Vahterus Ltd: Heat exchanger expertise from Finland

Numerous ice stadiums and arenas around the world are equipped with Finnish expertise. However, eyes rarely turn to the ice itself, although it is increasingly often produced using technology developed by Vahterus.

A technological head start, understanding the customer and unrelenting sales efforts. These are the three pillars on which the Kalanti-based Vahterus has steadily built its success, expanding from a small three-person enterprise into an export company that employs more than 230 people and generates a turnover of EUR 30 million.

"This is beyond our wildest dreams. When we started back in the day, our only aim was to employ ourselves. Entrepreneurship was our only option," says Mauri Kontu, CEO and founder the company.

The roots of Vahterus lie in the Uusikaupunki shipyard which was back then owned by the company Rauma-Repola. Its gates were closed in late 1980s at the brink of the recession. This marked a crossroads to an innovation Kontu and some of his colleagues had been developing under the wings of the shipyard company.

What the men had was a heat exchanger that was clearly ahead of its time. The domestic market in the early 1990s was, however, completely stagnant. Therefore Kontu decided to embark on the export market.

"We went to a fair in Germany fair with no previous experience whatsoever, and managed to score some good openings right away. It was pretty unbelievable, to be honest, but that is how it all began," Kontu says, reminiscing.

Growth through partnerships

Vahterus's main fields include processing and chemical industry, energy industry and refrigeration technology. From the perspective of the general public, its most interesting applications are modern ice stadiums throughout the world, ice arenas, oil platforms and oil refineries.

In the eyes of the CEO, these are only some of many interesting areas of application.

"Our strength actually lies in the fact that we have found and convinced international partners who construct such technology. As this cannot be accomplished by emails or VoIP calls alone, it has required extensive footwork and travel. On the other hand, this allows us to stay up to date with our customers' future needs," Kontu says emphatically.

The company's initial small-scale exports to Germany have gradually expanded into other countries around the world.

"Finland's EU membership and later the adoption of the Euro were really helpful. They made exports significantly easier for an SME.

Vahterus can be considered a particularly strong export company, as domestic operations only account for some 5 per cent of its turnover. Last year, the company received the Internationalization Award of the President of the Republic.

Substantial help from the Team Finland network

Mauri Kontu thinks that the success of the company lies in its good team that never ceases to develop the original innovation further and find new ways to use it.

He is also thankful to cooperation partners.

"Tekes has been a really important source of product development funding for us; we would not be here without them. As for Finpro, it helped us at the turn of the millennium when we started seriously looking for new export opportunities. An ordinary SME would not be able to secure such contacts and networks on its own, you see," says a thankful Kontu.

Three years ago, CEO Kontu participated in a Team Finland export promotion trip to China and Korea, led by the then Minister for Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb.

"The trip was a really good experience. We gained actual contacts, and on a high level, as is customary in these cultures."

Although the company is interested in the Asian market, there is demand for its products elsewhere, too. Environmental friendliness is becoming a stronger selling point by the day.
"We are still a really small player in the global market. Furthermore, many new ways to apply our technology are just waiting to be discovered, so we have plenty of growth opportunities in store," Kontu says.

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Text: Recommended
Photo: Vahterus

Kaj Nordgren