Inventor Oskari Heikkilä and his team have created FIND-X, an underwater drone that will enable everyone to explore the magic of the deep sea. They are now taking their Aalto Explorer project to the next level, presenting it in Berlin and launching a crowdfunding campaign to support it. But before we dive under the surface, let’s ask Oskari a few questions about his journey on the land as an entrepreneur and founder of no less than 15 startups!
How did it all start?
I am an inventor, I had been thinking about this project for several years. However, producing such a prototype is complicated and that is why the Design Factory was the right place for us.
We initially took part in the Product Development Project (PdP) course run by Aalto University. There, we gathered a team under the name of Findia and created a first prototype with a beautiful design. It was a success and Aalto Explorer was selected as the best project of the year during the final gala. After the course, we gained funding for the next phase and we are currently making the last adjustments on the third version of our product FIND-X that will be ready in a week or two.
How did you recruit your team?
Manuel Rosales, our project manager, recruited most of our technical experts, while other people joined the team on a voluntary basis. We have also offered paid internships whenever possible. Loi Tran, who was responsible for the project’s business concept during PdP, was interested in continuing working with us after the course and he founded his own startup out of the project.
Half of the current crew was already part of the Findia team. It is nice to see that they continue with the project without being paid at the moment. It doesn’t mean that they work for free. It means that they accept to take the risk to work hard now in order to be able to get a higher amount of funds and then be paid for their effort. On the 5th of September, we will launch our crowdfunding campaign with the aim of hiring all those who have been working on the project.
Is the design of your prototype an important element?
The design is very important. It is a strong part of our identity and it is also practical. In the beginning it didn’t really matter, we were just trying to make it work. But during the PdP course it became something nice – not just something that works – and through that we gained visibility. The fact that it looks good is one of the reasons that helped us move forward because it looks like a product you could go and buy in a store. Aalto University was proud of our prototype.
What is your strategy to get funding?
I have already founded 15 startups and I never know where to get the money… Every time it is different, it is really case by case, depending on the startup. You create a story and at the end you add the missing piece which is the money. Estimates and spreadsheets are only predictions, nothing more. And then you have to follow the numbers and it is not nice to work anymore. I have been there before and I don’t want to renew the experience…
I didn’t write any spreadsheet for Aalto Explorer, but over the past two years we have been able to raise about 100’000 Euros of investments. It is very hard to get money for that kind of project. For the first phase, it has to be an individual who likes your idea and who accepts to sponsor it. Bigger organisations have to comply with strict rules and that doesn’t work well with innovation.
You are targeting very diverse audiences, from lay people to researcher. How do plan your marketing strategy?
We reach out to our various target groups mainly through our social media channels. We try different things to have people engage in the conversation. We want to share our story to a larger audience so that together we can build something bigger, which brings good to the ocean. We wish national and international media to tell about our project.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Well, the advice is different depending on the area of activity. For instance, an app has an unlimited growth potential so it is somehow easier to raise money. As a general rule, it is always good to talk and connect with people in your field, even if they don’t have money. And then try to show your great vision to the one who has money.
There are always more investors than money. In this country, for instance, there are maybe 10 entities who actually have money, but there might be thousands of people who say they do. Those try to gather many startups that they present as a “package” to potential investors and that is often limiting imagination and creativity.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge is the money. Creation is not a problem, I am an inventor, I am a risk-taker and I fear nothing. There are only opportunities, even if sometimes, because of money, you have to limit your highest vision so that you can start your business.
What we have been building so far with the team and Aalto University is already an achievement. We strongly believe in our vision and that is why we are so committed to our work.
How do you preserve your creative freedom?
Our investor believes in us and thinks we can do something great. As a consequence, we have the freedom to do whatever we want. Usually, it depends on where your money comes from. You also have to make sure that you accept good money, not laundering money for instance.
Some investors want patents, but these are extremely expensive and if no money comes out of the project, it really becomes a problem. For us it is very difficult to patent something because the technology we use is similar to that of military drones, except that we go underwater, we don’t fly. We are the first ones with our project and we could indeed patent some of our technical features but we wouldn’t get much out of it, even if someone tried to copy them. For the time being, we focus on our project and we will see what happens next.
Anything that matters to you that you would like to add?
Startups are the most interesting thing. I have no words to describe it. The way you are moving forward is always unique when you create a startup. I would really like to see this project succeed because I think it can offer so much to the audience. It is something for the people, not just for a closed elite group. We want to create a community, a media out of Aalto Explorer, take people out of Facebook and bring them to a place where they can communicate with each other and make a better use of their intelligence.
Thank you Oskari Heikkilä for sharing your vision with us!
By Noemi Poget – August 27, 2019