Can you really have it all? The art of combining career, family and passion.
Sulapac is known for its sustainable, beautiful and functional materials, the award-winning cosmetic jars, its ambitious mission, the famous investors. Less stories have been told about the talented, fearless (female) founders, who are building an international success story and tackling one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, while at the same time leading a family life with small children. It’s time to put the spotlight on Suvi and Laura!
Sulapac was founded by two biochemists Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo together with chemist and innovator Antti Pärssinen. Before starting their entrepreneurial journey, both women had a successful career in academic research in the field of medical biomaterials. Antti Pärssinen had long experience in developing wood-composite products.
“Making the decision to become an entrepreneur wasn’t that difficult, in fact. It seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t miss, a door that needed to be opened. I’m happy that I didn’t let any skeptical voices to hold me back”, says Suvi Haimi, Sulapac CEO.
She worked in leadership positions for eight years at universities in Finland and the Netherlands, before founding Sulapac with her colleague Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo in February 2016. Pärssinen started as a board member, but soon joined as a co-founder and full-time employee.
Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo, who also has a PhD in Medical biomaterials, was leading research and development, and innovation implementation projects in research institutes in Finland and Switzerland, when Suvi set out the idea of a company. As an adventurous mind it wasn’t too difficult to get Laura onboard.
Environmental sustainability has always been an important topic for both Suvi and Laura. Laura has worked in nature conservation projects in Swansea, UK and Nairobi, Kenya. Suvi has inherited the respect for nature from her parents and in her childhood spent time picking berries and wondering around in the forests of Eastern Finland.
As personalities Suvi and Laura are quite the opposites of each other. Suvi, who is the key person gathering the passionate people behind Sulapac, is extrovert and fast in her moves, while Laura, the key person in developing the first Sulapac material innovation and patent, tends to describe herself as “the nerd in the lab”. However, the two women have something in common: both have an ambitious mindset, and the determination required to make Sulapac the new standard for sustainable materials replacing plastic.
“Being able to use my expertise for the wellbeing of our planet is highly motivating. When your work has such a strong purpose, you are always ready to go the extra mile”, Laura says.
“It’s really a pleasure to work with such devoted colleagues as Laura and Suvi”, says co-founder Antti Pärssinen. “This might sound corny, but we complement each other perfectly”, he continues smiling.
Antti is currently working as Sulapac’s Innovation Director and heading the development of Sulapac extrusion materials, and also raising two kids. Laura is in charge of the injection molding materials development.
“Thanks to the persistent work of Laura, Antti and their teams, we are rapidly expanding to new segments and offering new opportunities for our customers”, Suvi says proudly.
Finding the balance
Although Suvi and Laura are passionate about what they do, work isn’t their everything. Suvi has a six-year-old son and a dog Helli, who takes Suvi out to the nature to recharge.
“It is possible to get burned out in the job you love. Being able to switch off from work mode is essential”, Suvi says.
“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon”, Suvi often reminds herself, and her employees.
At the time this blog was written, Suvi was in her last month of pregnancy and is now a happy mom of two sons.
Laura is the proud mother of 2-year-old Elias. When Laura returned from maternity leave last summer, the company had gone through a phase of rapid change. The number of employees had increased from 13 to 30.
“In a startup change is constant, but when you are away for a while, this really becomes tangible”, Laura says. “It isn’t a bad thing though – on the contrary. It was amazing to see how things had evolved”, she continues.
”Because of the major leap Sulapac was taking at the time, I decided not to stay home for a whole year. I’m grateful to my husband, who was more than happy to share the parental leave with me. My husband appreciated the time at home – he developed very close bond with our son during this time”, Laura says.
Working partly from home, in addition to flexible working hours, made it possible for Laura to continue breast-feeding beyond the parental leave period.
“It was really important to me, and thanks to these arrangements it worked out well”, she recalls.
Both Laura and Suvi emphasize that no matter how committed to your work, you also need to be able to let go.
“Being in charge of everything all the time is not possible. You have to trust your team”, Laura says.
“We have an amazing team full of outstanding talent, who all work towards the same mission. Keeping that in mind it’s easier to give room for other things in life than work”, Suvi adds.
A cleaner planet for the next generation
Every day Suvi, Laura and their team work to accelerate the plastic waste future. “When my kids grow older, I hope they can be proud of me”, says Suvi, who just had her second child and is now on a maternity leave giving her full attention to the family. Both of the founders acknowledge the Finnish family policy, which makes combining career and family relatively easy.
“Of course, there are always things to improve, when it comes to gender equality, for example, but still, we are very fortunate in Finland compared to many other countries, in terms of combining motherhood and career aspirations”.
Suvi and Laura wish to set an encouraging example for all Sulapacians and women in business in general. Being a mother and following your passion is possible.
“When it comes to recruitment policies and company culture, family should never be seen as a disadvantage, rather as a source of motivation and valuable resources”, Suvi adds.
Ami Rubinstein, who is taking over Suvi’s role during her family leave, is a father of three.
“Ami has great leadership skills and extensive experience in international management and business development. Moreover, he stands for Sulapac’s values and builds the kind of culture we want to cultivate”.
Sulapac accelerates the plastic waste-free future with sustainable materials that are beautiful and functional. Like nature. The Helsinki-based company was founded in 2016 by two biochemists Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo and has been ranked one of the 100 hottest startups in Europe by WIRED UK. Join the forerunners at sulapac.com.