29.9. 2016 Kuukauden kasvo

Subcontractor of diagnostics companies

Leena Kokko knows biotechnology and makes the turnover of Kaivogen Oy grow through exports. Her leisure activities include e.g. scuba diving.

Leena Kokko knew already before upper secondary school that she wanted to be a researcher and was happy when she was accepted to the University of Turku to study biotechnology, just as she had hoped. She continued as a researcher in the department of biotechnology and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the use of nanoparticles in release of energy which is a simple way to make screening definitions for medical use. It anticipated her future career, because later in the same year she became the Managing Director of a new company Kaivogen Oy.

”It happened quickly. An opportunity emerged to buy the production operations of Innotrack Diagnostics Oy’s protein-surfaced microtitre plates, because they decided in conjunction with an acquisition to end the manufacture of the product for external customers. They had a good existing customer base, and those diagnostics companies wanted to keep buying from them, so there wasn’t any time to waste”, Dr Kokko says.

She founded the company together with Veikko Wahlroos and Katja Laurikainen who were her researcher colleagues in the department of biotechnology. Production had to be set up within three months, and they managed to do that.

”At the very beginning, a massive water damage occurred in the new premises in ElectroCity. The floors had to be dug up because of a leak in the clean water equipment, and we have encountered other problems, too, but a crazy sense of humour has carried us through. We have a very nice atmosphere at work and we often laugh with tears in our eyes.”

Growing into a manager

The principal owner of the new company from the start was a private investor who invested the necessary initial capital and still owns 40 per cent of the company. The remaining 60 per cent is held by the three founders and a few other shareholders.

In the beginning, the trio did everything by themselves: production, documentation and all organising. The growth was fast, however, and tasks were shared. Today, Veikko Wahlroos focuses on marketing and Katja Laurikainen on production. The company now has more than 20 employees.

”It was rather strange that I had never been in a job interview and had to start interviewing job applicants. I talked to the others for advice on what to ask”, Leena Kokko reminisces.

She has acquired training in management to support work in practice. She was surprised, however, to find qualities of a manager in herself.

”The logic of problem-solving always appealed to me as a researcher. It was so great to divide the problem into small parts and start solving it. Now I realise that the problem need not be about cells, but I can solve an issue with, for example, tax administration. Managing a small company is fascinating as you can contribute a little to everything”, Leena Kokko says.

Move to new premises ahead

Kaivogen is going through exciting times, as the company is planning to move from ElectroCity to bigger premises, but they have not yet found a new place.

”We would like to stay nearby, because we conduct close co-operation with the department of biotechnology and many companies based in the Kupittaa district. The premises should be suited to production, which means, for example, tighter requirements for ventilation compared with office premises. We also need individual rooms and have large equipment. In addition, transporting goods should be possible, because we send out goods on pallets. Hopefully somebody who knows of such premises will read this”, Leena Kokko says.

Rapid growth

Kaivogen’s turnover has increased from half a million euros in the first year to nearly three million. More than 90 per cent of the products are exported; to the EU countries, Nordic countries and the United States. They are working on a couple of their own patents.

The customers are mostly diagnostics companies to which Kaivogen as a subcontractor customises components for quick, reliable and easy-to-use laboratory tests. The best place to find customers is partnering events to which profiles are provided beforehand, such as Bio-Europe Spring supported by Turku Science Park which is a small event arranged annually.

Recently Kaivogen entered into a three-year co-operation agreement in India which according to Leena Kokko will open certain doors. Three years from now the company should have its own product ready for the market, and it has already found partners.

”We have been developing easy and reliable tests for developing countries. They can be performed with a small device that can be carried, for example, in an ambulance and operated without electricity. We have already developed a prototype with our Indian partner.”

Fun at work

Leena Kokko enjoys her time at the workplace so much that she doesn’t always remember that she’s working. Five years ago, her working days shortened to normal when a baby was born in the family. Today, she has a “home family” and “work family”.

Evenings and weekends are filled with the hobbies of the whole family and various chores in a detached house in Paimio.

“We found the right house for us there, and as one of our criteria was no more than half an hour drive to work, we decided to move there. We enjoy living in the house built in 1985; there are always little things to fix and we have been working a lot in the garden. We go cycling and do other sports. Our son just learned to ride a bike without training wheels”, Leena Kokko says.

Under the surface

One of Leena Kokko’s dearest hobbies is scuba diving at which she could spend all summer weekends and even a whole week before the baby was born.

”We used to go diving on trips arranged by the Turku-based Nautic Club. I’m hoping to find the time to continue the hobby. It’s great to examine the wrecks in the Archipelago Sea, the oldest of them are from the 16th century. I can recommend diving to everyone. It’s quite safe with a reliable partner, and nowadays there are computers, so it’s easier than before to monitor the safe diving time. My husband also dives in caves, but I just go down to 30–35 metres and come up.”

Diving resembles meditation, because it is silent under water and all you can hear is your breathing. The waters in Finland are dark.

”Lappajärvi lake, which is referred to as the pearl of Ostrobothnia, was a complete surprise. The water was pitch black, and you couldn’t see anything without a lamp. Fine wrecks include e.g. Fortuna which lies on its side in the Kihti sea area and still has the bridge in place, and Park Victory off Utö island. On holidays in the south we have seen colourful corals and once a dolphin.”

At home Leena Kokko reads books whenever she has the time and has several going at a time. She likes crime, light entertainment, sci-fi as well as books that contemplate the wonders of the world.

Text and photos: Anne Kortela

Leena Kokko

Born in 1977 in Pori, lives in Paimio
Managing Director, shareholder, Kaivogen Oy 2007–

2002 M.Sc., Biotechnology, University of Turku
2007 Ph.D., Biotechnology, University of Turku

1999–2007 Research Assistant, Researcher, University of Turku, Department of Biotechnology
2007– Kaivogen Oy, Managing Director

Husband and 5-year-old son

Scuba diving, climbing, cycling, reading