In an era where health tech is bursting at the seams with innovations from sleep tracking to heart monitoring, it’s almost astonishing to consider that one of our most fundamental life processes—breathing—has been largely overlooked. At least, it was until Finnish company WellO2 decided to tackle the issue head-on. Spearheaded by its pioneering team, including CEO Tuomas Mattelmäki, Chief Marketing Officer Simo Kekäläinen, and Founder Aulis Kärkkäinen, the company is setting new benchmarks in this uncharted sector of health tech. 

“Everything comes down to people,” Simo Kekäläinen confided in a recent interview, outlining his philosophy of empathetic leadership, a principle that he believes is as essential as air itself. “If you don’t understand people, you win nothing.” And understanding people is where WellO2’s genesis starts.

The inception of the company dates back to the early 2000s when Aulis Kärkkäinen began experimenting with methods to alleviate his own breathing problems. By the early 2010s, he had invented the WellO2 device—a “lung gym,” as it is often called. Fast-forward to 2023, the company not only has more than 100,000 devices sold but has also recently launched a smart mouthpiece capable of accurately measuring your breathing at home. 

A Breath of Fresh Air in a Crowded Market

What sets WellO2 apart from any other health tech device is the unique proposition it offers—building respiratory strength while purifying the respiratory system. While other methods and devices focus on either strength or purification, WellO2 brings both to the table through its globally patented method called “Nordic Breathing.” This combines resistance breathing exercises with warm steam, creating a holistic approach to lung health. 

The technology could not have arrived at a better time. With the global rise in breathing-related health issues such as asthma, COPD, and long COVID, along with suboptimal conditions like snoring and sleep disturbances, WellO2 is not just a product but a societal necessity. Kekäläinen makes the point vividly clear: “Breathing is the cornerstone of our well-being, but we have forgotten how to breathe.”

Challenges and the “Sleep Paradox”

Naturally, the journey of WellO2 hasn’t been a straightforward sprint. The company faces hurdles ranging from economic climate woes to perhaps the most intriguing challenge: public perception. 

“The biggest hurdle for us is to make people understand how important breathing is,” Kekäläinen admits. He draws a parallel to the cultural shift we saw around sleep a decade ago. “Ten years back, people were boasting about who slept the least. Now everyone knows the value of quality sleep. We’re working to bring about that level of awareness for breathing.”

Mastering Communication and Navigating the Economic Terrain

The business acumen and leadership style that Kekäläinen brings to the table have been instrumental in navigating these challenges. “The ability to make decisions is crucial, as is communication,” he says. “Being able to share what happens, why it happens, and doing so efficiently is a linchpin for success.”

When asked about lessons learned, Kekäläinen reflects on how the very fabric of our economies and organizations could be significantly improved by focusing on “communication and people,” noting that we could accomplish so much more if we just honed in on these fundamentals. 

From the Nordics to the World

WellO2 is not just a Finnish success story; it’s a testament to the potential of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Nordics breaking into the global market. It’s a narrative of struggle and success, the kind that could light the path for other SMEs aspiring for global recognition. The market expansion has been noteworthy—after launching in Finland in 2016, WellO2 expanded to Sweden in 2018, and by 2019, it was shipping across Europe.

For those interested in a deep dive into the technology and its various applications, you can visit their official website. For more personalized insights into the man behind the marketing machine, you can follow Kekäläinen on Twitter (@SimoKekalainen) or his poetic Instagram account (@poemifyit). For company updates, keep an eye on their official Instagram (@wello2global).

As we continue to confront a world full of health challenges that are as complex as they are confounding, the work being done by WellO2 serves as a bright beacon. Their device doesn’t merely address symptoms; it gets right to the heart—or perhaps more appropriately, the lungs—of the problem. And if Simo Kekäläinen and his team have their way, this is just the beginning. “We’re not just selling a device,” Kekäläinen says. “We’re advocating for a shift in mindset, one breath at a time.”