The jury is getting ready to hear the five finalist

Getting fit for a bit future

Startups and big corporations can live in a perfect symbiosis. Wärtsilä found great collaborators through the Marine Mastermind contest.

Text: Lena Barner-Rasmussen Photo: Karl Vilhjálmsson

Digitalisation is becoming indispensable in everything we do. We have watches that can measure our heartbeat, check whether we’ve gulped down enough veggies and alert us if our blood sugar is alarmingly low. Digitalisation has also become a vital part of big corporations’ R&D efforts. IoT in engines can warn the crew of danger lurking and help in planning the route as efficiently as possible.

As with our personal gadgets, the hottest feature ever can be replaced by an even hotter one in less than two months. The pace is not much slower in an industrial set-up. This sets a big corporation’s R&D teams under pressure; how can you adapt and react fast enough?

Speed, agility, the willingness to change course – that’s inherent in the startup culture. That’s why Wärtsilä Services decided to turn to the startup crowd to get help propelling its digitalisation efforts.

“Startups are really good at getting under the customer’s skin and being agile, and that is something that every big corporation could – and should – learn from,” says Tero Hottinen, General Manager, Business Innovation at Wärtsilä.

In an effort to scout out relevant startups, Wärtsilä Services launched the Wärtsilä Marine Mastermind contest. So last November, Hottinen took the stage at the startup conference Slush in Helsinki. Initially a quaint gathering for a couple hundred people, it has since evolved into one of the mega events in the industry – with more than 11,000 people attending last year and hundreds of startups pitching in the hope of catching investors’ interest.

At Slush, Hottinen had one mission in mind: to challenge the startup community to come up with ideas that would speed up the marine industry’s digitalisation efforts. And so the Wärtsilä Marine Mastermind contest was launched, and soon the applications flooded in: 47 of them from 17 different countries, far more than Hottinen had expected.

“We faced a positive problem: choosing only five finalists, even though we saw interesting opportunities in almost every participant,” says Hottinen.

Of the five finalists, the jury saw the most potential in Tallinn-based Marina Ahoy. The company was founded in Estonia less than a year ago and is looking into changing the marina business once and for all by making it possible to manage a harbour automatically around the clock.


Pierpaolo Barbone, who’s leading the Services divison at Wärtsilä, sees startup collaboration as a win-win for both parties.

“The combination between startups and more structured companies is a fantastic one. What we can bring to the table is a structured way of working, specific competencies and of course financial strength. The startups bring speed and a wish to challenge themselves and the market.”

The Marina Ahoy founders, Relika Metsallik-Koppel and Hannes Koppel, appreciate the different perspective a big corporation like Wärtsilä can shed on their business.

“What we’ve learned from Wärtsilä so far is the big thinking. When talking to Wärtsilä guys we get a whole different perspective. We think of local harbours, they think of Rotterdam and Shanghai. It’s a very different insight”, says Hannes Koppel.

As the winner of the Wärtsilä Marine Mastermind contest, the Marina Ahoy team got a 30-day lean innovation lab with Helsinki-based Swift Action and Wärtsilä. It was held in June and both Hottinen and the Koppels are excited about the outcome.

“This has the potential to reach very high scale,” says Hottinen.

Just the beginning

For Wärtsilä, the Marine Mastermind contest was just the beginning of a new way of working. Teaming up with startups is becoming the new normal.

“We are now tapping into a new area when it comes to startup collaboration, and we might be looking at transforming entire business models with the help of open innovation,” says Hottinen.

How, when and what disruption will look like is a anyone’s guess.

“Digitalisation has disrupted everything. It’s difficult to predict what will happen but for sure digitalisation will create turbulence, but also new opportunities. Human life and behaviours will be different, everything will be different. And the startups that participated in the Marine Mastermind contest will all be part of this thrilling journey”, says Barbone.

Apart from collaboration with Marina Ahoy, Wärtsilä is also in talks with nine other startups that took part in the Marine Mastermind competition, of which one is in the testing phase with Energy Solutions.

‘Instant feedback please’

What Marina Ahoy entrepreneurs Relika Metsallik-Koppel and Hannes Koppel like about being a startup is the instant feedback from users.

“We release a feature and show it to our customers. If the new feature gets positive feedback we continue the development. If the feature needs tweaking we’ll do it before adding more features.”

In a big corporation, adding new features might be a process of several months or even years. But there is no guarantee that customers will like it and be willing to pay for it. So instant feedback from customers is something that Head of Engine R&D Ilari Kallio would like to see more of at Wärtsilä too.

“Validating the concepts as early as possible with customers is key in reaping the rewards of digitalisation. We need to move towards a trial and error mentality. Sometimes this is a better approach than heavy-duty analyses because tomorrow everything might be all different anyway.”

The intelligent harbour

Tallinn-based Marina Ahoy was the winner of Wärtsilä’s Marine Mastermind contest. The company was founded in Estonia less than a year ago.

“In a yacht marina, 15 minutes of man-hours are spent on each visitor, and the load of paperwork accounts for about 30% of the harbour management’s time. Simple tasks like check-in and -out, together with booking and billing, require a lot of attention from the visitors. And every harbour has their own way of working, making it even more difficult as you need to find out how things work,” says Hannes Koppel, CEO and one of the founders of Marina Ahoy.

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