From chemist to executive
The biomaterials used in dentistry products and fibre technology are the foundation of Stick Tech’s products which Eija Säilynoja knows inside out as the former R&D Manager. Now she is also responsible for heading the business operations stemming from the Turku-based innovation.
Eija Säilynoja started as the Head of Scientific Affairs and Administration of Stick Tech Ltd at the beginning of June. The company emerged from a university research project in 1997 and celebrated its 20th anniversary in May “in the family circle” in Turku. It started operations with dentistry products based on fibre glass reinforcement and a biomaterial invention, known as Stick, by Pekka Vallittu, Professor of Dentistry in the University of Turku.
The beginning was very modest, as the company operated in a room converted from a cleaning closet in the Institute of Dentistry. Pioneering new features included the endurance, lightness and low cost of the material compared to e.g. implants. Many of the products are still based on the same technology, while the form of glass and the length of the fibres vary.
Same company – new position
Eija Säilynoja has been working at Stick Tech since 2003, so she knew what she was getting into, although transferring from an expert to an executive changed her job description a great deal. Previously she focused on product development, production and academic research. Now the emphasis lies in administrative issues.
”It is really interesting and varying and offers many new challenges. One of the new areas of responsibility is acquiring of funding which is new to me. Responsibility for R&D remains from my old duties, and growing and developing of the university network is still a very important part of my work.”
Benefit from a big parent company
External funding is needed from time to time for basic research, but it has become harder to get domestic funding, because Stick Tech has been in foreign ownership since 2011. It is part of the Japanese GC Group which is one of the leading manufacturers of dentistry products in the world.
Today, Stick Tech products are supplied semi-finished to Belgium from where they are distributed to customers around the world, and the company’s own sales and marketing operations have been discontinued. The majority of production has been transferred to Japan, but R&D is still based in Turku and is intended to stay that way. There are eight employees in Turku, three of whom work in production.
Eija Säilynoja thinks that it is a positive thing for a small biomaterials company to have support from a big parent company, because the required investments are significant.
”Small size is often a problem, and many companies have gone under before the customer has given approval for their products. On the other hand, small size allows for dynamic operating. It’s easier to make changes in a small company. Stick Tech’s outlook is positive, turnover is growing at a steady rate of 5–10 per cent.
Japan and Belgium
Eija Säilynoja has contacts with the parent company almost on a daily basis, mostly with the Belgian unit. The head office is located in Tokyo, Japan, as is the R&D centre.
Dr Säilynoja spent two years in Japan herself in her early career as a visiting researcher in the Nippon Dental University and met some GC people there. The family originally moved to Japan due to her husband’s job and stayed there for two years while the children were young. After returning to Finland, Dr Säilynoja went back to Turku Clinical Biomaterials Centre where she had worked before moving to Japan. The Biomaterials Centre is still an important partner.
From Kalajoki to the south
Eija Säilynoja came to the Turku region from the north. She spent her childhood in Kalajoki and worked in Oulu during the school years, but wanted to pursue her studies in Jyväskylä to get new experiences. Jyväskylä was a nice city for a student; everything was within a walking distance and students came from all over Finland.
Her husband is from Kaarina and they ended up first in Helsinki, then Turku and, after the family had grown, to Kaarina. The family still has a summer cottage in Kalajoki where they usually spend one week on the summer holiday and visit her mother who lives there. The town has expanded towards the famous sand dunes, and there is now an international holiday village.
No working when off duty
Although her working days are hectic, Eija Säilynoja is usually able to limit them from eight to four. Sometimes she may check her e-mail in the evening. She says that her favourite place is home. There is plenty to do in the yard of a detached house, and right next to the house there is a forest that beckons nature lovers to outdoor activities.
”My other leisure activities include needlework and art. Sometimes I knit, at other times I make pencil drawing which I usually just keep for myself. I have occasionally done some pottery, and have played tennis for a long time”, Eija Säilynoja says.
Text and photos: Anne Kortela
Born in 1965 in Kalajoki
Head of Scientific Affairs and Administration, Stick Tech Ltd, Turku
- 1985 matriculation examination, Kalajoki
- 1990 M.Sc., inorganic and analytical chemistry, University of Jyväskylä
- 1992 Lic.Phil., inorganic and analytical chemistry, University of Jyväskylä
- 1996, D.Phil., inorganic chemistry, University of Turku
- 2014, Docent, biomaterials science, Faculty of Medicine, University of Turku
- + Individual courses (R&D/quality/materials etc.)
- 40 publications, 54 scientific presentations, 5 patent applications
- Supervisor of 6 theses (Nippon Dental University/Tampere University of Technology/Turku University of Applied Sciences)
- Advisor of 1 doctoral dissertation, The University of Hong Kong
Positions of trust
- 2007–2009, Member of executive board, Japan Society of Promotion of Science (JSPS)
- 2011–2018, Honorary Associate Professor, The University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Dentistry
- 1986–1992 Laboratory employee OYKS, Oulu/researcher, University of Jyväskylä/Chemistry and physics teacher, Validia Vocational College, Helsinki
- 1997–2001 Researcher/Project Manager, University of Turku, Biomaterials Centre
- 2002–2003 Researcher, Nippon Dental University, Japan
- 2003– R&D/Production Manager, Stick Tech Ltd, Turku,
- 6/2017– Head of Scientific Affairs and Administration, Stick Tech Ltd, Turku
- Husband and two children (daughter 17 years, son 20 years)
- Lives with her family in Kaarina
- Gardening, hiking in nature, tennis, needlework, pencil drawings