The 2020 Tutkijat maailmalle call for grant applications received 51 applications. The KAUTE Foundation funded five researchers’ visits to foreign universities for a total of 84,190 euros. The grant recipients’ studies address, among other things, the investment value of intelligence in buildings and body-adapted electronics.
Tutkijat maailmalle is a joint grant programme of the KAUTE Foundation, the Walter Ahlström Foundation and the Foundation for Economic Education. Its aim is to support the internationalisation of researchers in technology and economics.
The corona pandemic did not affect grant applications
The KAUTE Foundation’s Executive Director Tuomas Olkku is pleased that the corona situation did not seem to reduce the applicants’ interest in the foundations’ joint grant programme.
“It was nice to notice that despite the exceptional spring, we received a large number of high-level applications for the programme”, Olkku says.
Collaborating with other foundations is an opportunity for KAUTE to punch above its weight and support issues that are important for the career development of researchers.
“The Tutkijat maailmalle programme is a great fruit of cooperation between foundations. By participating in the funding of the programme, we are supporting a topic that is important to KAUTE: the mobility and internationalisation of researchers”, Tuomas Olkku concludes.
The KAUTE Foundation received a total of 315 applications in the spring general call for grant applications. The amount of funding applied for was 4.4 million euros. Grants were awarded to 23 applicants for a total of 283,600 euros.
The applications submitted in the first call for applications of the decade displayed an emphasis on sustainable development and digitalisation. These themes were also clearly seen in projects that received funding.
Grants were awarded for research that addresses, among other things, collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence, renewable energy systems, and the use of virtual reality in retail.
The foundation also provided follow-up funding for researchers who have previously received a grant from the foundation.
“This year, the standard of applications was very high. KAUTE has clearly become a key foundation from which top applicants in basic and applied research seek funding”, says Matti Suominen, chairman of the foundation’s board.
When Jere Heikkinen was 17, he worked in a furniture store alongside his upper secondary school studies. From his workplace, he could see directly into the adjacent upper secondary school for adults, where mathematics lectures were taking place.
Heikkinen was in the third grade of upper secondary school, but he hadn’t taken any advanced mathematics courses. Seeing the lectures piqued his interest, however. On top of that, his father promised him 200 euros for each mathematics class that he would get a ten out of ten for. Heikkinen, who had just moved into his own apartment for the first time, could use the money.
“I started my advanced mathematics studies right then and there, and completed all 15 courses in just over half a year. I took the whole pot promised by my father, 3000 euros”, Heikkinen says.
Mathematics created a career opportunity
In addition to money, Heikkinen’s studies in mathematics gave his future a direction. After upper secondary school, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Oulu’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.
From Oulu, Heikkinen moved to the now called Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology to do an internship in ionospheric tomography. In addition to his work, Heikkinen completed his master’s degree in computational engineering.
In the summer of 2007, Heikkinen got the opportunity to participate in a project at university for a company called Bintec. The company manufactured X-ray equipment specifically for the needs of the sawmill industry and needed an expert in X-ray tomography. This is an X-ray method that Heikkinen had experience with thanks to his internship.
“They needed someone who could develop and incorporate tomography-related algorithms into their X-ray system. I was made responsible for the company’s application development and putting together my own team”, Heikkinen explains.
The project also gave rise to Heikkinen’s master’s thesis on inversion problems and X-ray tomography.
Imaging is increasing the profitability of the sawmill industry
Over the years, the team assembled by Heikkinen began to mature the idea of founding a new company. Heikkinen and the other team members had plenty of ideas on how the sawmill industry, which had remained unchanged for a long time, could be reformed.
“In the 2010s, digitalisation had not yet entered the sawmill industry in the same way as it had in other industries. Our view was that with bold reforms, we could multiply the company’s operations”, Heikkinen says.
In 2016, the team put the plan they had spent a few years considering into action. When Bintec’s founders retired, Heikkinen and his team bought the company’s business and founded Finnos.
Finnos’ operations are based on laser and X-ray imaging of logs. Imaging allows you to get a lot of information about the quality of a log, such as what kind of end product is worth making from it. When each log is sorted and sawn according to the information obtained from the imaging, the amount of loss is reduced and the use of raw materials is more efficient.
“Our products increase the sawmill load factor by several percent. The sawmill can produce products in a way that has not been previously possible. For example, various special products can be made in small batches profitably”, Heikkinen says.
The sawmill of the future will rely on artificial intelligence
Finnos’ growth has been incredible. A year after its founding, the company’s turnover was 1.2 million euros. In 2018, the turnover was as much as 6.5 million and in 2019, when the company’s financial year was shorter, almost 6.4 million euros.
“We have had a steep growth curve. At the same time, we have constantly put effort into product development”, Heikkinen says.
Thanks to product development, Finnos has continued to move closer to its great vision of revolutionising the sawmill industry. Already at the time of founding the company, Heikkinen was convinced that the entire production process of the sawmill should be analysed by artificial intelligence. In this way, the log’s journey from sorting to the final product could be closely monitored and the production plan continuously developed.
“From the beginning, our goal has been to combine the information from the final product with the moment that the first decision of the log’s journey is made at the sawmill. The ability of humans to design different production plans at once is limited, and the design is based largely on heuristics, such as rules of thumb and guesswork. In comparison, an algorithm is able to explore millions of different alternatives while always considering the whole”, Heikkinen reveals.
Researchers and entrepreneurs share a certain curiosity
Heikkinen has made many important professional choices during his life. Immersing himself in mathematics at upper secondary school and joining the Bintec project at university gave his career a clear direction.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, Heikkinen has been working on his doctoral thesis on tomography, which is nearing completion. Heikkinen doesn’t want to give up doing research altogether, even though there is endless work to be done with his company.
“Once you really get into being an entrepreneur, you don’t want to let go of it. Then again, the same thing applies to doing research”, he says.
Heikkinen believes many of the same principles apply to entrepreneurship and research. According to him, one feature in particular is highlighted in both roles.
“You have to be curious about everything. When researchers or entrepreneurs encounter a problem, they don’t ignore it, but begin to look at why it exists and how it can be solved”, Heikkinen concludes.
The Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the Year award is awarded each year by the Academic Entrepreneurship Fund, part of the KAUTE Foundation, to a researcher who has generated business based on research. The 2019 award jury included Mikael Pentikäinen, CEO of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, Timo Saranpää, chairman of the Finnish Business School Graduates, and Reetta Kivelä, researcher and founder of Gold&Green Foods and winner of the 2016 Young Researcher Entrepreneur award.
KAUTE shall, without requiring separate notice, grant an additional period of six months for the grants to be used for their intended purpose and for the submission of grant usage reports. This applies to those grant recipients whose work plans are affected by the coronavirus due to, for example, travel or international cooperation.
The primary aim for travel grants affected by the coronavirus is for them to be used later, once the situation has normalised. If your travel time or destination changes, please inform the foundation in good time.
Grants for researcher visits interrupted due to the coronavirus will not be reclaimed by the foundation. The same applies to the Tutkijat maailmalle and Fulbright KAUTE Foundation Award grants funded by KAUTE.
Ongoing calls for grant applications
The ongoing Tutkijat maailmalle and Post Docs in Companies programmes’ calls for grant applications will continue as planned. Both calls will end on 15 April 2020.
The majority of applications came from the field of economics, 166 in total, whereas 130 applications came from the field of technical sciences and 19 applications from other fields.
A total of just over 4.3 million euros in grants were applied for this spring. This represents a decrease of about 14 percent from the year 2019, when a total of 5.1 million euros in grants were applied for.
This year, during the grant application process, applicants were also asked for feedback on the execution of the grant application process. The survey received 126 responses. In addition to praise, we also received suggestions for improvement to streamline the process. Open responses included requests for making the application form instructions more clear, for example. We are working to improve the grant application process based on the feedback we received.
Grant decisions will be published in early June 2020. Thank you to everyone who participated in the application process and gave their feedback!