The year 2019 was a turning point for Maarakennus Niemeläinen. The construction sites became quiet, which in itself was not unusual in a sector sensitive to cyclical fluctuations. Riku Alitupa, who...
Standing still is not something we do, says Marianne Hoppu, CEO of Narskuttelu Oy. That is indeed not something Marianne and Pekka Hoppu, entrepreneurs from Kitee, Finland, have ever been known to do. Narskuttelu Oy was born of an insightful business idea, and with its annually increasing turnover, they are now about to make a considerably larger leap into the medical device manufacturing industry.
For many people, medical device is an unfamiliar term. Most might envision a ventilator or a defibrillator. However, medical devices falling under Fimea’s supervision also include glasses, hearing aids, plasters, and condoms.
- Each of our current products has the potential of being modified into a medical device. All we need to do is combine Pekka's top pharmaceutical experience and our will to move towards a more profitable and higher degree of processing, sums up Marianne Hoppu, agreeing to reveal only that condoms will not be in their online store’s selection.
All roads lead to Kitee!
Marianne and Pekka Hoppu first met in Helsinki. Marianne is originally from Kitee, but had moved to Helsinki after completing her upper secondary education. There, she completed her industrial engineering degree, and Pekka got his doctorate in pharmaceutical technology. The world was open and full of possibilities.
- We relocated to the United States, where Pekka worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Kentucky. For me, the year was difficult – our first-born child had just been born, and we were in a foreign country without any social safety nets.
In 2010, the Hoppu family returned to Finland and settled in Kitee.
- We decided that we would give it four months, and if we then hadn’t found work in Kitee, we would have moved to Central Europe. There are many pharmaceutical factories and companies there that would have happily welcomed Pekka's expertise.
In Kitee, Pekka worked as a sole trader pharmacist and substitute dispenser in the local pharmacies. Marianne worked a range of jobs at a sawmill. Finland and Kitee felt like home, but one practical thing was missing.
- Pekka grinds his teeth in his sleep. Mouth guards intended for consumer use were available in America, but not in Finland. When Pekka took parental leave in 2010, the idea was born to import and sell American DenTek mouth guards in an online store.
Charcoal tablet machine
Marianne Hoppu describes the years 2010–2017 as a period of new initiatives, hard work, even adventures. The mouth guard online store was doing quite well. Pekka Hoppu worked hard as a temp in pharmacies, until an old charcoal tablet machine ended up in their garage.
- A retiring pharmacist contacted Pekka and asked if he was interested. And soon the machine stood in my parents' garage in Kitee.
Pekka Hoppu cleaned and repaired the machine, thinking about what it could be used to manufacture. Making xylitol pastilles was not a unique idea as such. However, the Hoppus’ pastilles stood out from their competitors in terms of size and the adult flavour profile – coffee, chili, and later also smoke-and-tar and smoke whisky.
Entering the pastille business required taking new kinds of risks. Even the garage had to be refurbished into a food-suitable manufacturing space. Order volumes increased and business expanded abroad. Pekka could no longer manage both the online store and his temp jobs at the pharmacies.
- I was temporarily laid off from my job at the time. So we decided to take a risk, and I started working in the family business full time.
Narskuttelu Oy was founded in 2017, and with that, our business became more professional and our online store’s selection expanded. The Hoppus were careful not to bite off more than they could chew; growth and development were promoted with net cash inflow.
Powered by Puhos
Narskuttelu Oy's online store offers a wide range of products that support oral health – xylitol pastilles, dry mouth products, toothbrushes and pastes, mouthwash, products for dental bleaching and gum care, plaque colouring tablets, and moisturising xylitol hand sanitiser.
In 2017, the company's turnover was EUR 66,000. In 2021, it increased to over EUR 280,000. Each year has been better than the previous.
- When we again needed more space, we had the opportunity to relocate our business to Puhos in Kitee. In Puhoshalli, we have about 300 square metres of rental space.
Puhos has given the Hoppus “a lot of positive drive” for their entrepreneurship.
- There are other companies in Puhoshalli as well, and more are coming. It is always an advantage to have a lot of people around the same coffee table. Many questions and challenges are common to all businesses, regardless of size and industry. And even if you don’t get answers directly at the table, you can get tips on who to ask next.
Marianne Hoppu praises the entrepreneurship atmosphere of Kitee. The desire to evolve and develop is one of its strong characteristics.
Kitee keeps in its grasp
The idea of “giving it four months” has now kept the Hoppu family in Kitee for over 10 years. In autumn of 2021, Narskuttelu Oy became a client of Business Joensuu Business Accelerator.
- A few years earlier already, Mikko Heickel, Head of Economic Development of Kitee, proposed this at the morning coffee table. Somehow it was still left hanging in the air until Risto Hiltunen from the Central Karelia Development Company brought the idea up again.
The cooperation with Business Joensuu Business Accelerator is one of the most important factors enabling Narskuttelu’s leap onto a whole new business level.
- The first year with the accelerator was spent on creating our business documentation. Everything was in Pekka’s and my head, of course – but only there, and not explicitly on paper as items, figures and goals, Marianne Hoppu says and praises Business Coach Janne Pakarinen, their contact person at Business Joensuu.
- Now that this important phase has been completed together with Business Joensuu, we can begin to take steps towards more systematic and analytical growth. Our cooperation with the business accelerator will continue for another year.
Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä Ässä Oy
Photo: Jarno Artika