Capturing lightning in a bottle – how Factory 01 came to be

Interview with:

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, CTO

Jouni Ahtinen, VP of Production

Petri Tervasmäki, CSO


The startup world sees countless of highly promising companies looking to grow from theory to pilot to real production. For growth companies, that step from pilot to commercial scale is usually the most difficult phase of all: many of them never succeed despite having fantastic ideas, financing and talented teams.

Solar Foods, however, has managed to take that huge leap. The company’s first commercial production plant launched this spring: sitting at an unassuming location just a quick train ride from the Helsinki airport, Factory 01 is quietly bristling with the energy of a food revolution. The facility is gradually ramping up production, targeting 160 tonnes of Solein annually. In connection with the production facilities, Solar Foods has also built its new company headquarters as well as the Solein Kitchen and a showroom that offer a new peek into the future of food.

While Factory 01 demonstrates once again the possibilities of scaling up Solein, it also helps draw a more valuable blueprint. Planning, building, ramping up and operating a commercial-scale Solein production plant teaches the company how to take the formula to the industrial scale. Factory 01 is much smaller than what a future Factory 02 is envisioned to be, but it is still the more difficult of these projects. This is because Factory 01 needs to demonstrate and prove the process works as intended.

What’s it like to scale – for the first time in history – a unique bioprocess and food technology that grows a never-before-seen food ingredient up to commercial levels? And how did a small Finnish startup accomplish something so remarkable?

Solar Foods Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, VP of Production Jouni Ahtinen and Chief Scientific Officer Petri Tervasmäki sat down a couple of months after the launch to discuss how the unique facility came together.

Where are you now with Factory 01?

Ahtinen: Factory 01 is now up and running. All the production processes are active. The factory floor, the awesome office wing, the showroom, the Solein Kitchen – they are all completed. Everyone has their workspaces set up and are hard at work.

It’s been really great to see the facility and the factory rise up from scratch and everything now in place.

Tervasmäki: We are working on some small changes and improvements here and there all the time. When you see everything in practice, you notice some details you’d like to do differently if you were to do it again, but that’s how it goes. Overall, it’s been an extraordinary achievement for the whole team.

With Factory 01, there was no exact benchmark or model we could aim for because a production plant like this simply hasn’t been built before.

Jouni Ahtinen, VP of Production


What’s it been like to grow from pilot to factory-level production?

Ahtinen: It’s a huge amount of work any way you look at it. Building a factory is a massive project where you have to pay attention to a billion details. And that’s true even in more typical endeavors. With Factory 01, there was no exact benchmark or model we could aim for because a production plant like this simply hasn’t been built before. It’s a greenfield project – which makes those billion details even more interesting!

Major corporations that build factories have the benefit of having done such projects before: they have a routine to it, and typically also more resources and a broader team working with them. With Factory 01, we’ve had a small team where everyone has focused on different things. Yet, everything has come together quickly.

Tervasmäki: For me, the biggest change was in scale and the level of automation. Factory 01 is a fully automated facility that makes use of state-of-the-art technology. In our pilot phase, the cultivation process was highly automated, whereas post-processing was much more manual and the level of automation different. In that sense it was like a leap into the unknown.

Pitkänen: The pace has been really fast and we’ve done an incredible amount of problem solving.

What does it take to scale up a startup’s operation like this?

Pitkänen: This job is all about specification, really, but you also have to be able to take risks.

Ahtinen: It definitely takes courage to embark on a path like this. Had we been more hesitant, we would probably still be in the planning phase.

Pitkänen: It’s really important to forget your fear of failure, to go forward and see how far you can get. Instead of overthinking and getting stuck on everything that could go wrong, you need to focus on solutions.

You could say my whole career so far has been aimed at this moment.

Petri Tervasmäki, Chief Scientific Officer


What’s so challenging about scaling up? Why do most startups fail when trying to take this step?

Tervasmäki: One of our biggest challenges, I think, is that we’ve been doing something different from what’s been done before. That’s why, during the planning phase, we decided to build the plant to be as flexible as possible. That way any of the problems that now remain would be easy to solve.

Pitkänen: In my experience, most companies fail because of the lack of focus.

Ahtinen: Then again, having talked with the building crew here and with other professionals who have built a lot of factories, I’ve learned that every project has its challenges. No matter how experienced you are, there will always be problems you come across that you need to solve. It’s simply the nature of projects like these.

What have been your keys to success?

Pitkänen: Luck! And of course having that focus that a startup really needs if it wants to truly build on an innovative idea.

It’s really important to forget your fear of failure, to go forward and see how far you can get. Instead of overthinking, you need to focus on solutions.

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder


Ahtinen: When you gain experience you learn to do things smarter. With Factory 01, we’ve been very realistic about everything. We decided to have a single contractor for the factory building, and another contractor putting together the production process. We could have split the work into a large number of smaller contracts but chose not to: it could have led to problems along the way.

Tervasmäki: Also, our specs have been drawn up well. That has been really important.

What’s the most interesting and inspiring side of building a facility like Factory 01 and the road leading up to it?

Pitkänen: It’s not every day you get the chance to build this kind of a factory. It’s been a unique opportunity for every one of us.

Tervasmäki: The biggest reason for me to join Solar Foods in the first place was the chance to commercialise a new kind of gas fermentation process. I have studied this and you could say my whole career so far has been aimed at this moment.

Ahtinen: This is a great job for anyone who’s passionate about innovations, continuous development and constantly learning new things. Here you come across new things all the time and it is super interesting for those who like problem solving. If you prefer routine and doing things the way you’ve always done them, then it’s not for you.

It’s really rare that you get to work with world-changing technology and such an amazing team like ours. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of this journey.

Take a look inside Factory 01: