slush2015winner_copla

Virpi Muhonen: ”If you can’t pitch your research, you need to rethink what you’re doing.”

Researchers brought science to the spotlight at last year’s Slush. This winter you should too. Here’s why.

Text: Kristiina Markkanen, photo: Vilja Pursiainen

Were researchers Virpi Muhonen and Anne-Marie Haaparanta in charge, every research conference would have a built-in mini-Slush. Or at least a pitching event, not unlike the Slush Science Pitching competition that was organized for the first time in 2015.

“If you try to channel a rockstar at a research conference, people will think you’re insane. What I loved about Slush was that you could actually hype your work. The three minute pitch really makes you think about why you’re passionate about your research and then you get to share that excitement with the audience”, Haaparanta gushes.

What I loved about Slush was that you could actually hype your work.

Muhonen and Haaparanta are members of last year’s winning team COPLA. The team’s solution is a new treatment for cartilage damage that combines biomaterial technology with stem cells’ regenerative power. Basically COPLA’s research will eventually give birth to bio-orthopaedic implants for cartilage repair and prevention of arthtrosis.

Haaparanta and Muhonen are in the homestretch of a commercialization project funded by Tekes. Right now they’re preparing to launch their spin out company after the project finishes at the end of the year. In addition to Haaparanta and Muhonen, the company will employ researchers Constance Trouvé, who joined the two ladies on stage at Slush last year, Kaisa Laine and Laura Johansson. This far the COPLA crew has received around 2.2 million euros worth of research funding from Tekes.

Messing up can get you far

When the trio took the stage at Slush last November most of the things that could go wrong had already gone wrong. Their presentation slides didn’t work and had to be redone at the last minute. And then there was the infamous (for them, at least) dress rehearsal, where the ladies included a surprisingly uncooperative dog in their pitch.

Everything didn’t go as planned but the end result was much better than we anticipated.

“Here’s a hot tip: never take a dog on stage”, Muhonen says, laughing. All they could do was to get on with the rest of the preparations. That’s what you do when you’re a researcher: you move on. If you mess up a test or a lab set up is all wrong, you try again. Both Muhonen and Haaparanta found their Slush experience to be a great example of that.

“We saw Slush as a learning experience and a challenge. We’d never given a pitch like that, we had no idea what the eventual benefits would be for us. Everything didn’t go as planned but the end result was much better than we anticipated.”

If you can’t pitch it, ditch it

The COPLA ladies took home the main prize of 3000 euros, a bunch of interview requests and a stack of new contacts that would later on prove to be very useful. However, they liked pitching even more than winning.

Being a researcher in today’s economy isn’t easy. There’s a lot of competition for funding and allowances. Convincing investors and business partners requires you to clearly articulate why your work should be funded and bring out the impact of your research. It can be hard to do in a mere 180 seconds, but once you’ve learned to do it, it’s advantageous.

“As a researcher you need to be able to tell not just your colleagues but everyone what you do, why you do it and why it’s important in a way everyone can understand. If you can’t pitch your research, you need to rethink what you’re doing”, Muhonen says.

Fortunately COPLA doesn’t have to.

Read more about the Slush Science Track program here.

 

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