Rosa-Maria Alaraasakka’s Startup Experience team had a great idea: they would make returning takeaway food packaging back to the vendor for reuse both easy and lucrative. This way, we’d produce less trash, and food vendors wouldn’t need to order new packages as often.
Her team got valuable feedback over the course and pitched the idea under the name Opack at Matchbox 2021. It was clear to Rosa that their idea had value and should become a real startup. The other team members, however, had different plans — they wanted to focus on their studies instead of continuing with the idea. This was the first big setback.
Tuomas Hätälä is an electrical and automation engineering student who’s always liked to tinker with all kinds of projects in and outside his field. In 2021, he was working at FabLab in Oulu. There, he met Rosa, who had recently moved to town. Not much after, he got a message from her asking if he’d like to set up a circular economy startup with her. He did.
“Tuomas seemed like a capable guy, so I thought, why not! My team had disbanded, and I couldn’t really think of anyone else I’d like to pursue the idea with,” Rosa says. For Tuomas, this was precisely the kind of challenge he had been looking for. “I always want to have some interesting projects ongoing. And rarely have I met someone with whom our ideas would be so well in sync, so it was easy to say yes,” he says.
I’m so grateful that in Startup Experience, we were made to do shareholders’ agreements.
As Rosa and Tuomas started investigating the field further, they realized there weren’t many genuinely innovative solutions. Covid had made takeaway and delivery food the norm, and there was certainly a demand for reusable packaging, but the existing solutions were rather traditional.
By utilizing their combined brainpower and building on the original idea, they devised a business model they believed would work. They decided to still call their product Opack — at least for now. Rosa and Tuomas don’t want to spill all their secrets but reveal that their concept is based on QR codes and a subscription service. They aim to make returning the packages convenient and profitable for the end users (you and me) and risk-free for their customers (the restaurants) by taking care of collecting and washing the packages. The core idea is similar to what Rosa and her team came up with, but with Tuomas, they managed to improve upon it in many ways.
“I’m so grateful that in Startup Experience, we were made to do these shareholders’ agreements on what happens if someone wants to proceed with the idea and the others don’t. That’s why I knew I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes, and also had a good starting point with Tuomas because we could do similar agreements,” Rosa says.
They had a good product and a great plan, and things were going smoothly — until they weren’t. Covid was already rough for the restaurant business, and things had barely taken a turn for the better when the energy crisis hit. Many restaurants, especially small and independent ones, were going out of business. And those that survived weren’t ready for new experiments. “We had to face the fact that we might need to give up,” Rosa says. This was the second big setback — but it was not the end.
Help came from an unexpected savior: the European Union. In early 2023, it was widely reported that the EU wanted to further restrict the use of single-use plastic and packaging and that Finland had agreed. Restaurants would now have to find alternative solutions to their takeaway food packages — and Opack had one.
We had to face the fact that we might need to give up.
Now, Rosa and Tuomas are looking for collaborators who want to be at the forefront of the upcoming change and are ready to do a pilot with Opack. After a pilot, the plan is to talk to investors and start scaling up. “We don’t want just any investors, however. We’re looking for long-term commitment and the willingness to transform the industry, not someone who’s only after a quick exit,” Rosa says.
Besides partners and investors, Rosa and Tuomas are also on the lookout for new team members. “Now is the time to start growing. We want more knowledge, enthusiasm and diversity in the team,” Tuomas says. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you can drop Tuomas a message in LinkedIn or via email.
It took an EU-level decision for the industry to start looking into the future, but Rosa and Tuomas hope companies take the opportunity to be courageous and make big changes instead of trying to meet the minimum requirements. The world is changing fast, and if you don’t plan for the future, you’ll become history.