The solutions agency Seedi founded Woodly in 2011 to prevent food waste in an ecological way.
At Seedi we constantly hunt for great problems. And from time to time, we even try to solve them. Generally people tend to jump straight into ideas without diving deep enough into problems. Is a particular problem worth solving in the first place?
One problem we examined in 2011 popped up when I was part of the Finnish national food strategy committee. Food waste is a growing problem that can be partly tackled by increasing the amount of food packaging, but on the other hand the use of oil and oil-derived products, such as plastics, has to be reduced to save the environment. What an enormous problem, and one that is getting worse every day!
My colleagues Tanja Haapamäki, Kalle Tanhuanpää and I examined various markets and noticed that consumers do not understand the prices of packaging materials, and at the same time are willing to pay more for ecological solutions. Things started really rolling when we met Esa Tornianen (now a founder of Paptic), who was working for the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT). Esa thinks it is possible to develop almost anything from wood, and we were lucky enough to believe him.
We registered the company’s business branch as “saving the planet by developing bioplastics”. The company name, Welmu International Oy, was a childish play on words, combining the Finnish word velmu, which means joker, with “elmu”, which is the name of the leading Finnish brand of cling film. This signalled the first product line we were aiming for.
We hired an excellent research team, with Esa running the team from VTT. Esa also got permission from VTT to join as a part-time partner. We did not have this FFF (Family, Friends, Fools) funding, but rather FF funding us being the fool and some friends joining in (Tuire Huhta, Rami Saarela and others). Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) also supported the project with a loan.
The first development round, in 2014, was encouraging. We got a cling film out from the process on a laboratory scale. Hurray!
But we were soon brought down to earth with a bump. The cling effect was lost from the material with a few weeks of production, and we had problems with Tekes because we did not use professional help to report our Tekes loan. So the company was in a situation where we had to partly repay the loan once granted in advance, but we had only a really vague product to show in order to secure future financing. All in all, a perfect moment to switch the lights off permanently!
But “the great problem” was still there. And it was rapidly getting worse. At the same time, the research team was convinced that the problems with our product could be solved. In researcher’s lingo, this strong belief in our changes to the product goes more or less as follows: “There are minimal good signs but we cannot promise anything, and there might be new problems that we do not even foresee”. So we put more of our own money in (making us in Seedi the fool again).
But we got lucky. Rainmaker CEO Jaakko Kaminen joined us at this critical moment. Jaakko’s everlasting positiveness and strong work ethic pushed us to a whole new level.
Jaakko even had the idea that in our operating team there should be somebody with deep substantive understanding of the product, e.g. of polymer technology and production. But where would we find such a genius? Once again, the saying “Finland is a country club, not a country” was proven right when Martta Asikainen was found. She is a neighbour of Woodly partner Markus Heinonen.
The topic of this section was why and how we started Woodly. The tale from there on, from the point where Martta joined us, to the fascinating situation now (in October 2018), where we have a wood-based material portfolio for food packaging under the brand name Woodly, is for Jaakko, Martta and others to tell at some point in the future.
Chairman of the board
Welmu International Ltd