Lifa Air: An indoor air expert grows in China
Lifa Air, a Helsinki-based company specialising in the purification of indoor air, has perseveringly focused on international markets for years. Equipment is now sold to about one hundred countries, but the most promising growth markets in China are only just opening up. The Team Finland network is an important companion for Life Air.
Vesa Mäkipää, Chairman of the Board of Lifa Air Group established in 1988, has had a full calendar in recent years. Nor does the entrepreneur, who is also responsible for markets in Asia, envisage any slackening of his busy pace since the company, which specialises in ventilation and purification technology for indoor air, is making a real breakthrough in China.
Air quality is already a major problem in the large cities of China, and this has finally been recognised at the decision-makers’ level. This is leading to the opening of gigantic markets for suppliers of air purification technology, such as Lifa Air.
– We recently introduced air purifiers meant for consumers on the market. They are already selling at the rate of about a thousand units a day. Fortunately, we have our own manufacturing plant for these devices in China; otherwise it would be impossible to meet the demand, Mäkipää states.
Momentum from the Beijing Olympic Games
Lifa Air’s advantage is that the company has been operating in China for about ten years. An important milestone was the Beijing Olympics, where the Helsinki-based company was responsible, for instance, for the purity of ventilation air in sport halls and athletes’ accommodation facilities.
– Many accommodation facilities and halls had indoor air quality problems that caused symptoms among the athletes. Our technology and our equipment got things in good order quickly. This was a truly important reference, one which has often helped us forward, says Mäkipää, who has lived in Hong Kong for eight years.
Lifa Air’s level of know-how is also indicated by the fact that aside from numerous luxury hotels and reception facilities, the company’s equipment is used, among others, in the Vatican and the Ferrari car factory. Schools, office buildings and hospitals are more traditional sites.
The company based in Helsinki decided to turn to international markets at the turn of the millennium, when domestic demand began to seem limited. For a long time, business rested on investigating and renovating buildings where asbestos and other hazardous substances occurred. Consultations focusing on mould and moisture related damage came into the picture in the late 1990s.
Lifa Air took its first steps on the German market. This taught the foreign trade novice many vital basic issues, such as the importance of both the absolute functionality of technology and the reliability of equipment. Around the same time, the doors opened also to Asia – slowly, according Mäkipää.
– On many occasions we realised that we were at least five years ahead of our time. Indoor air technology markets have started opening in earnest only now, and there is enormous growth potential.
Team Finland opened many doors
Lifa Air’s equipment has already been sold to over one hundred countries. As much as 90 per cent of the Group’s turnover of approximately EUR 10 million is derived from exports. It is predicted that two years from now, turnover will reach EUR 25 million, which indicates something about the huge prospects.
Mäkipää says that from the start, support from the Team Finland network has been very important for the company’s growth and internationalisation. VTT was a key partner when the company was developing its own purification technology and machines. VTT has also been responsible for testing the equipment and for measurements, and has given the equipment their type approvals.
Tekes has granted Lifa Air important financing for product development and commercialisation. Finpro in turn receives praise for its networks and programmes.
– We took part in Finpro’s Beautiful Beijing programme a couple of years ago, and we had the chance to introduce ourselves to potential cooperation partners and financiers. Our joint venture with Edifier, a local electronics giant, stems largely from this, Mäkipää explains.
An important role has also been played by embassies and consulates, which have created many contacts and opened important doors for the SME.
– This sort of government export promotion may seem like an operating model from past years to someone in a Western democracy, but in centrally planned countries like China it is still commonplace. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, Mäkipää states.
Oy Lifa Air Ltd
Founded in 1988, Lifa Air specialises in purification technology and equipment for indoor air, which is used, among others, in residential buildings, hotels, office and factory buildings as well as in schools and hospitals. Ninety per cent of the turnover of about EUR 10 million comes from outside Finland. In addition to Helsinki, the company has an office in Hong Kong and a factory in Dongguan, China. It employs about 70 people, and the number is growing rapidly.
Team Finland’s role
The Team Finland network has, in many ways, assisted Lifa Air with financing, expertise and contacts relating to growth, product development and opening up export markets. Experts and financing from VTT and Tekes have helped the company to develop its own products and its service concept. With the help of Finpro, embassies and consulates, Lifa Air has received important contacts and has created cooperation networks abroad.
Progress on the path to international markets
Lifa Air launched export trade by heading to Germany in the early 2000s. A few years later the company began to take an interest also in China. An important turning point was the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where Lifa Air's equipment and technology were used in indoor sports halls and accommodation facilities. This noteworthy reference gave rise to additional orders from all over the world. Cooperation with the Chinese electronics manufacturer Edifier began in 2015. At the same time, Lifa Air got a foothold in rapidly growing consumer markets.