash, building waste, rubble and so on. There has been plenty of interest shown, and product development is progressing at a rapid pace.

In addition to binding dust, fibre suspension also acts as bonding material in fuel and dryer pellets, for example. This can lead to energy savings of up to 10–15% in drying woodchips. The mechanical durability of the pellet is also improved, shortening the storage period.

- The ideas exist, but the business model is still open. We have set out thinking that a technical breakthrough is needed first, and increasing turnover is not our number one priority. However, we already know that there is a need and that the thing works, Kimmo Räsänen says.

The next step is to develop suitable dosages and mixture ratios for binding dust in different types of applications. The experiments conducted have been promising, and an environmental permit is being applied for the use of the product in dust binding.


For additional information, please contact:

Kimmo Räsänen – +358 40 670 3494,


Technology and Materials prize EUR 1,500:
Carme Plumed-Ferrer – Superfood from quinoa

Looking for a slice of the world´s snack market

The superfood idea of Carme Plumed-Ferrer, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, walks in the footsteps of the Incas.

Timing is often everything with an idea. As is the case with the superfood innovation of Carme Plumed-Ferrer, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, which combines the excellent nutritional values of the quinoa plant and a fermentation process. The end result is organic nourishment that can, for example, replace bread or meat and dairy products, respectively, in one´s diet.

- I have known for a long time that the idea is good. It was difficult to get people interested in the past, but the timing is now perfect thanks to the superfood trend, Plumed-Ferrer says.

Quinoa is a carbohydrate-rich plant, but it also contains more protein than rice or other grains. It is also very rich in fibre and contains all the essential amino acids required for human nutrition in the correct proportions – as well as phosphorus, iron and magnesium. In Finland, quinoa is mainly familiar to those with celiac disease because it is gluten-free. It is not a new find, since the Incas cultivated quinoa in the Andes as early as 5,000 years ago.

Originally from Spain, Carme Plumed-Ferrer has lived in Joensuu for 15 years and has worked on food product development for the past five years. From a technology perspective, the new product is a combination of old and new, and there are a number of factors affecting the end result. There is demand for superfoods, but the industry has been agonising over manufacturing methods.

As a researcher, Carme Plumed-Ferrer´s goal has always been to achieve something concrete, and now it looks promising.

- I want to step outside the university. Research for articles only is not enough for me, Plumed-Ferrer admits.

There are plenty of opportunities: the market for on-the-go snacks will grow from USD 374 billion in 2014 to USD 630 billion by 2020, and more and more people want their snack to be both nutritious and healthy. In Finland alone, we are talking about a business worth more than EUR 150 million.

Before Plumed-Ferrer and her partners get their slice of the superfood cake, there is a lot of work to be done in the commercialisation of the product, for example. Tekes support has been applied for and establishing a start-up company is on the horizon.

- There are many prototypes and my goal is to develop more products. That is the first step, and only then is it time for commercialisation – and that is new for me, Plumed-Ferrer says.

For additional information, please contact:

Carme Plumed-Ferrer – +358 45 672 3159,



World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 2nd prize EUR 3,000: 
Kati Hanhineva – Wide-scale analytical tool for biosciences and R&D

This is a method that measures up to several hundred compounds with a single analysis, thus quickly providing a much broader view in comparison to conventional methods. The method developed is already being used by, for example, food and nutrition science research groups. The method utilises bioinformatics and data analysis in a versatile way.

World of Digitalisation category sponsored by Arcusys, 3rd prize EUR 2,000:
Teemu Tiainen – VirtualAutoEdu – Virtual learning environment for studying the automotive industry

This is a learning environment based on augmented reality that will revolutionise training in the automotive industry.

Business Idea from Pielinen Karelia prize EUR 2,500:
Juha Tiainen – Bogie structure

This is an invention that combines features from hydraulics and geometry to create a multi-purpose bogie structure that can be used to significantly improve the unloading and pulling properties of a trailer.

Business Idea from Central Karelia prize EUR 2,500:
Erkki Nenonen – Housing for refugees from sea containers

This is a topical idea that enables the building of, for example, affordable housing for refugees. 

Euros from Creativity prize EUR 1,500:
Toivo Ylinampa – 3D selfie

This is an idea that makes it possible to utilise 3D scanning in a new way. The idea can be applied, for example, in the field of health care.

Brainstorm Idea prize EUR 750:
Kim Orden/Firetail Games Ltd – Video game: Kalsarikännit – The Masters of the TV-World

This is a game idea that capitalises on perhaps currently the most famous Finnish concept in the world in a clever way.