Ilkka Kouvonen brings business insight to the University of Turku
Ilkka Kouvonen is a familiar face at Turku Science Park. He worked as the Managing Director of Turku Science Park Oy from 2006 to 2010 and has since then, for example, done research on the state and development paths of the local diagnostics industry for the Turku University of Applied Sciences.
Born in Turku, Dr Kouvonen attained a Master's degree in biochemistry here and moved to the Helsinki metropolitan area after graduation to work as a researcher at the Minerva Foundation Institute for Medical Research. During that time, in 1981, he was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
"I was already married with two sons in Turku. Gradually I began to feel that a researcher's income was insufficient for raising a family, so I ended up working at Suomen Sokeri. It opened up a path to biotechnology business where the development and commercialisation of monoclonal antibodies was growing rapidly. I suggested to the Minerva Foundation and Suomen Sokeri that they should establish a joint company, but Suomen Sokeri eventually decided to withdraw from the project", Dr Kouvonen says.
Different perspectives on biotechnology
In 1985, the Minerva Foundation went on to establish Medix Biochemica Oy, with Dr Kouvonen as the Managing Director. Different parts of Europe, Japan and the US emerged as the primary markets for the company. Under Dr Kouvonen's leadership the company grew into a substantial operator in the field.
"The job involved a lot of travelling. It was an interesting and laborious stage in my life and made me familiar with the diagnostics industry companies around the world."
Dr Kouvonen worked as the Managing Director of Medix Biochemica for 14 years. A bit too long, he says; within ten years a Managing Director has given his company everything he can. He gained a new perspective on biotechnology as he started as Business Director at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra at the turn of the millennium. His area of responsibility covered issues related to life sciences sector financing and capital investments. However, Esko Aho, President of Sitra after Aatto Prihti, introduced a new strategy whereby the Fund gave up its investments in the life sciences sector. However, as an expert in biotechnology Dr Kouvonen entered a new stage when he became the Managing Director of Turku Science Park Oy in 2006. That also meant moving back to Turku, the town where he grew up and pursued his studies.
"At the helm of a business policy company I learned a great deal about municipal decision-making. The most challenging task was to coordinate local business development within the framework of globalisation. The industry must generally always think globally."
Under Dr Kouvonen's leadership Turku Science Park Oy built relationships with both eastern and western operators. Co-operation with Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm led to the establishment of Biocelex Oy, which according to Dr Kouvonen was established effortlessly after a long-term emphasis on co-operation between Turku and Stockholm.
"The city's management clearly considered it as a positive achievement which was also mentioned in many speeches. Unfortunately, the original idea of a new fund with a capital of eight million euro administered by Biocelex had to be given up, and the company's investments were targeted at Karolinska Institutet's existing funds."
Other co-operation partners included Turku's twin city St Petersburg and Heidelberg in Germany. In St Petersburg Turku Science Park Oy consulted as a science park expert and co-operation was launched with Technologiepark Heidelberg GmbH on a project related to bioimaging.
The Universities Act boosts business development
Last spring Dr Kouvonen started as Business Development Manager at the University of Turku. The relationships created with local universities while acting as the Managing Director of TScP are of great benefit now.
"The new Universities Act has urged all universities to think about their business opportunities and how to utilise them. My job at the University of Turku is to develop the existing business operations as well as to commercialise new innovations. One easily forgets that the University already has several special units and service units in Turku, such as CRST, a service unit which provides clinical trials on drugs, foods and medical equipment at PharmaCity."
As the Business Development Manager, he starts by going through the business principles of all the units. The transparency of operations is important, for example to ensure that the Ministry of Education is not involved in financing activities targeted at the business sector which would distort competition.
"I believe that besides services mainly focusing on natural sciences and medicine at the moment, education and health sciences have a lot of potential for new self-financing units. New projects are being planned, such as postgraduate training for psychiatric nurses using virtual learning. Besides hospital districts, we are hoping to attract customers from foreign organisations."
"Universities have competitive expertise, the commercially profitable volumes of which should be studied. The new Universities Act allows us to operate through separate companies besides service units, whereby the university may be a joint owner with a share it considers appropriate."
Ilkka Kouvonen has spent his summer mainly in outdoor activities. The renovation of his old house in Kaarina, on a 7,000 square metre plot, has entered the stage of doing the garden. Another great interest in his life is Japanese cultural history. Added together, the work-related, often two-week trips to Japan amount to up to a year spent in the land of the rising sun. Over the years, friendships formed with people met in Japan have mainly remained and offered an opportunity to get to know the country and its culture beneath the surface.
- Born in Turku in 1949
- Biochemist, PhD awarded by the University of Helsinki in 1981
- A long career in the research, business and financing of biosciences and life sciences. Business Development Manager at the University of Turku as of April 2011.
- Lives in Kaarina. Two adult sons, three grandchildren. His wife Tuula Kouvonen works at the Aalto University.
- Hobbies include renovating his home, Japanese cultural history, oil painting