Alumni Profile: Saara Inkinen
Doctor of Science in Technology, technology transfer and innovation expert, founder of Nordic Catalyst
Saara Inkinen is a technology transfer and innovation expert and the founder of Nordic Catalyst.
I find it a real benefit that I did both my M.Sc. and my D.Sc. degrees in close collaboration with the industry, as this gave me new perspectives and valuable contacts.
Saara Inkinen, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
I started my career with research but have since moved more towards the utilisation of scientific innovations and ideas. I currently run my own business Nordic Catalyst in Vienna and have lived in Austria for the past three years, but I originally come from Turku.
In general, it has always been important for me to work with something that makes a difference, something that I can find meaningful beyond my personal benefits. Working with organisations that develop and commercialise new innovations that can result in environmental or societal improvements is hence the perfect niche for me.
On my free time I love doing sports and going to art exhibitions or cultural events — all great ways to relax after a busy day!
What subjects did you study and when?
After senior high school, I was contemplating between medicine and chemical engineering, as I was fascinated by both fields. I eventually ended up choosing Chemical Engineering and Industrial Economics and started my Master’s (diplomingenjör, DI) studies at Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU) in 1999. I did my M.Sc. thesis on the stability of biodegradable hot melt adhesives as a commissioned work to an industrial partner and graduated in 2006.
As a native Finnish speaker, the possibility to study in Swedish and to make it one of my working languages was as an additional advantage for me. I actually happened to work in Swedish-speaking organisations only, until I moved to Austria in 2016. During my master’s studies, I also lived a couple of years in England, where I studied Biochemical Engineering at University College London.
Pursuing post-graduate studies was something that interested me already early on, so I was excited to be able to start my doctoral studies on the side of my R&D position in a company in 2006. Three years later I moved to ÅAU to finalise my thesis at the laboratory for technical polymer chemistry, while at the same time actively working on externally funded industrial collaboration projects. I defended my doctoral thesis on structural modification of lactic acid-based biopolymers in the beginning of 2011, and it has been nice to notice that the included publications have gained a lot of positive attention and a nice amount of citations since then. I find it a real benefit that I did both my M.Sc. and my D.Sc. degrees in close collaboration with the industry, as this gave me new perspectives and valuable contacts.
In 2012, I did a visiting postdoctoral fellowship and selected MBA-level business studies at Kellogg School of Management in the US with the support of Åbo Akademi University Foundation. I also did a short internship at the Innovations and New Ventures Office (INVO) of Northwestern University. My visit to the US was a great learning experience that not only improved my business and management knowledge, but also provided many practical tools and methodologies that I could implement in my technology transfer work upon my return to Finland.
Where are you today? What are you working with and how did you get there?
I founded Nordic Catalyst in Vienna in 2018 and currently work as an independent consultant. It can be said that I work at the interface between science and business; sometimes stepping fully to the commercial side, sometimes working more closely with technology development, depending on the needs of the project and the client organisation.
Before founding my own company, I worked as the Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Manager of a Viennese research institute focusing on molecular medicine. Prior to moving to Austria, I was responsible for the technology transfer of ÅAU and coordinated the funding of the Research Institute of Åbo Akademi University Foundation. I am also still connected to academic research and for example co-supervise a doctoral thesis for a scientist working at ÅAU.
Having a multidisciplinary and international background is highly beneficial in my current work — I am a firm believer in the power of networks! During my studies, I was also volunteering in different organisations such as Kemistklubben of ÅAU and Tekniska Föreningen i Finland (TFiF). Later on, I also founded a nation-wide network called Finnovation Champions for the technology transfer professionals of all Finnish universities and public research institutes and was active in coordinating its activities until I moved to Austria. More recently, I have been active in the Finnish-Austrian Chamber of Commerce (FINNCHAM Austria), where I am currently a board member.
Tell us a little more about your company? What does it mean to work with technology transfer and innovation management?
I mainly work with the commercialisation of new technologies, supporting both research organisations and companies in their business development, innovation management, and intellectual property exploitation related projects. My assignments are typically related to chemical technologies or life sciences, and I work with international clients including also Finnish organisations. Even though the challenges related to the commercialisation of new innovations are often thematically similar, all of the projects are different — which is great!
How do you remember your time at Åbo Akademi University? Is there any special memory you would like to share with us?
ÅAU has had a very important role in shaping my professional development — I have actually either studied or worked at ÅAU for over a decade in total — that’s more than one fourth of my life! I am especially grateful for the creative working atmosphere that allowed me to advance in my career and to develop my professional skills in a unique way.
It is impossible to highlight just one memory from all these years, but the day of my doctoral disputation is definitely something I will always cherish. It was great to get to share and celebrate the results of the research work of several years not only with the academic community, but also my friends and relatives. The conferment ceremony with the festive procession and the banquet dinner was also a memorable experience.
As a student I would never have thought that I would one day found a company in Austria.