Growth program helps virtual aqua fitness solution go global


Turku-based Hydrohex is heading resolutely for new international markets. The company’s virtual workout solutions turn any pool into an aqua fitness studio. Finnish audiences in swimming halls and spas have embraced the workouts, but how do you best take the idea abroad?


– The company offers a virtual workout platform for swimming pools, spas, and leisure centers.
– Founded in 2018.
– Participated in the Northbound Scaleups program, designed to boost the internationalization of growth companies.

Hydrohex’s office is located in a historic building in the center of Turku. This is where the team develops virtual workouts for poolside video displays, which have already become very familiar to many Finns spending their time in swimming pools and spas. Especially in the company’s home region of Turku, customers have embraced the concept and already consider it an integral part of the facilities.

Hydrohex is focused on new market areas

How did Hydrohex get started, founder and CEO Tommi Wallenius?

“Being immersed in water takes 90 percent off your body weight. That means you can train harder, with good power, without risking pain in your knees, hips or back. But aquatic exercise has long been seen as activity for a pretty small subset of pool-goers. It has been unknown to the larger audience. We saw this as a good opportunity to make it more attractive and accessible to the modern consumer.”

Wallenius himself has a long history as an aquatic athlete and swimming instructor. He has witnessed countless times how people of all ages and abilities can get excited for a new form of exercise. People just must be able to try it easily, without a barrier.

The virtual workouts can be displayed on screens of types. Photo: Hydrohex Oy

“When you realize just how effectively you can train in the water, you of course want some guidance on building a good workout. But possibilities for that have been quite limited in the past,” Wallenius says. For any facility, it can be prohibitively expensive to hire instructors to lead classes for a crowd of casual swimmers during off-peak hours.

“It quickly became clear that the world is going digital, and this virtual aspect is the way forward. It also allows us to scale our business effectively.”

Going global from the get-go

In the early stages of the company, Hydrohex’s founders conducted small pilot experiments and learned new things from the Boost acceleration program in Turku and the Kiuas accelerator. From the very beginning, the team members have actively made inquiries abroad, with international expansion as the goal.

“In Finland, there are other companies also doing exercise solutions. However, especially on a global scale, the playing field has previously been quite empty. Our international peers focus more on hardware solutions, while our focus is on the user experience as a whole.”

The Northbound Scaleups growth program offered by Business Turku caught the company’s attention in the spring of 2023. The program highlighted international cooperation opportunities that would help companies grow further and expand into new countries, free of charge to the participants.

The Northbound Scaleups teams get personal coaching during the program

“We got on board, perhaps a little impulsively, with the goal of getting a broader framework for thinking about how to go international,” Wallenius says.

Hydrohex joined the program with a big team. In addition to the founder, many other employees took part in the events and business development work at various stages of the growth program.

“Everyone was able to both get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and to find new ideas in a new environment. As a group, we were then able to reflect on our learnings from several perspectives.”

Three countries working together to open up new pathways

The free-of-charge Northbound Scaleups program, which develops the internationalization capabilities of growth-oriented companies, includes expert presentations, mentoring, business analysis and development, pitching training, and exploring a chosen new target market. The program, a collaboration between Finland’s Business Turku, Sweden’s Movexum AB, and Estonia’s Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, has already brought along a total of thirty companies to the various event days in three different countries.

Hydrohex was pleased with the trips and the independent business development work carried out in between the sessions. “The program had some more intense stretches, but fortunately with good intervals. There was plenty of time and opportunities to reflect on what we were doing and what we were planning to do next,” Wallenius says.

Teams working at SparkUp in Turku

Hydrohex particularly appreciated the many concrete sessions of expert presenters reflecting on their experiences of taking businesses international. Wallenius’ company is already exceptionally strongly oriented towards international growth in all its activities. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the team got a lot of value out of the NBSCALE program, and the experience was decidedly positive: “It was eye-opening to get away from the day-to-day running of the company in a structured way, and to discuss these things as a group with our peers.”

The same was said by practically all the companies from three different countries that participated in the growth program. “The anonymous feedback we have collected has been extremely positive,” says Niko Karinen, Growth Advisor at Business Turku.

“The participants agree that Northbound Scaleups has absolutely helped them prepare for expansion into a new international market. The purpose-built agenda has helped companies get off the ground with more confidence and in a faster timeframe than they would have been able to do on their own,” Karinen sums up.

Diverse feedback sharpens the focus

“If you look back a year from this moment, we were quite sure of our business model and how we were going to operate,” says Hydrohex’s Wallenius. “With Northbound Scaleups, we realized that maybe things weren’t as set in stone as we thought they were.”

In particular, the encounters with different conventions of giving and receiving feedback provided new food for thought. Especially the Estonian internationalization experts provided the company with precise feedback that helped to develop specific issues.

“I think the feedback culture in Finland is kind of gentle and apprehensive. Personally, I believe that you can really do a great service to someone by giving constructive criticism, in a genuinely objective way. That criticism is not directed at the individual, but at the systems at play. There’s room for a lot more of this kind of feedback in the world,” Wallenius says.

Each group of companies includes a total of fifteen teams from three countries

Indeed, companies say the most valuable contribution of the growth program has been the discussion taking place within the international network. “In our feedback survey, the networking, exchange of ideas and peer support between participating companies, all taking place alongside the actual pre-planned agenda, really stood out. This kind of face-to-face approach is extremely effective, as similar contacts and ideas just don’t happen in remote meetings in front of a laptop,” says Business Turku’s Project Manager Johanna Puhtila.

Courage to get going

The core team at Hydrohex has had a global perspective from the start. First expanding across Finland, then to Europe, and then further and further across the globe. “We have always been active in getting into talks with people in different countries, no matter how uncertain the premise might be. That courage is in the DNA of the company,” sums up Wallenius.

Project Manager Puhtila agrees that it takes courage to take concrete steps into international markets. “If a growth-oriented company has already found a product-market fit in its home market, meaning it has found paying customers for its product or service, it is the perfect time to set your sights abroad. That’s where we can help.”

Apply for the next round of the free-of-charge Northbound Scaleups internationalization program!

The application period closes on May 3, 2024.

Northbound Scaleups (NBSCALE) is part of the Central Baltic Interreg Programme.
Project partners: Business Turku, Movexum AB, Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol.