In 2012, four friends united to offer people the choice of whether they wanted to use fossil or renewable fuel for private motoring, regardless of anyone’s level of income. This marked the beginning of StepOne Tech, a cleantech company that commercializes technology that can be used to update combustion engines, so that they use biofuel instead of fossil fuel. Now the company is a global tech leader for changes in means of propulsion, and its solution has been sold to over 20 export markets. Read on about their innovation and how the company benefited from participating in our Grow to USA program.
“We are doing very well right now. In 2018, our company’s revenue was EUR 435,000, and 2019, it will be approximately EUR 2 million. At the same time, our exports have grown from about EUR 200,000 to over EUR 1.5 million, and our staff has expanded from 5 people to 13. Right now, we are investing particularly in the French and US markets and preparing for a EUR 1.5 million funding round,” StepOne Tech’s CEO Tuomo Isokivijärvi says about the company’s current state.
There is growth potential for StepOne Tech’s customer-oriented solution around the world, and the company’s goal is to be a global market leader for changes in means of propulsion. The company is currently focused on the Finnish, French, Swedish, Swiss and US markets as well as other markets in Central Europe, but there is also growth potential for the company’s solution in for example South Africa, Australia, South America, Thailand and Indonesia.
“Our goal within the next five years is to have the biggest global impact as a low-barrier means of moving from fossil fuels to renewable fuels in private motoring and motorcycling. We visibly offer our solution to over one billion people,” Isokivijärvi states.
Building confidence and recognizing problem areas in the Grow to USA program
StepOne Tech participated in our Grow to USA program in spring 2019 when the company had just begun planning their expansion to the US market. Isokivijärvi heard of the program when he participated in the Kasvu Open sparring program, and the final decision to participate was the result of good timing and an efficient program plan.
StepOne Tech’s most important goal was to identify the company’s possible problem areas and to develop its understanding of risk management, insurances, company types and employment. The company also wished to gain more knowledge about matters related to taxes, contracts and legislative procedures from the perspective of the US market.
StepOne Tech’s goals were achieved during Grow to USA’s New York trip. The company became more knowledgeable about the aforementioned themes and many others, pitching became more routine and the company’s network grew larger.
“Perhaps the most important things that Grow to USA offered us were a broad sense and a more detailed picture of the US market. During the trip, we also became more confident about the fact that even though we are a relatively small Finnish company, there’s no reason why we couldn’t enter into big markets in the US and succeed. The overall spirit of the event was very encouraging, motivating, inspiring and warm. I think the organizers were very successful in that. The program also helped us find a lawyer who got us in touch with patent lawyers, an advisor and an investor,” Isokivijärvi explains.
In addition to the program’s experts, StepOne Tech learned a great deal from other participating companies. Lessons learned from other companies have affected StepOne Tech’s global IPR strategy, for example.
By learning from companies that have more experience in the US market, StepOne Tech could identify the next potential steps and challenges on its growth path.
Isokivijärvi would recommend the Grow to USA program to all businesses regardless of their size or development stage.
“We need these types of programs that offer people a bit of guidance and an accessible chance to take a peek at international markets outside Finnish borders. I would recommend this program to everyone for whom the US market is a valid – or even less valid – option. Finland is a small country and it’s good for development, but when you start thinking about bigger fish and the potential to grow, it would be beneficial if a company could account for even the biggest market when designing products and services or planning business operations and operational models.”
A recipe for internationalization: Bravery, patience and efficiency
Isokivijärvi advises companies planning to go global to be both patient and efficient. According to him, it is important for companies to understand that even though things do not always proceed as quickly as they would like when it comes to internationalization, they should set realistic and concrete milestones that they can constructively aim for with a reasonable schedule.
“A company must have an open mind about international growth and dare to take big steps toward it. Many great products and services are developed in Finland, but the developers must believe in them and aggressively seek growth in international markets early enough,” Isokivijärvi says in summary.