What can be generated by considering how airborne data collection platforms could be implemented in a smarter way than drones?
A blimp, of course. Kelluu Oy of Joensuu is currently developing a blimp concept to serve in energy infrastructure monitoring tasks. But how do you invent a blimp and turn this into a business activity?
Drones are becoming more common, and so are their applications. However, they have their restrictions, such as short operating times. This is why Jouni Lintu started to consider whether a flying craft capable of performing various tasks could be implemented better – lighter than air, that is, a blimp – but a small and efficient one. Jouni thought about the idea of a blimp carrying sensory systems and made calculations for some eighteen months until the first prototype was realised.
– When I told some people about my idea, no one seemed to understand. They just remembered the failed gigantic airship projects of historical years. But as the first prototype was completed, I no longer needed to argue over whether it was operable. Instead, people started to come up with a great multitude of applications for a data collection device with an extended flight time.
The environmental perspective was a driving force in the development of Kelluu.
– The aviation industry is one of the biggest consumers of materials and energy. In our case, however, resource efficiency means, for instance, cutting down environmentally damaging helicopter flights in the monitoring of power lines. The circular economy is generally perceived as the recycling of existing material, but the most intelligent way is not to use natural resources in the first place, if by any means possible, Jouni says.
Jouni presents astonishing comparative figures: for the same task, Kelluu airship uses 99 percentage points less energy than a helicopter. And this only involves flying, excluding the multiple amounts of energy and materials required in the building of a helicopter compared to an airship weighing only a few hundred grammes.
However, with a background in engineering, Jouni takes an analytically systematic approach to inventing such a revolutionary device as a miniature blimp. It is important that you clear up time for creative innovation, not trying to squeeze it between two busy projects.
– I had many other ideas, too, but when you really decide to proceed with an idea, it is important to be systematic. This is not a hobby project. It is important to determine what you are doing, and then record all of your thoughts, maybe on a scratchpad. As soon as your energy runs out, it is time to do something else.
Your mood is also important.
– When you tune yourself into a relaxed and confident mood, many things suddenly become obvious. I can reach such a mood best by sleeping well and reading entertaining and inspiring books. It is important not to be afraid. We are afraid of all kinds of things all the time, and then you do not do anything funny or consider things in the long perspective, says Jouni.
Ideas come and go, but in Jouni’s opinion, they do not have any intrinsic value as such.
– Only after you admit to being a complete novice and start to learn how to actually implement your idea, you will gradually build up value. You should not be jealous of ideas but adopt an apprentice’s attitude.
When the first prototype was completed, Jouni found out that some people in the Joensuu Science Park Business Incubator could perhaps help to take it further.
– I also heard about the Start Me Up business idea competition and finally submitted my form on the deadline day in spring 2018. We were successful and got the Brainstorm Idea prize. This marked the start of co-operation and sparring with the folks at Business Joensuu, and I also started looking for a partner to take the idea further.
At the same time, Jiri Jormakka was looking for a new project to embark on after his previous company had gone out of business. People at the Business Incubator told Jiri to call a certain number that might offer something of interest to him.
– I had the feeling that it was about time to take on something new and entertaining, to promote it with all my power, as entrepreneurship is natural to me. I had some ideas of my own as well, but when we met with Jouni and he said “well, I have this airship case here, would you be interested in getting aboard,” the answer was quite obvious. The idea and its global market potential sounded so fantastic that, after some orientation, I just had to hop on, says Jiri.
Both men find it important to have a counterbalance in innovation – another person to throw the ball to. Participation in the Start Me Up competition contributed to making Jouni’s thoughts better organised, but it was only after Jiri’s involvement that the commercialisation of the idea gained real momentum. Both had the idea of working in the “born global” style – you either go big or abandon the idea altogether.
– During this period of slightly more than six months, we have considered commercialisation from every angle: who will pay for the product and on what terms, how to protect the idea, how to finance everything. We have also considered these matters together in the Business Incubator. The company is registered as Kelluu Oy, we have an operable prototype with substantially long operating times, we have a pilot customer in the energy industry, and we have completed a pre-seed round. In addition, we have prepared our IPR strategy, supported by the Circwaste project funded by the European Union, Jiri explains.
All in all, the focus has become much clearer through the discussions.
– The fundamental idea has not changed but it has become clearer how it will benefit the world. Or, we have had to consciously clarify it. Now that we have established us as an energy sector company, we have been able to abandon any additional hassle and focus on this direction, says Jiri to crystallise it all.
If you are developing blimps, how do you keep your feet on the ground?
Both Jiri and Jouni emphasise a sincere passion for developing the idea further, but also the opposite side of the coin: a strong desire to keep things in balance.
– Actually, you should do as little as you can, so that you will have reserves to respond to any surprises. However, it pays to be realistic – the intense stage of developing the idea consumes a lot of time and energy but, after that, it will take 50 or 200 times longer to refine the idea into something sensible. You should not fall in love with your own doings. We have applied the brakes at quite an advanced stage in issues that have initially seemed obvious and to which we have invested a lot of time, says Jouni.
Generally, as the two speak about the concept of innovation and turning an idea into an enterprise, it all comes down to the fundamentals of life. You must not neglect a good night’s sleep, and nutrition and exercise are equally important.
– Of course we have worked on these things at odd hours of the night but you must compensate for it immediately. When you have slept and eaten well and had some outdoor exercise, minor setbacks will not shock you, but when tired, you become afraid, says Jouni.
Both men say that after all, innovation is only one aspect of life.
– It is good to make a living and have some fun to keep yourself sane. But you must not think that you will get rid of all problems. Being an entrepreneur, you make the choice over what kind of problems you are prepared to tackle in the early hours of the morning when times are bad. I prefer fighting the issues of a growing enterprise over many other things. Fortunately, my family supports me in this. My wife says that I seem to be satisfied with what I am doing, so now she is officially the “village idiot’s missus,” says Jouni with a laugh.