Toivo Vilmi is something of a veteran among the tech pros in Oulu, Finland’s ‘living lab’ that is famed as the home of mobile giant Nokia. He has over two decades of history working for the marquee brand, and is one of the region’s well-known angel investors. Perhaps it’s partly why Vilmi’s latest venture, Valopaa, has been performing so well in the high-tech lighting sphere, where it has become a leader in the development of LED luminaires that have already found their way into public spaces across northern Europe.
Right now, according to Statista, LED accounts for 11% of the global lighting market. By 2020, that figure will have leapt to 61%. McKinsey goes a little further: “Faster LED price erosion has raised forecasts for LED penetration in many of the segments – office, shop, and hospitality, for example, while decreasing the size of the lighting market overall in general. Forecasts for LED uptake in the residential segment remain high as almost 50% in 2016 and over 70% in 2020.” Whether you’re inclined to trust one or the other, one truism remains: LED is on the up, and at a fast pace too.
Valopaa, which also has offices in the Finnish capital Helsinki, produces the luminaires as well as intelligent lighting control and lighting technologies, which are energy efficient and ecologically sustainable. Valopaa’s lighting solutions have been installed all over the world in a wide variety of facilities, including sports stadia, roads, bridges, and gas stations. The company manufactures its products largely itself, alongside partners in the mobile and base station industries.
To continue leading the way in lighting, Valopaa has teamed up with several regional academic institutions to push new frontiers. Some include Aalto University and the University of Oulu. Valopaa is also a member of the EU’s Enlight Project, which aims to reduce energy consumption by 40% comparative to today’s LED systems. The company’s very name derives from the Finnish word valopää, meaning someone who is creative, innovative, and ready to take on new challenges.
Vilmi claims that one of the company’s USPs is its commitment to a diverse product portfolio and a willingness to reach out in its research and development process: “Our main advantage is our modular product platform with wireless IoT (Internet of Things) technology and cloud management capability. Intelligent light control typically cuts energy consumption in half compared to similar lighting without control. Our intelligent lighting can also be installed to existing cabling and it can control luminaires from other manufactures.
“We have world-class technological know-how (senior level professionals in RF, optics, mechanics, software, design) and mass customization production based in Finland,” adds Vilmi. “For customers this means flexibility, quick adaptation of new features, and product quality. Main competitors are big players like Philips, Osram, Thorn, and iGuzzini – who we cannot compete with in size, but we are doing things differently from.”
Last January, Valopaa received a $2.7 million seed round injection from compatriot investor VNT Management, which is based in Vaasa and specializes in energy company investment. The company’s operative management are also shareholders. “We were ranked 101 at the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA List last year (growth 1,516 % in five years),” says Vilmi. “Our target is to double turnover annually, reaching $81 million in 2018.”
But what excites Vilmi above all, is the ability to push technology to its limits with a highly skilled team. And with that, fortunately, has come some weighty business success. “For me it is important that I am in a meaningful business,” he says. “I am using my time well and our product concept is very environmentally friendly. Our products have a very long life time, we select the most energy efficient solutions, all products are repairable, products are future proof with over the air software capability, and products are pollution free, and recyclable.”