Lifeline Ventures' Timo Ahopelto recently published a book in Finnish, titled Sand Hill Road, which captures the journey of an international entrepreneur. We got in touch with him with a few questions.
AS: What's the elevator pitch… or uhh back cover synopsis?
Ahopelto: The story is 70% true. In 2000, straight out of school, I founded CRF Health with two of my friends. It was quite a story: three guys want to become the best in the world in electronic data capture in clinical trials, willing to risk and sacrifice everything for that goal. It is an action story with great depth in how we all should understand that no-one -- even the strongest entrepreneur -- cannot survive without other people's love, caring and help. It tells company's story from founding to Silicon Valley. Today, CRF Health is doing great: it is #1 in its industry, making some €60 million in revenues, and very healthy 15% profits on that revenue, with 20-30% annual growth.
How Are Finnish Startups Raising Large Rounds? By Designing Their Startups For The Largest Possible Opportunity
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Timo Ahopelto, a serial entrepreneur and Founding Partner at Lifeline Ventures, where he is currently a board member, investor and contributor in ZenRobotics, Oncos Therapeutics, Valkee, Enevo and Arctic Diagnostics, among others.
Finnish startups have recently raised significant funding rounds in relatively early stages. These include Supercell's $12 million by Accel Partners and the most recent €13 million grabbed by ZenRobotics from Invus. What is the secret sauce?
Well, I don’t think there are any secrets. There are just talented entrepreneurs going after large opportunities with credible plans.
What we are seeing at Lifeline Ventures is an increasing number of Finnish teams who, from the very beginning, design their startup for the largest possible opportunity. This starts from finding a large, actionable and disruptive opportunity, building a company that can execute on it, continuously asking how it can be bigger, and not giving up on the large plan.
Valkee, the bright light headset used to treat mood disorders, has announced it has gained good traction this winter with Seasonal Affectedness Disorder (SAD) sufferers. Just in Finland alone Valkee has gotten into the hands of 10,000 people, which the company conservatively estimates at 1/3 of all the bright light market in Finland. Timo Ahopelto of Lifeline Ventures, a Vigo Accelerator, tells us, "Our year has been really phenomenal, and people have adopted Valkee. In our view, this is based on good user experience: most of Valkee users realize very strong benefit to their wellbeing during the winter months"
Editor's note: This is a guest post by Timo Ahopelto. He is an entrepreneur and founding partner at Lifeline Ventures.
Health is the only industry not transformed by Web. Health is 10% of our GDP. It is more important to us personally than we realize. It is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs to apply what already works in social web, mobile and consumer electronics.
According to Kauppalehti (in Finnish), the Finland based ZenRobotics has announced that it has signed Jorma Eloranta as their new Board Chairman. Jorma Eloranta is the former CEO of Metso. ZenRobotics specialises in creating robots to better sort recyclable material for waste management companies. While the solution may sound traditional, it is all but that. The company has created a very sophisticated approach to the problem with machine vision and other sensors.
After a competitive bidding process Timo Ahopelto, Jarkko Joki-Tokola and Jaakko Ollila, the original CRF Health founding trio, have acquired all of 3i shares in the company for € 6 million. After the acquisition together they constitute the single largest equity holder of the Company. Other owners includes Nordic Venture Partners and SMAC Partners. CRF Health is the maker of electronic Patient Reported Outcomes (ePRO) solutions for the global clinical trials industry
In 2009 3i informed its portfolio companies that it wants to sell all of its venture assets from its portfolio as part of moving away from venture capital where it stumbled as many VCs have with the technology market crash. Clearly, this means that the three founders got to buy the company back with an attractive valuation as 3i categorically wanted to get rid of their venture investments regardless of whether they were successful of not. CRF Health was in the former group - It's globally number one in its industry regardless of whether you measure it by revenue (Expected close to € 25 million IN 2010) or by net profit (10-15% of revenue).
Founding a company does not equal to selling your soul to the devil. It is the best way to move your science forward.
This is what I try to convince the most brilliant scientists to believe in.
The best researchers became researchers as they love to make new science and are really good at it. Business is seen as a distraction to science, something to stay out of. It is evil -- either a prime one or a necessary one. Of course I am exaggerating, but at the same time I am sure that many scientists find themselves thinking along these lines - at least for a moment sometimes.
"Harvard spinoff promises genome sequencing for $30"
This was the headline from FierceBiotech Research, a biotech journal. It's also a game changing development for the industry as a whole and part of a bigger trend of personalized cancer medicine. The first time scientists sequenced a human genome it cost $ 3 billion. Then it went to $ 6 million (2006), then $ 60,000 (2008), in June 2009 Illumina pushed it to $ 20,000, Nov 6 2009 Complete Genomics promised $ 4,400. The prediction for the coming year? $ 1,000 in 2-3 years and further down to $ 100 in 5-10 years.
Apple will be the talk of the town in mobile advertising this year. Last week at Apple’s OS 4 event, Jobs presented what advertising industry has been asking from mobile: iAd - the engagement media with scale and quality.
For brands, mobile advertising has had a big promise but no breakthrough: digital media and technology companies trying to fit the traditional online advertising model - mainly display and search - into mobile have not taken off. Mobile media is different to online: being based on communications and quick tasks one performs, not browsing, mobile requires different user experience. Running banners on mobile is like running radio ads on tv.
Timo Ahopelto, Blyk's Head of Strategy and Business Development and a co-founder and the founding CEO at CRF Health is leaving Blyk to join co-founders of a new Finnish startup accelerator, Lifeline Ventures. Lifeline Ventures is also part of the Vigo initiative (see our previous story on Lifeline Ventures here).
Ahopelto said that he has enjoyed his time at Blyk, being part of the very first team, but that he had been thinking about setting up a startup accelerator already for a while, and when the team heard about Vigo they didn't wait. Blyk moving to its mobile operator partnering model, Ahopelto assures that Blyk is growing fast and the future for the company as youth media looks promising, even though some have their doubts. As an example of the new evolved strategy is Blyk's first deal with Vodafone in the Netherlands, where Vodafone will provide Blyk-branded consumer services to young people under Blyk user experience and ad formats.