Avanto's technology could be used in all sports that involve the cold. 


Summer of Startups: Beyond the surface

“We had worked on a few projects together before. Our final project supervisor was a diver and he mentioned that diving gear could do with a lot of improvement. It kind of went from there,” Aino Aarnio-Juurinen and Visa Kupias say, as they discuss their Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture project that saw them create something truly ground-breaking – an infrared-heated diving suit.

The pair had no prior experience of diving but, during the project, Kupias decided to take a scuba diving course and tested out some of the kit for himself. Selected to attend the Summer of Startups programme from among a pool of 100 applicants, the Avanto Design founders will use their nine-week stint to think about commercial applications for their idea and how they could develop their technology further.

“As we’re both designers, we don’t have such a great handle on the business side of things. We will definitely need help with commercialisation and business development. We are hoping to get some first rate coaching on those areas as part of the programme, so that we can avoid some of the pitfalls others have already come across,” Kupias says.

“We’re only at the beginning of the process and we’ve already met lots of people who have been really useful,” Aarnio-Juurinen says, genuinely appreciative of the opportunities presented to them.

World now ready for wearable technology

Wearable technology is the word on everyone’s lips, or perhaps bodies, at the moment, and many of the major technological challenges have now been overcome. The market is nearly there.

“Wearables is definitely a growth sector. There are two trends in the clothing industry at the moment. One is about ethics and sustainability and the other about technology. Put them together and you end up with something really interesting.”

Avanto’s technology could be used in all sports that involve the cold. Besides diving, other obvious choices include motorcycling, skidoo riding and fishing.

“There is a global market for this. Finland is pretty small but luckily there are potential users right across the northern hemisphere. What we are doing now is giving some thought to the direction we are going to take. Divers will definitely remain one of our key target groups going forward,” Aarnio-Juurinen says.

“Diving is a great sport for validating our product because it’s done in such demanding conditions. Once we’ve tackled that, we can apply it in pretty much any setting at all,” Kupias adds.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the only thing more challenging than kitting out divers would be to design wearable technologies for space missions.

All about style

Avanto’s lifestyle-inspired image matters to Aarnio-Juurinen and Kupias, and they want to use it to stand out from the competition.

“You have to make sure that your image is in line with what you’re doing. Getting the brand right is really important. Not that many people in this field have their branding well thought out, which is a problem,” Kupias says.

Avanto has already garnered a number of plaudits, winning the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries’ Centenary Foundation METEX prize for an innovative Masters degree project. Kupias and Aarnio-Juurinen were also finalists in the Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup’s Safety and Smart Clothing categories in January 2016, and received an honourable mention in the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology competition. They also attended a wearable technologies conference in Munich, where they gave a talk and were able to promote their product idea.

“We received a lot of attention as not that many people have ever had access to any diving kit before. Most divers tend to use wetsuits so just having our drysuit there, not even set up with any of the smart technology, was a huge draw,” Aarnio-Juurinen says, clearly thrilled.

Winning over conservative divers

“Divers like trying out new kit but they are also a conservative bunch and very loyal to products they are happy with,” Kupias explains.

Prior to turning their attention to developing the technology for their products, the pair undertook a thorough user survey that saw them interview divers of all levels, from complete beginners to experienced cave divers.

“We decided to only focus on people who had their own equipment or were planning to buy some, not casual holiday divers,” Aarnio-Juurinen explains.

Together, Kupias and Aarnio-Juurinen have shed sweat and tears in their pursuit of the right materials.

“For some materials, like Gore-Tex, you need a license so it’s not easy to get hold of them for test purposes. We got in touch with a hundred suppliers and about twenty of them sent us samples. Often we only had just enough material to carry out our experiments, so there was no margin of error. What we’ve learned from that is that the right contacts really matter.”

Happily, when they needed it most, production help was at hand.

“Polar Safety Oy, an Espoo-based business, helped us to manufacture a dry suit. As it was pressure tested and all the materials were attached using the correct equipment, we actually came away with a fully functioning prototype.”

New directions

“What we are focusing on now is the commercial side of our technology and our new product ideas. We will also be giving some thought to who we want to collaborate with,” Kupias says.

The Avanto team have high hopes that, by the end of the Summer of Startups programme in August, they will have a clear direction for the future, a virtual rolodex full of new contacts and the opportunity to really make something happen. So far, they have both learned an awful lot about business and the learning curve is very much ongoing – after all, knowledge won’t come to you.

“We would definitely do this again. If you have a vision, the only way you can know whether it has potential, is just to have a bash at it. Then at least you will have tried,” Aarnio-Juurinen says, encouragingly.

“One thing you can’t be too fussy about is your job description. When you set out in business, you need to be prepared to get stuck into everything and keep learning new things. You have to make use of all the support that’s available out there. The opportunities are virtually endless. I mean before we got involved in the Summer of Startups, we had no idea how much help is available for setting up a business. Otaniemi is an innovative place,” Kupias concludes.

Read more: www.avantodesign.com