Launching a game-changing product – A word with Antti Pärssinen, the mastermind behind the Sulapac straw
For startups, a massive product launch is much like running for the Olympics. From gathering the right team to focusing all your energy to a strategic moment of releasing the Spartan to market, every step in between is carefully calculated for success. We asked Antti Pärssinen, Innovation Director and Co-founder of Sulapac, about the highs and lows of the straw development project.
Antti Pärssinen, Innovation Director and co-founder, is leading the product development of the Sulapac® straw. Antti is also known for the woodcast, a groundbreaking innovation he created for another Finnish company, Onbone.
The first important milestone on the fascinating yet rough journey from an ambitious idea to a commercially feasible product was achieved at Slush 2018, when the demo of the Sulapac straw was launched together with Stora Enso. The straw was greeted with enthusiasm.
“The feedback we received from consumers was extremely positive, whereas the media attention really overwhelmed us”, recalls Antti Pärssinen, Innovation Director and the head of Sulapac straw development.
The launch of the demo straw was followed by a phase of intense development and testing. The criteria for the straw had been set high. “From the very beginning, the aim was to create a microplastic-free straw that biodegrades fully, but lasts through storing, shipping and use, and doesn’t dissolve before that. It needed to have outstanding functional properties while being the most sustainable alternative out there. Besides this it needed to be mass-producible”. What Sulapac and its partner Stora Enso were after, was a straw without compromise. Thanks to Antti’s extensive experience in product development and biomaterials, and his devoted team, he felt confident. Yet the timeline was tight and there were still some challenges to overcome.
“It’s like a free fall”, says Pärssinen. “You’re under constant pressure and under a strict deadline. You know the steps to get there, but with the time being very limited you’re also aware that everything has to fall into place at one shot.” Pärssinen highlights that the successful launch was a result of team effort: “Without Joona (Innovation Chemist Joona Kontinen) and Katja (Project Manager Katja Heinonen) we wouldn’t have made it in time”.
Image of an early phase trial with the straw material. “In product development there will always be bumps on the road. It’s important to keep the goal crystallized in your mind at all times.”
Also Stora Enso has been part of the straw development since the idea of an ocean friendly, yet fully functional, straw was born. The cooperation with Stora Enso was initiated through their accelerator program for startups, where Sulapac was chosen from among 120 participants. “That was a big deal for us as a new player in the material industry. Through Stora Enso’s expertise and networks, we got the possibility of creating something truly impactful”, Pärssinen says. After the program, a joint development agreement was signed and Stora Enso, a leading renewable materials company providing wood and biomass-based solutions for a range of industries and applications worldwide, became the first company to license Sulapac’s material and technology.
The media attention around the straw has been a great opportunity to make Sulapac’s innovation known for the big audience. “Our goal is to replace plastic, not only in straws, but in countless product categories.”
After the commercial launch of the Sulapac straw in December 2019, there were over 250 international media articles telling about the product innovation, the cooperation and the potential of Sulapac materials. However, we also received some criticism on our choice of application. Why manufacture a product that is not a necessity? “Marine litter is a serious global issue, and single-use plastic straws are a big part of it. We thought that Sulapac material could be used to solve this problem. We focus on impact, and this is why our goal is to replace plastic where it produces the most waste”, Pärssinen explains. To ensure the ocean safety of the straw, its biodegradation has been verified by third parties and Daphnia magna plankton toxicity test has been carried out to confirm that there are no harmful effects on the plankton.
We do believe that no straw is better than any straw, but ours is the next best thing.
Sulapac straws are now available to brands and consumers looking for more eco-friendly solutions. Find out more and join the strawolution: www.sulapac.com/straw
Sulapac® is a wood-based material innovation inspired by Nordic nature. It is a lot like plastic, yet it biodegrades fully leaving no microplastics behind. As a premium material that is safe and circular by design, Sulapac is ideal for quality driven brands with genuine commitment to sustainability. Plastic product manufacturers can use Sulapac® with their existing machinery, making sustainability an easy choice. The company was founded in 2016 and is based in Helsinki, Finland. Sulapac has been ranked one of the 100 hottest startups in Europe by WIRED UK both in 2018 and 2019. Join our mission to save the world from plastic waste! sulapac.com