The corona crisis made two Finnish students recognise the outdatedness of worldwide supply chains. Their startup called Droppe connects the producers and buyers of hygiene equipment. The company has delivered enough hand sanitiser for millions of uses in a matter of months.
In March of this year, University of California, Berkeley closed its doors and began remote lectures. Johannes Salmisaari and Henrik Helenius, two students who found themselves at Berkeley through Aalto University, decided to move to a calmer place as the virus began to spread in San Francisco. They quickly booked flights and accommodation for Hawaii.
On the day of arrival, Helenius and Salmisaari attended a remote lecture on entrepreneurship as they sat in a Hawaiian hotel room. The lecturer encouraged the students to think about how entrepreneurs can help in the global emergency caused by the coronavirus.
At the same time, they got a message from an investor in Helenius and Salmisaari’s previous startup, bringing up a Finnish ski wax company which had quickly begun to produce hand sanitiser.
“That’s when we got an idea and we left the lecture pretty quickly,” the entrepreneurs say.
The speed of the corona crisis took international trade by surprise
During the past few months, Helenius and Salmisaari have understood how the spread of the coronavirus causes fluctuations in the overdemand and overproduction of hygiene products as well. It was the end of March when the two were in Hawaii and even Finnish authorities struggled to acquire enough respirators and disinfectants.
Now that the production in Finland has been ramped up, the epidemic and the highest demand spike has already moved elsewhere.
The idea gave life to a startup company called Droppe. It levels out demand spikes by bringing buyers and producers closer to each other by supplying hygiene equipment to where it is needed from where it is available in that moment. The market area is the whole world.
The first weeks of Droppe’s life was spent studying the operating logic of global supply chains and drafting Droppe’s operating plan. The company accelerated its first steps thanks to the Hack the Crisis hackathon, organised by the public and private sector.
“As crises tend to do, the corona crisis also revealed something about the world that we hadn’t noticed before. The systems of international trade are built on the assumption of steady and gradual growth, but they were unable to respond to this level of surprise quick enough.”
So far Droppe has secured partnerships with 15 manufacturers of hygiene equipment, and the company has supplied enough hand sanitiser for millions of uses, masks and disposable gloves. Droppe has assisted international pharmaceutical wholesalers and Finnish pharmacies as well as hospital districts, among others.
Services by growth companies offer vital help
Helenius and Salmisaari met through the Aaltoes startup community and ended up studying entrepreneurship in California thanks to the Aalto Ventures programme. Through projects, participants get to meet others who are interested in entrepreneurship from different fields of the university. The projects also offer ideas and concrete support from experts.
“After you start operations as a growth company, there may be a moment when you don’t really know what to do. A lot of people may not dare to set their goals high enough, but the startup accelerator Kiuas, for example, offers help and encouragement in those moments. It’s very valuable, and it’s great that Elo is a partner of Kiuas, thus supporting the chances of new Finnish startups to succeed.”
Smooth customer service helps a new entrepreneurship focus on the business
Finding the right manufacturer partners and customers around the world doesn’t happen overnight. Helenius and Salmisaari admit that neither had much sleep during the first weeks of Droppe. Paperwork concerning starting up a company can also take up a lot of time.
Elo’s sales associate Jasmin Varis found out about Droppe’s pension insurance needs through the startup accelerator Kiuas.
“My colleagues and I know that entrepreneurs have a lot on their mind when a company is just getting started. It’s important to get to focus on the core business. So we want to make statutory pension matters as simple as possible. When we hear that a company has pension insurance needs, we get in touch with the entrepreneur and talk though their needs in the easiest way for them,” says Varis.
“This was the easiest and best customer service experience during this company’s lifetime. Paperwork needs to be taken care of here and there, so it’s nice when the pension insurance stuff almost takes care of itself,” Helenius and Salmisaari say.
Future plans include more entrepreneurship and changing the world on the side
As the past months and fresh Finnish recommendations have shown, the spreading of the epidemic will cause unpredictable changes in the demand for protective gear. Currently it’s not likely that Finland will return to the strict restrictions like it enforced in the spring. The use of facemasks, however, will multiply. Droppe is encouraging employers to provide protective gear for their employees to curb the spread of the virus.
“We are about to announce a responsibility initiative for companies called Droppe.org. The idea is that the only way to get Finland back on its feet is for all employers to do their part and make a joint effort in the fight against the coronavirus,” Helenius says.
“It’s our view that a responsible employer doesn’t hesitate to acquire masks as the multiplicative effects of a single corona case are great for the employee’s immediate circle and the company’s business,” adds Helenius.
Once the crisis phase of the coronavirus passes, Helenius and Salmisaari are planning to apply the lessons of the corona crisis and renew the stiff processes of international trade.
“Thanks to the initial push from Droppe, we are building a more long-term technological model, which would solve transparency problems within supply chains.
The traditional task of a wholesaler has been to recognize the needs of different customer groups. The two think it’s possible to automate some of this know-how. It would allow the buyer and manufacturer of a product to connect much more easily without so many intermediaries. It would also improve predictability in more complex chains of production by giving the manufacturer a better line of communication with its own suppliers.
Where do these two see themselves in the future?
“There were pretty nice people in California, I’d like to try my wings there. I could see if I found problems on the way that I could help solve. The best thing is seeing how the work you’ve done matters, and how it can create added value for society,” says Salmisaari.
“You can influence too many things or create a culture you like in many jobs. Entrepreneurship seems to be pretty much the only job that I can imagine for myself.”