Disior – Success Story from Terkko



In this post we are venturing into the exiting yet challenging world of startup development with Terkko’s alum – Disior to cover the hurdles and learning points of a medtech startup in Finland.

Time goes by very quickly if you’re in the entrepreneurship world. It feels as if it were yesterday Terkko opened its doors to its first members, among which was Disior. They joined us with five members and now they are sixteen. Earlier this year we witnessed their next expansion and they flew out of the nest, to relocate to Maria01 – the largest startup campus in the Nordics and soon in Europe. 

I still remember very vividly how I was showing the potential office spaces to Sakari Soini (CTO of Disior) in the fall of 2017. Now we barely have any vacant space with 45 startups, an incubator, accelerator and corporate partners all under one roof. Today, I’m interviewing online the CEO of Disior – Anna-Maria Henell. 

Anna-Maria, thank you for joining me for this post! Before going into the recent developments of your business, I’d like to ask you to briefly describe your company and your current activities to our readers. 

Hi Rashad, thank you for having me! 
We are a Helsinki-based startup specializing in turning CT and MRI images into mathematical models and numerical analysis. We have developed a cloud-based 3D analytics software for medical doctors that automatically analyzes, quantifies, and parameterizes medical images. Our software quickly provides objective data for patient diagnosis, treatment planning and outcome assessment. As a medtech company we just received our second CE mark and closed a new funding round. We also just struck a distribution deal with global medical imaging equipment provider Planmed. In addition, we are in the process of securing FDA approval to help us bring the technology to US markets. So, a lot of exciting times ahead.

Exiting indeed! Hope to hear the news of you breaking into the US market very soon. 
Now, let me congratulate you on joining Maria01! It’s definitely the center of many entrepreneurial activities in the country. Please tell our readers about your new digs and the perks of being located there. 

As much as we miss Terkko and our times there, it has also been a great adventure moving into Maria01. A lot of new people, new fellow startups, investors and a lot of happenings. It is great to see such a large variety of startups in different stages and fields. It also forces us to look at things with a bit broader perspective, outside of our own field. There is for sure a lot to learn from the great people in Maria01.

This is very nice to hear! Wish you all the best in your new house and greetings to Maria01 guys. 
I’d like to now ask you to shed a little light on your journey so far and share your experiences. Can you say what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way? Also, what were the biggest learning points for you? 

Well, there has been, and certainly still will be, a lot of big things on the way. I think the list is quite similar for a lot of medtech startups – first, creating a good product-market fit with clearly defined value-add, then, fund raising, building a good team, dealing with regulations, just to name a few. One of the biggest learnings is that the products in this category truly need to be based on rock solid scientific evidence. Also the proof of product-market fit should be obtained immediately from international markets. So, Finland is not enough, we need to go out there from day one. Also, team building is crucial, as a startup, we cannot afford to make too many mistakes there, as everybody in the team is having a big impact on the company. Anyway, despite all the challenges, the journey has also been the best I’ve ever experienced. There is never a dull moment, and there is a certain excitement in the fact that nothing is predictable. Anything can happen, at any point of time!

Crucially important points! Sounds like a true roller coaster and glad to see that you are enjoying it. 
You have a big team now and a lot of activities. Can you mention some of the milestones you’ve reached already? 

I see one of the biggest achievements being related to the regulations, getting the CE certifications for the products and also for our quality management system. It was really hard work, and we learned a lot during the process. I think it was vital though to do that, because it gives us a competitive advantage in the market and the ability to really go out with a clinically approved product. CE certification also paves the way to certify the products outside the EU. Maybe the other great achievement I want to mention, is the team we have been able to build. It is a really devoted and truly committed team with all the talent you can imagine. Without the team, we could not have made through any of the milestones needed.

Indeed, the importance of the CE certification for a medtech startup cannot be stressed enough and of course a good team is the cornerstone of any successful venture.  
You have been through a lot, what do you think needs to be done in Finland to help startups in the medtech field develop faster and with greater ease? 

I think we would need to start thinking big, bigger than we do today. We are too often satisfied with the things we have here in Finland, and are pleased with ourselves, if someone here says that our product is good. I feel that to be really competitive in the global market, Finnish medtech startups need to be based on hardcore science and related evidence. Otherwise the competition is really hard out there and easily runs us over with bigger domestic markets and greater amounts of funding. The validation of the product should be done with a global perspective from the start, and then when the idea and technology is solid enough, it should receive a good amount of funding. The way from an idea to a certified product in this market segment is really hard and takes quite a lot of time.

That is very understandable. It’s easy to become placid when everything goes well. One should never take things for granted and always strive to develop them further, but of course, not at the expense of fixing something that is not broken. 
Going back to your days in Terkko, could you say how you benefited from the community and the space? 

We have a lot of good memories from our Terkko times and it was the best place to start the company! Mostly we value the connections with the HUS University Hospital, the medical students, fellow startups in the same field, peer-to-peer support and the ability to network through various events and the vivid atmosphere. There was always something happening there! A lot of good learnings we could obtain, and also at later stages share with others.

We would always drag you to events, programs, conferences and ask you to mentor and pitch on various occasions, including endless delegation visits. You were always there to help and truly made the community prosper. Looking back, what are some of your fond memories from Terkko life? 

There are numerous ones, but maybe I mostly remember the feeling in the occasions where we could finally give something to the others as well, not just being the receiving part. For example, the workshops, where there were a couple of startups just starting their journey, and we were able to share with them some of our experiences, and hopefully help them to overcome some of the challenges in their paths. That I think is the essence of being in a community, share and receive, whatever your own needs are at the moment.

You couldn’t have stated it better. That is the main reason why hubs and coworking spaces are becoming more and more popular all over the world. 
Finally, as a proper medtech scaleup you have a lot in front of you. Please share with our readers your non-confidential plans, the rest we’ll just keep between us. 

There shall be a lot of very exciting times ahead! The newly acquired funding will facilitate further development of our existing products and also go to new areas. We are already developing new features to our current lineup opening up new use cases within orthopedics and automated surgery planning. We are also developing an innovative product with neurosurgery applications through an exciting collaboration with Dutch company Augmedit which specializes in the creation of AR/VR tools for surgeons. So, I’m sure you shall hear from us also in the future!

Impressive! I see guys mean business, (pun intended) and I’m sure I will. 
It has been amazing having you join this post Anna-Maria. You have come a long way and you’re following a truly worthy cause. Our ecosystem needs more and more companies like you. Thanks again and feel free to share the last few words. 

My best wishes for all Finnish and other countries medtech startups, we are really needed, all the best of luck to us all! Also of course greetings to the whole Terkko community, we miss you! 

Rashad Ismayilzada  
Terkko Health Hub

Head of Partnership

Anna-Maria Henell