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Start-ups in the Turku Region | A chat with Hannamari of POPS! ice cream factory

In 2018 Hannamari Nurkkala bravely left her salaried job and co-founded POPS! ice cream factory with her childhood friend Piia Pöllänen. The two have faced the turmoil of the pandemic years and suspicious remarks, but the entrepreneurs’ commitment and creativity have guided them through even the most difficult pitfalls. What makes this ice cream factory special, and why has Kaarina become its founding place?

Information about the company: POPS! produces popsicles from real fruit, berries and other high-quality ingredients – nothing more, nothing less.
Founded: 2018
Team: Co-founders Hannamari Nurkkala and Piia Pöllänen
Location of the offices: production in Kaarina’s Krossi
Recent accomplishment: The last installment of a large initial investment, the packaging machine, has just been paid. This has had tremendous symbolic meaning.
Random fact: The entrepreneurs met in high school, and the friendship has only strengthened during the joint endeavor.

The founders of POPS!, Piia (left) and Hannamari, want to offer authentic taste experiences to their customers.

Kaarina’s Krossi is located only a 10-minute drive from Turku and is especially known for its concentration of versatile shops. Many Kaarina manufacturers have found their place in the area, amongst them the POPS! ice cream factory. January is a quiet time for the ice cream factory, so the company’s managing director and co-founder, Hannamari Nurkkala, had time for a chat about entrepreneurship, Kaarina, and, of course, delicious ice cream!

How did you end up starting a company in Kaarina? Why here?

Kaarina is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Southwest Finland and no wonder. An excellent location next to Turku, fast transport connections, beautiful seascapes, comprehensive services and opportunities for hobbies, as well as versatile housing options, attract residents to the city.

“Kaarina has several times made it into the list of the most business-friendly municipalities in Finland.”

Hannamari is originally from Salo and after studying in Eastern Finland she moved to the island-like atmosphere of Kuusisto in Kaarina. Today she lives with her family in Piikkiö, part of Kaarina, whose school gets rave reviews from this entrepreneur! Besides, things work well when all needed services are nearby. It was clear from the beginning that the company’s location should be Kaarina so that combining business and family life would be as effortless as possible and the commute would not take away from important moments.

“Our requirement was to find a factory space that is suitable for food production – those are hard to come by. We contacted Kaarinan Kehitys, which serves businesses like ours, and got help looking for premises.”

According to Hannamari, the Krossi area has proven to be an excellent place to have a business. It is right next to the highway leading to Helsinki, offering connections in many directions. The rent is also reasonable. While, for the most part, sales happen at various events and through carefully selected distributors, the factory also operates a shop open on select days. On these occasions, customers can also take advantage of various services that surround the factory space, something that the two entrepreneurs also benefit from.

Entrepreneurial and rapidly growing Kaarina is in the immediate vicinity of Turku. © Veera Niemi / CYF Digital

What does the Turku region offer to growth-oriented and innovative companies?

Kaarina belongs to the wider Turku region, which offers versatile support services for companies and startups. Kaarinan Kehitys Oy helps entrepreneurs throughout the company’s life cycle. In addition to using the local support services, POPS!’s entrepreneurs participated in the Business Up acceleration program organized by the regional development company Turku Science Park Oy in the early stages of entrepreneurship, where they developed different areas of the company together with their mentors.

“We recommend the Business Up program to all those who are at the beginning of their startup journey. The program covers all critical areas of business and mentors offer great support. Even after finishing the program, we still catch up with our mentor. It would have been even better for us if we had participated right away, as by the time we joined the program we had already worked out many of the themes on our own. So, as soon as the idea emerges, you should be in contact with the support services!”

“It is worth participating in the acceleration program for startups as early as possible to quickly get up to speed.”

There are active entrepreneur associations, such as Kaarinan Yrittäjät ry, both in Kaarina and in the wider Turku business region. Although POPS! didn’t have a chance to take part in the associations’ activities, networking is worthwhile, especially for early-stage entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneur organizations arrange evenings for new entrepreneurs or other events that are worth attending.

There are several financing options for growth companies, from grants to loan financing. POPS! has planned to apply for Business Finland’s innovation voucher to support future plans for growth.

What makes POPS! special?

POPS!’s story began when Hannamari, the innovator, came up with the idea of setting up an ice cream factory during her maternity leave. Next, it was her turn to convince her more cautious friend, Piia, to follow the path of entrepreneurship. The mission was successful, and today Hannamari manages recipes and envisions new possibilities, while Piia takes care of financial management and other tasks that require organization and planning.

“Our relationship works so that I live in the clouds and innovate, Piia is more rational and reminds plan and calculate before taking an action. Both are needed!”  

POPS! makes artisan delicacies from real fruit, berries and other high-quality ingredients such as Italian chocolate. At the heart of the recipes are authentic flavors, pure ingredients, local production and no additives. The selection caters to all tastes, with flavors ranging from refreshingly fruity to rich and creamy.

Natural ingredients make POPS! popsicles a unique treat. © POPS!

Based on customer feedback and also my own experiences, it’s clear that POPS! sticks are loved by their fans. The flavors are truly authentic and the caring atmosphere of the small ice cream factory appeals to gourmets. The entrepreneurs have been on the fence about whether they want to remain a small artisanal producer or go for significant growth.

“The most important thing has been to create a solid foundation and do long-term development work. When the foundation is in order, we can think about the next big steps. For example, multiplying production is not a simple matter.”

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Hannamari says that their goal has never been simply to maximize profits. Along with financial success, it was important to create such a workplace for herself and in the future also for others, where it is pleasant to work, that one can easily combine with other aspects of life and where one can make their own choices.

“For my part, I want to broaden the perspective on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Anyone can make their dreams come true as an entrepreneur and it can be done in many ways. Not everyone needs to aim for maximum growth and burn themselves out.”

Being an entrepreneur has brought enormously important lessons into Hannamari’s personal life. Today, having courage to make even difficult decisions, to defend her vision and to persevere in realizing her dreams comes second nature to her. This has not always been the case and Hannamari is particularly proud of this.

“Being an entrepreneur has given me the courage to make decisions in my personal life as well. Now I get to live my own unique life.”

Text by: Susanna Lahtinen | CYF Digital