BusinessOulun ajankohtaisimmat uutiset

Natal Mind conquers Polar Bear Pitching

Natal Mind conquers Polar Bear Pitching

Oulu’s own, original Arctic startup event Polar Bear Pitching made a live comeback after four years. A big crowd at Oulu Market Square and online around the world watched as ten startups one after another jumped into the Avanto (Finnish for ice hole) to impress the panel of judges with their business ideas.

Leap Day, February 29th in 2024 saw the return of Polar Bear Pitching, the unique startup event invented and organised in Oulu since 2014. Currently run by BusinessOulu, the international event brought ten startups from a multitude of fields and nationalities to Oulu to compete for the attention of investors and a prize of 10 000 euros to help them develop their business further.

The previous time that Polar Bear Pitching was organised live it also attracted a lot of international attention, both among the startup community and in the media. This year the media covering the event included companies from as far as Brazil, India, and Japan – not forgetting the UK, France, and Finnish national media.

The group of competing startups was a highly international one as well, with teams hailing from Japan, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Norway, and Finland, of course. Many of this year’s innovations and solutions had to do with sustainability, the environment, circular economy, and of course AI. Eight of the teams for the main event had been selected by a panel of experts at BusinessOulu, while two teams qualified by winning the pitching competitions at satellite events in Hokkaido, Japan, and Kirkenes in Norway.


Aura Pyykönen of Natal Mind convinced both the judges and the audience. Photo: Harri Tarvainen

A winning solution for mothers and families

When all ten startups had delivered their pitches, the judges selected the top three from among which the winner was announced. The crowd of several hundred people greeted the results enthusiastically, as the grand prize was awarded to Natal Mind. Behind the name is a Finnish startup aspiring to take Nordic maternity care to global markets, providing calmer pregnancies with better perinatal care and childbirths.

Currently a Research to Business project at Aalto University, Natal Mind is looking to spin off into a startup in 2024. Natal Mind’s pitch was a cool, calm, and collected one, as the team’s Medical Lead Aura Pyykönen represented them in the ice hole with conviction. She was in no hurry despite the cold circumstances.

- My unfair advantage was that I have done quite a bit of cold water swimming before, so it was perhaps easier for me to keep my cool, so to speak. I was a bit afraid to go first, though, because the Eurovision Song Contest has never been won on the first turn either, Pyykönen laughs after the winning ceremonies.

- Now there’s a double euphoria going on with the endorphines from the cold water and the happiness for the win, she continues.

Naturally the competition is not won merely by standing for ages in the cold water. The judges are mainly looking for scalable and potentially profitable business ideas, and Natal Mind seems to have one.

- Our vision is to provide accessible and equal care to everybody for the perinatal journey. At the moment the journey is broken and the care is not where it should be. In five years, we are going to be the go-to tool in the consumer landscape. I see us both as a medical device and a B2B service providing a comprehensive pregnancy journey and perinatal mental health, Pyykönen summarises.

Björk Brynjarsdóttir of Melta (Iceland) won Polar Bear Pitching Kirkenes to qualify for a spot in the main event. Kuva: Harri Tarvainen

Getting the message out is key

Aura Pyykönen also gave credit to all the other teams, particularly Melta from Iceland who also made it to the top three. Melta claimed a spot in Oulu by winning the Kirkenes event. Melta provides a practical, circular solution for waste management in rural municipalities by brewing fertiliser from food waste. Melta’s founder and CEO Björk Brynjarsdóttir also did a very good job giving a coherent and even comfortable-looking pitch in ice-cold water.

- I felt more butterflies in my stomach this time than sitting in a tub of ice-water in Kirkenes, but I felt quite good, Brynjarsdóttir says.

- We are extremely happy with the result to finish in the top three. The most important things is to participate. And we are so proud and passionate about what we are doing that we are happy to be here. It is great to get to come and tell people about our solution, she explains.

Polar Bear Pitching will return in 2025. Kuva: Harri Tarvainen

A new opening for annual happenings

Previously, Polar Bear Pitching has been organised by a registered association specifically founded for the purpose, and this was the first time that BusinessOulu was fully responsible for the arrangements – still with dozens of volunteers participating, as has been the nature of the event since its launch.

- First and foremost, as the organising team, it fills our hearts with joy to witness the return of Polar Bear Pitching after a long break. We are immensely grateful for the overwhelming response from both local and international visitors who joined us and we hope everyone felt the warmth of Finnish hospitality in the heart of the North, says Viera Karam, Head of Polar Bear Pitching and Startup Program Manager at BusinessOulu.

The aim is to make the newly launched event and its side events an annual highlight in the northern event scene once again, with an impact to the international startup community.

- We want to extend our congratulations to the winning team and a big shoutout to all contestants who poured their passion into this extraordinary experience! We wish all of them successful endeavours and growth in the future. For those who could not attend, we invite you to catch the highlights on our livestream, and we hope to see you next year at Polar Bear Pitching 2025!, Karam concludes.

Polar Bear Pitching was streamed online at the event’s website, so anyone around the globe could join in on the festivities. The high-quality broadcast was produced by Saha Prod Oy, a highly merited production company from Oulu.

Previously on the same day, the first ever IceTech Summit seminar was held at Radisson Blu in Oulu for more than 200 participants. The seminar was part of the official Polar Bear Pitching programme, and its topics were printed electronics and artificial intelligence.