Trivia question: What looks like an oversized whisk, is light enough to carry in a backpack, and measures the liquid water content of snow? A Snow Fork of course! Despite the whimsicalsounding name, this device, developed by a Finnish space and microwave technology expert, is a handy new tool for climate-change research.
"By measuring the liquid water content and density of snow, you can predict the possibility of avalanches, or estimate the rate of global warming," explains scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Martti Toikka.
In the southern Finnish city of Espoo, Toikka markets the Snow Fork and other innovations through Toikka Engineering Ltd, a small company he and his wife founded in 1991. They have also developed a Peat Probe to measure the water content of peat or water level in peatlands, useful information for ecological and climate-change studies.
As a tiny start-up with limited resources, Toikka had trouble marketing the Snow Fork and other innovations on its own, so it enlisted the Enterprise Europe Network - whose 3,000 consultants in more than 50 countries give free business support to SMEs.
In this case, the nearest Network branch was the Turku Science Park, which had worked with the Toikkas when they were researchers at the Helsinki University of Technology. Descriptions of both inventions were entered into the Network's powerful technology transfer database - the world's largest with more than 13,000 offers and requests.
"There really is nothing comparable to this service for small businesses," explains Network technology transfer adviser Timo Huttunen of the Turku Science Park. He also helped the company identify potential business partners throughout Europe, get the word out to the right target group about the Snow Fork through several Network media actions, and get information on EU research funding opportunities.
Both profiles attracted interest, and, with the help of other Network branches across Europe, Toikka Engineering reached technology agreements on the Snow Fork with the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and the Avalanche Studies and IPEF Polar Institute in Grenoble, France, as well as a Peat Probe technology agreement with the Centro de Climo at Portugal's University of the Azores.
"We will stay active in the Network, which hopefully will help us find new clients in this niche market and maybe also new application ideas for our instruments," says Martti Toikka.