On September 23rd, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, the Silicon Vikings partnered with the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra to gather a group of expert panelists and ten Finnish startups. The panelists included: Dr. David Lindeman, Director of Health Care for CITRIS; Bill Reichert, Managing Director at Garage Technology Ventures; and Kyle Kling, Vice President of Business Development at Fenox Venture Capital. Each Finnish startup delivered their pitch to the panel and then received feedback and questions about their product and business model.
Before the Finnish startups presented their pitches to the panel and audience, Sami Inkinen gave a keynote presentation, entitled "My Journey into Digital Health." Inkinen described himself as a lifelong “techy” and a dedicated athlete who constantly monitored his own vitals. Inkinen had his “wake up moment” while taking a blood sample from his finger, which he would do dozens of times a day, and discovered his blood glucose levels were pre-diabetic. Because of his immaculate diet and highly active lifestyle, he was understandably shocked. Inkinen realized that issues such as diabetes and obesity were not necessarily due to one’s poor diet or sedentary lifestyle, but were instead an exposure problem. “As I spoke to doctor’s and scientists I realized that the last 30 years of nutritional advice has been mostly total garbage,” lamented Inkinen. Since the public has been constantly told to avoid fatty foods and cholesterol, the fat in most packaged foods, even foods touted as “healthy,” have been replaced with large amounts of processed carbohydrates and sugar.
To show the benefits of avoiding sugar and complex carbohydrates, he and his wife rowed from California to Hawaii on a 45-day journey, fueled by only whole foods without any processed sugar or carbohydrates. Inkinen rowed to Hawaii as a way to show the public the benefits of a whole food diet; he wanted to change people’s lifestyles for the better. Then, in an unexpected segue, Inkinen said “The most powerful tool to affect change is through a for-profit company,” because a successful for-profit company can affect millions of people in a matter of years. Inkinen invests in several companies that attempt to create healthier lifestyles for their users, including Strava and Beddit. Strava tracks all of a user’s runs and bicycle rides; a user can set personal records and break those set by their friends. Beddit, one of the event’s Finnish startups, monitors the user’s sleep patterns to achieve the most restful sleep possible. Inkinen’s powerful presentation on a for-profit company’s ability to affect progressive change, established a positive tone as the Finnish digital health startups began to deliver their pitches.
One of the first pitches came from Emotion Tracker, a mobile app which tracks and records the user’s emotions, allowing them to see possible patterns and triggers that cause undesired emotions. The panelist’s first critique came from a lack of specificity and clarity in the pitch; the presentation only gave an overview of the product and remained fairly vague. This shows the importance of creating a descriptive pitch that leaves no room for confusion, a difficult task in a concise pitch. Emotion Tracker can also show the user the cause of positive emotions. For example, one user found that he consistently felt better while talking on his phone to friends; this shows the importance of socializing for the user. Despite Emotion Tracker’s early success as a startup, their pitch never fully explained how the device works, even after follow-up questions from the panel, demonstrating that even a highly marketable product will not attract investors without a persuasive and informative pitch.
Later, Relaxbirth described how their product addresses many of the issues associated with childbirth, by using a birthing device that puts the mother in a vertical position with more maneuverability. This startup strives to make birthing a smoother and more comfortable process and to give women another option for their birthing plan. Specialized training sessions are included with the product to familiarize mothers with this unique birthing method. The panel pointed out that this product is “as much as a philosophy as a technology,” which may make it more difficult to market. The presenter for Relaxbirth also noted that their device has gained more popularity in California than in Finland, which shows how geography and culture can make or break a product and that every pitch should reflect the local audience.
A variety of other startup companies presented over the course of the evening, such as RemoteA, a telemedicine system eliminates the barriers dividing primary and specialist care, and Cuckoo Workout, a web-based service that combines playing, fun and well-being.
Following the presentations, attendees had further networking opportunities with the many startup founders and panelists, all while enjoying a variety of beer, wine and, appetizers.