TreeToTextilen teknologiajohtaja Olli Ylä-Jarkko katsoo kohti kameraa.

Building technology in southern Sweden

Olli Ylä-Jarkko started work at a Swedish start-up with a mission to build a factory for new technology.

Olli Ylä-Jarkko is the Chief Technology Officer of the Swedish company TreeToTextile, which develops environmentally friendly textile fibres. The start-up was founded in 2014, and its owners include companies such as H&M and Ikea. StoraEnso joined in 2019, when the intention was to start scaling the technology to an industrial scale.

“When I started in 2020, I was the second employee in the company. Now there are 47 of us,” says Ylä-Jarkko.

Ylä-Jarkko, M.Sc. (Eng.), Chemical Engineering, has worked in the paper industry throughout his career, and the job offer gave him the opportunity for a change of pace.

“Firstly, the job was to build a factory for a whole new technology, and it seemed very difficult. However, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I couldn’t refuse.”

Working from Finland in Skåne

Going abroad was nothing new to Ylä-Jarkko. He had been an exchange student during upper secondary school and he spent a year in the US while studying at Helsinki University of Technology. For the first two years of his career, he participated in a programme in which he worked for one year in Germany and a good six months in the US. From 2012 to 2017, he and his family lived in Germany while he worked on a paper machine construction project.

“We liked living in Germany, but we decided to return to Finland for family reasons. The children are now in lower and upper secondary schools, so this time we decided that I would only go to Sweden for work, that is, I would live for weeks in Skåne, where our demo factory is located, but my family lives in Hyvinkää.”

A few days a week can also be worked remotely, but work at the factory is hands-on problem solving, always making small changes and testing again.

“We are currently working at the smallest possible industrial scale. So we have real factory-scale equipment, but it is the smallest possible. However, this is a big leap when compared to the lab or pilot scale, and the challenges we face and solve every day are naturally also bigger.”

With TreeToTextile’s technology, cellulose is dissolved and spun into textile fibre in an alkaline environment. The consumption of chemicals is low as the solution is not neutralised in between, making the method resource-efficient and simultaneously cost-effective.

Practising patience

Even though Ylä-Jarkko has been able to influence the work culture and hire people, the company is very Swedish in nature. However, the workforce is quite international and the working language is English.

“We have just calculated that the people who work for us speak a total of nine native languages. Everyone speaks very good English, and it is easy to start speaking English with Swedish people as well, even if the aim is to learn good Swedish.”

The Swedish work culture is primarily seen in the desire for consensus.

“The Swedes do everything they can to avoid conflicts, and they always talk to each other to come to an agreement. Finns may be frustrated by this type of back-and-forth, and then they easily just steamroll a decision. This has taught me patience to at least listen to the conversation without rushing before I start to draw conclusions about how to proceed.”