Alumni Profile: Nitin Agrawal
Postdoctoral researcher, entrepreneur and start up co-founder, Folkhälsan Research Center and ExtraVerd
Nitin Agrawal holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Åbo Akademi University. He is a researcher and entrepreneur working on several interesting projects both in the environmental and in the health sector.
My studies have given me the know-how and the tools to perform research.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
I am Nitin, and I am originally from India. I arrived in Turku, Finland in 2010 to pursue my Master’s degree at the University of Turku. Today, 11 years later, I hold a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from Åbo Akademi University. I am a startup co-founder and I have been working on several interesting projects both in the environmental and in the health sector.
What subjects did you study? And when?
For my Master’s degree, I studied Bioinformatics at the University of Turku. When it was time for my thesis, I worked in the Structural Bioinformatics Lab at Åbo Akademi University under Dr. Anni Kauko. I was studying membrane proteins and their mechanism of insertion in the cell membrane. All of this was done computationally. In June 2012, I was the first to graduate from the programme, finishing my degree in less than two years. I continued my Ph.D. project in the same lab under Dr. Tomi Airenne and Professor Mark Johnson, where I was studying a family of proteins, Avidins, and their ligand-binding properties with Biotin and other small molecules.
What made you choose Finland when there are so many other great countries in the world?
What first attracted me to Finland was the quality of education and the free-education model for Master’s degree studies. I was looking for places and countries to study in after my bachelor’s degree. That is when I heard great things about Europe in general, and Finland in specific. I received several offers to pursue my degree around Europe, but I ultimately chose Finland because education was free.
Where have your studies taken you? What are you working with now and how did you get there?
My studies have given me the know-how and the tools to perform research. Based on my learnings from the university, I am capable of understanding complicated, technical information by breaking it down into its basic concepts and learning things from a bottom-up approach.
I am currently a postdoctoral researcher working with a genetics research group called Fin-HIT coordinated at the Folkhälsan Research Center. Here, I am looking at obesity and diabetes in Finnish adolescents, and working on finding early signs for predicting these diseases by analyzing bacteria found in their saliva.
But you are also an entrepreneur with your own company?
Yes, after I finished my Ph.D. in 2018 I also founded my startup, ExtraVerd Oy, to work on a methane-reduction project with Valio. Since then, I have worked parallelly on several interesting projects in related sectors, the most interesting of them being Nutrinity, a solution of upcycling food waste to produce fresh food.
What is the business idea behind ExtraVerd and how do you feel it has been received by the market?
ExtraVerd started with a goal to leave Earth in a better situation than we found it with respect to climate change (Making Earth more liveable). I feel that slowly, but surely, we are inching towards that goal. It is an ambitious goal and it will take a long time to achieve, but we will not rest until we get there. Through our various projects over the years, we have always made sure that we make a positive impact on the environment, and have succeeded so far. We have been well received by the startup sector here in Finland. Our team was recently interviewed about our experiences by the Turku Business Region.
How do you remember your time at Åbo Akademi? Is there any special memory you would like to share with us?
My time at Åbo Akademi was really special. I thoroughly enjoyed the various events and talks alike. Particularly memorable ones are the yearly street festival and the panel discussions at Sigyn-sali. I remember I used to sit in the stands at the street festival and cheer for teams in the human foosball game. It was a truly fun and festive time!
Do you have a message for today’s students, or perhaps for someone planning to study abroad?
I highly recommend Turku as a city and especially Åbo Akademi University to anyone reading this and planning to apply. Åbo Akademi has been amazingly helpful to me in terms of bureaucracy as well. I found that all information was well documented and easy to follow, especially in English. The IT staff was always helpful with all my queries and the library has an amazing collection of books for anyone to use.