Swords to dinosaurs: Meet the Google of public procurement

Oppex The database of Oppex includes more than 3.5 million public sector tenders and more than a million are added every year. The company believes it is already the world’s largest source of tenders. The database of Oppex includes more than 3.5 million public sector tenders and more than a million are added every year. The company believes it is already the world’s largest source of tenders.

Sometimes it takes being boring to be successful. This is what Ville Heinonen and Mikko Lehmuskoski have found after co-founding Oppex, the “world’s largest source of public procurement notices”.

Public procurement is a totally boring area for a startup which is exactly why we thought there must be something great about it,” says Oppex CEO and Co-Founder Ville Heinonen with a laugh.

“Like that the public sector represents a $10,000 billion market globally.”

In practice, Oppex is a global search engine for public procurement tenders. It helps companies to find sales opportunities from both local and international government contracts. For example a user types in a search word related to their industry and the results show all relevant tenders from over 100 countries.

The service aggregates thousands of new public tenders daily and translates them to English from around 50 languages. This is exactly what gives Oppex a competitive edge compared to other similar services.

“There aren’t many other global services in this field, but what makes us unique is that no one else offers English translations of public tenders. With our service, companies can find any public tender, no matter what the original language is, explains Heinonen.

“Oppex suits especially small and medium-sized companies who don’t have the resources to go through public tenders in many different countries and languages.”

It seems the company has found the right approach. Despite only being launched publicly in November 2014 (after a few years of testing) the service already has thousands of business users from 120 countries.

International ambitions

Oppex has come a long way since 2009 when Heinonen and Lehmuskoski, who met 10 years earlier while studying together, started the company. The first iteration of the service was born three years ago – coded by Lehmuskoski himself.

“During the first month of using the service, one of the test users found four interesting tenders from Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Four months later they had already closed one of the deals, worth 300,000 euros,” says Heinonen.

Remote work is a natural part of Oppex’s business culture as half of its employees live abroad. “We want to find the best people for us and that is more important than where they live,“ says Heinonen. (Photo: Oppex) Remote work is a natural part of Oppex’s business culture as half of its employees live abroad. “We want to find the best people for us and that is more important than where they live,“ says Heinonen. (Photo: Oppex)

“When we got similar feedback from other companies, we knew we wanted to take the service further.”

The duo quit their day jobs to become full time entrepreneurs. Now Oppex employs 10 people in its headquarters in Helsinki and abroad and is constantly looking for new talent, from coders to digital marketers.

“The next step for us is to speed up our internationalisation and marketing. Our aim is to be a globally well recognised company in our field within a few years,” Heinonen says.

These ambitions are spurred on by a 1.2 million euro seed funding from media company Alma Media, startup accelerator Veturi, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes, and seven angel investors.

Oppex’s first marketing pushes will be targeted at the UK and Germany as they have been successful test markets for the company. However, as the public procurement process is very similar all over the world, potentially there is no limit to where the company can go.

From dinosaurs to champagne

Oppex’s database currently includes more than 3.5 million public tenders and the company claims it’s already the world’s largest source of tenders. While traditional industries like healthcare and construction represent major areas of public procurement, the variety of tenders and business the company is seeing has taken Heinonen by surprise.

“Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to even understand what a company does,” he laughs.

“There are some amazing public tenders out there, it’s actually very interesting to go through them. We have seen everything from ceremonial swords and dinosaur playgrounds to champagne and caviar.”

Maybe public procurement is not so boring after all.

Text: Eeva Haaramo
www.oppex.com  
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Dreams & Doors creates ecological sports fashion

 Alisha Hasan from Finland established a company in the UK that stands for luxury sports fashion and produces all of its garments ecologically.
Alisha Hasan from Finland established a company in the UK that stands for luxury sports fashion and produces all of its garments ecologically.

Two years ago, Alisha Hasan decided to realise her dream, which many thought was a tad grandiose. She established a fashion company named Dreams & Doors that manufactures ecological sportswear in the UK – and has decided to make it big.

The thought had been smouldering in her for years: active in tennis and rowing in her student years, she wanted clothes which would make a sporty woman look classic and chic. The existing markets failed to respond to her need to look elegant and feminine in sportswear.

“I want to offer people outfits that they can easily wear for a bike ride into town and for a drink after their sports session,” Hasan says.

First fabrics, then designs

The company is just in its infancy, but Hasan believes she is uncovering a gold mine. According to her, there are currently no other manufacturers using similar organic fabrics in their sportswear lines.

 “I want to offer people outfits that they can easily wear for a bike ride into town and for a drink after their sports session,” Alisha Hasan says. (Photo: Dreams & Doors) “I want to offer people outfits that they can easily wear for a bike ride into town and for a drink after their sports session,” Alisha Hasan says. (Photo: Dreams & Doors)

Hasan designs her ecological sportswear pieces herself. The fabrics are imported from India and Turkey, among other countries, and the garments are produced in the UK. Hasan wants to support companies specialising in sustainable development and small British textile factories.

“The fabrics are either herb-dyed, i.e. totally chemical-free, or OekoTex-certified, which means that the minor amounts of chemicals used in their manufacture do not cause any detrimental impacts on the environment,” Hasan explains.

Producing ecological garments is neither low-cost nor easy. Due to the availability of the materials, Hasan needs to proceed in a reverse order compared to traditional fashion labels: she buys the fabrics first and then creates her designs, and not the other way round.

Target group: high-end sports clubs

Hasan describes her customer as a sporty career person aged 20 to 35 with an active life and a playful style. They are also quality-conscious and care about their health and the environment. Dreams & Doors is a luxury brand which enjoys a large potential customer base at British sports clubs.

“Also creating a men’s collection right off the bat was a strategic move, because market opportunities are certainly not in short supply when it comes to men’s fashion,” says Hasan.

The first collection was launched last summer and the pre-sales of the spring/summer 2015 collection have been growing steadily among both customers and distributors. As of early summer, Hasan’s garments will be sold in London’s high-end Equinox fitness clubs, and the network of co-operation partners was further expanded at the Ethical Fashion Show held in Berlin in January.

“We had booked several meetings with local eco-fashion retailers during the fair. The purchaser of the German store Phasenreich and the founder of the Monagoo distribution channel visited the fair just so they could meet our team,” Hasan says.

Finnish roots and global dreams

Raised in Finland, Hasan completed her Master’s degree in economic science in London. She thinks of the UK as her second home and lives in London. Establishing a company in the UK was a natural choice, as the largest markets for her products can be found outside of Finland.

 The ecological and chemical-free fabrics used by Hasan are imported from India and Turkey, among other countries. (Photo: Dreams & Doors) The ecological and chemical-free fabrics used by Hasan are imported from India and Turkey, among other countries. (Photo: Dreams & Doors)

However, it is important for Hasan to let her Finnish roots and the Scandinavian aesthetics shine through in her designs: in her future collection she intends to use reindeer leather produced in Finland for its quality and unique characteristics.

Hasan also wishes to collaborate with Finnish designers. She has already signed an agreement with Mari Kasurinen, an artist and graphic designer known internationally for her My Little Pony designs.

“Mari will design a new dedicated character for D & D’s future collection which will be targeted especially at Japan and South Korea. We want to create a new kind of Finnish design identity, one that is more global and focussed on detail,” Hasan says.

“One of my favourite print designers is Klaus Haapaniemi, who created the Taika range for Iittala. Each of his pieces tells a story. I want to achieve the same expression in my garments, and I’m not likely to run out of stories and wild ideas anytime soon,” Hasan says, laughing.

Text: Mirja Vainio
www.dreamsanddoors.com
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