Aki Soudunsaari is founding partner, and chief entrepreneurial officer, of Naava, a Helsinki, Finland-based startup building “active green walls” that clean air with plants and technology. Despite what President Trump says, Finland has the cleanest air of any country on earth – and Naava wants to bring its health benefits to offices, classrooms and indoor spaces worldwide.
Since its foundation in 2011 Naava has won over $6m in funding, and sold walls in multiple territories. Production is based in Springfield, NJ. In this interview Soudunsaari, a former teacher, tells Red Herring about his company’s founding difficulties, disrupting three industries at once, and how Naava’s ultimate goal isn’t Trump’s America, but Asia.
What were Naava’s biggest initial roadblocks, and how did you overcome them?
Why did you choose to base production in the United States?
In 2016 the pioneer of human-friendly buildings, US wellness real estate and technology company Delos, vetted different green wall manufacturers and found our solution to be the most advanced. They invested in us and wanted us to partner in the US. The size of the market, with health and tech-oriented companies, attracted us – as well as the fact that making it in Asia, our future market, is easier if you’ve proved you can be successful in the US.
Delos is based in New York and we found suitable production facilities in New Jersey – it’s close to Tesla, for example – and set up shop there. If you make it here, you can make it anywhere.
Does it surprise you how little companies are aware their working environments can be bad for staff? Which countries have been most receptive to your solution?