ExtraVerd is a Turku-based environmental consulting company, specialising in CleanTech and Food Tech. Consisting of three founder members; Dr. Nitin Agrawal, Ksenia Zueva, and A. Mahdy Abdelaziz (all three pictured from left to right), and a recently-joined member Eslam al-Gamal the company has previously worked with high-profile clients including Valio and the Embassy of India.
The team originally got together to participate in a hackathon challenge set by Valio in the spring of 2018, focusing on how to mitigate methane emissions. When this was a success, it became apparent that there was potential to take things a step further.
We didn’t win that hackathon – we were in the top three, though! Valio liked our solution and wanted to communicate with us as an official entity. So we became a company! We also thought that we wanted to do more than just the one hackathon and to work with different companies to solve their environment-related problems, Ksenia explains.
Currently, ExtraVerd’s main focus is the in-house development of an app to reduce food waste by notifying users about discounted products approaching their sell-by date on supermarket shelves. However, they also undertake smaller projects to keep the team sharp. This approach led to the top prize in the recent ‘Feed the Future’ hackathon organised by the Food Techies Finland.
Typically we have one major project to work on and then a few side ones to keep the ball rolling – that’s how we maintain our sanity with a small team, Nitin laughs.
The Value of Sustainability
The ongoing climate emergency means that the need for sustainable solutions is more pressing than ever. Fortunately, here in Southwest Finland, a long history of natural sciences research has resulted in both expertise and motivation towards bioeconomy, cleantech, and circular economy.
Turku in particular is serious about sustainability, with a bold climate plan and an ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2029. This top-level leadership makes the city a fertile region for new green ideas and innovations. It also makes companies here receptive and open to sustainable solutions.
Companies in Finland are definitely more aware of sustainability than a lot of Indian companies, even many companies in Central Europe, and I think it’s due to the Nordic relationship with nature. This makes it easier for us to connect with companies – we don’t have to spend time to make people understand why this is important, we can move straight to asking what we can do to improve things, Nitin says.
As if saving the planet wasn’t motivation enough, ExtraVerd also helps businesses to embrace the economic potential cleantech and other sustainable solutions can provide.
It’s not only important from the environmental point of view, but it’s also the understanding that doing things in a sustainable way is also financially beneficial for the company. You spend less at the end of the day if you operate in a greener way, Ksenia says.
Providing the Spark for Your Startup
Whilst it can be difficult for any startup to get the ball rolling, ExtraVerd was able to benefit from the support and expertise offered right here in Turku Science Park Ltd. The BusinessUp Accelerator at the Startup Community SparkUp is a 10-week programme providing new teams with mentorship, peer support, and the confidence to pitch their business concept to clients.
SparkUp really helped walking us through the whole business process – what to do and how to do it. Business Service Centre Potkuri was also a great help when establishing the company. We had really great support logistically, with access to infrastructure and experts – being based at Spark Up, we could just knock on doors and talk to them, Nitin recalls.
After these positive experiences, ExtraVerd would recommend the business accelerator programme to other international talents who might be unsure where to get started with their company:
The best advice is to connect the local network as soon as possible. We had great help from the business hub and Turku Business Region, so there is no need to be alone when this community is available, Ksenia points out.
Although the accelerator programmes at Turku Science Park Ltd. are offered in English, naturally there remain challenges with the language barrier for international talents working in Finland. This is something that Nitin would like to see improved in Turku:
We don’t speak much Finnish. This hasn’t been a problem with the startup community, but in our experience, when we talked to established businesses they usually preferred someone who spoke Finnish. It’s a shame that people miss each other because they do not speak the same language. I would like to see Turku actively recruit more internationals and reduce the dependence on the Finnish language for business, as we don’t want to risk missing out on great talents just because they don’t speak Finnish.
Thankfully, things are heading in a better direction. Turku-area companies are becoming more willing and able to not only use English occasionally but to wholly adopt it as part of their operational model. As an example, some software companies in Turku operate almost exclusively in English to better facilitate the integration and wellbeing of their international talents.
After a COVID-19-disrupted 2020, the next step for ExtraVerd is to expand their team and bring their product to market. As Mahdy explains, this is something they have been looking forward to for a long time.
The three of us have been part of the company from the start, but we have recently added a fourth member: Eslam al-Gamal, who is the Software Engineering Lead. We are going to be applying for further investment to hire new people to work with us full-time and allow us to reach the market faster. We can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been cooking!
Read more stories from Southwest Finland, ranging from non-profits in education to how international talents got their careers started in Turku at https://careerinsouthwestfinland.fi/latest/stories/