In August, when the Oulu-based company announced the securing of funding worth EUR 3.2 million, Mickelsson's phone didn't stop ringing. At the other end of the line were analysts, investors, journalists, and even potential customers.
"We were no longer seen as a small-time operation up here in Oulu. In fact, when word of the funding started to spread, the level of confidence that major investors and businesses had in us increased."
The four-year-old start-up was already receiving attention prior to the summer announcement, however, thanks to the CyberVille product it had recently launched. This software package allows large volumes of data to be visualised in 3D. Mickelsson describes the concept behind the software as "virtually reflecting the real world".
The next stage in the product cycle will see CyberVille being rolled out in the energy sector, where it will be used in conjunction with heating and electricity grids, as well as in the infrastructures and processes of power plants. CyberVille can even be used, for example, to control the operation of a wind farm via an interactive video. By utilising the software, the running of the farm's turbines can be monitored and controlled from a computer screen or even with a mobile device.
"We worked on the technology for two years. In fact, we spent a whole year testing it with customers and setting up partnerships. Everyone says that we've got a truly unique solution", says a delighted Mickelsson.
A new way of working
CyberVille is based on multi-faceted expertise in 3D visualisation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and mobile applications. The core team at CyberLightning all have extensive experience in both the research and business sectors. Chief Technology Officer Jarkko Vatjus-Anttila and Chief Business Development Officer Esa Posio have previously been involved in Oulu University's Center for Internet Excellence and several tech companies. Chief Marketing Officer Kimmo Seppänen and CEO Mickelsson both have a business background working in start-ups under the umbrella of TeliaSonera Plc. Before establishing CyberLightning, Mickelsson was in charge of Sensinode Ltd., Finland's leading IoT software company.
Established in 2010, CyberLightning drew on the team's expertise by starting out in marketing applications that included 3D versions of PowerPoint presentations and avatars. In 2012, however, the company's board made a strategic shift and directed operations towards work on the IoT and industrial internet.
In Mickelsson's opinion, business leaders don't understand the abstract nature of the industrial internet, which is replete with big data, numbers, charts, and tables. This issue is being further compounded as the younger generation, who've spent their whole life in virtual environments, step into management roles.
"They need information that can be visualised and easily absorbed. What we're doing is offering them an interactive TV in place of a radio", Mickelsson explains.
An excellent project reaps its reward
The funding secured by the company over the summer stems from four sources: the EU, Tekes, private investors, and from the company's own management team. This funding will enable CyberLightning to continue its innovation development, the commercialisation of its products, and increase its sales force.
Indeed, the company has plenty of positive experiences of securing public funding, understanding the demands of project evaluators, practical flexibility, and the support available to businesses.
"It can be really hard to secure funding, but if the project is good enough and the people involved have got what it takes, then the money can usually be found. Nevertheless, one has to understand that not every project is suitable for funding. In fact, there's been many times that our funding applications have come back to us like a boomerang. And with good reason."
"I don't get it when people complain about bureaucracy and paperwork when it comes to applying for financial support. I'm more than happy to spend three days on an application if it means Tekes grants us 100,000 euros", Micklesson remarks.
A poor understanding of the industrial internet
CyberLightning intends to establish itself and gain customers all over the world. As part of the its participation in the Tekes Groove programme, the company was able to explore commercial opportunities in China. The breakthrough came after plenty of market research and a project that worked on monitoring bridges and roads, which was carried out in cooperation with local partners in autumn 2013.
"It may well be that the market potential in China is huge, but for now there is a lack of understanding in the country regarding the universal standards for the industrial internet", says Mickelsson regrettably. According to Mickelsson, this issue is not confined to China: some of the company's Finnish customers are also reluctant to try out the new industrial internet in the field. While Finland may be leading the way in the development of new technology, there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to changing attitudes.
For its part, CyberLightning, which now employs 15 people, has the perfect outlook. Its CEO has no doubt that the company will rapidly become one of the major players in the Internet of Things sector.
"This could become something truly remarkable. The most important thing for us it focus on the essentials and press on towards the future."
Ville Mickelsson, CEO
tel. +358 45 6353 968
ville (at) cyberlightning.com
Author: Jarno Forssell, Pohjoisranta Burson-Marsteller