Incubator Blogs: The Strength in Open Events and Open Innovations — Part II
Open events help create innovation. In Part II of our blog series on the matter, we cover a number of open events we've hosted this spring, the lessons learned, and how we believe they contributed to fostering a more open innovation environment at the University.

Hi, and welcome back to our blog series on open events and open innovations. My name is Santeri Tuovila, and I’m the Project Lead for Circulator 1.0 (to which you can apply right now!). As mentioned in Part I of our series, one of my passions is organising open events, which I firmly believe to be of great benefit in creating and maintaining a healthy innovation ecosystem.

In Part I, with my colleague Mikael Malmivaara, we covered what is meant when we talk about innovation, and how we believe that open communities made up of all kinds of players can help create and maintain a healthy innovation ecosystem. In this part, we’ll cover three open innovation events I’ve helped organise here at the university, and I’ll deconstruct and reflect on them to see how they met the goals we’d set for them. Next time, we’ll finish this series by analysing the relationality of community and innovation, and what I see as our role – and its limitations – it in this broader ecosystem are.

As mentioned, we’ve tested several types of open innovation events at the University of Helsinki, with each one having its own goals. I’ll now go over these events, their goals, and how successful they were at meeting them. We’ll finish by addressing shared benefits between all of these events.

1. Compass pre-incubator open workshop – Building sustainable business & Measuring impact

Location: Kumpula Campus

Attendance: approx. 40 people, including pre-incubator participants, start-up support professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers, students, and investors

The event was a 3-hour workshop held during the 8-week Compass pre-incubator programme, which had a total of fifteen participating teams. Organised in collaboration with Verneri Välimaa of the impact start-up community Wicked Helsinki, the workshop’s subject was how to build sustainable businesses & measure impact. The workshop stood out from others in the programme as it was open to anyone, not just programme participants, and our external participants included University students, researchers, and a variety of professionals all drawn by a subject that interested them.

Among the speakers at the event, we had Alisa Mick, a well-networked circular economy professional, and several start-up or growth company representatives from companies such as ResQ Club, Rekki, Ministry of Good Spirit, Lainappi, and Suomen Kotteria. The value of bringing all these people together to collaborate was apparent right from the get-go, as during the planning sessions for the event, I had the pleasure of listening and ideating with Verneri, Alisa, and others, learning about their approaches to the subjects at hand.

The genuine excitement of these planning sessions carried on to the workshop itself, where attendees were enthusiastically listening to speakers talking about the importance of open events, circular economy, sustainability, and impact measurement & investing from a variety of speakers. Overall, the event got plenty of positive feedback, with particular praise for the content and speakers, though some participants found themselves having difficulties joining in conversations that were happening as they were busy working on the canvases we’d given them. Ideally, then, the workshop could have been split into two 3-hour sessions, allowing for more networking, discussion, and a common sharing session where everyone in attendance could have joined the discussion and visitors could have given feedback to the Compass participants as well.

2. Food System Mix & Match

Location: Maria01

Attendance: approx. 60 people, including entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship supporters, students, and investors

The idea for this open event came from revisiting the feedback that the Viikki Food Design Factory’s first Germinator programme had gotten. The programme had otherwise matched participants’ expectations fully, bar one exception: the programme had not helped them find new team members. To address this dimension, we decided to organize a Mix & Match-style event around the theme of food systems utilising an older benchmark. After being provided a venue at Maria01, courtesy of our partner UrbanTech Helsinki, we opened the applications for start-ups to come and pitch at the event, and invited several ecosystem partners to share their programmes.

In the end we had Viikki Food Design Factory, Founders’ Institute global food accelerator, Urban Tech Helsinki, Kiuas Accelerator, Kiuas Inside, and We Make Change as partners, and fourteen start-ups pitching their three minutes on stage. The pitches ended up taking over two hours! I was surprised by the number of teams in attendance, but also by their quality. The questions from the audience were also surprisingly pertinent – I remember the first question: “What technology do you use to diagnose the soil for your customers?”

The event worked well to bring doers into the same space and get them to share their expertise, but it didn’t bring that many new members who weren’t already affiliated with a start-up. In that regard, it’s hard to say if the event delivered in its goal of bringing start-ups new team members. But then again, start-ups fail often, and when they do, those involved go off to join other companies which, thanks to their attendance of the Mix & Match event, they now know plenty of.

3. Viikki Innovation Forum Cheese ‘n Wine

Location: Viikki Campus

Attendance: approx. 70 participants, including researchers, entrepreneurs, administrative staff, and investors

This event was led by Harriet Gullsten, the head of innovation ecosystem development at the Viikki campus, who in her efforts to bring visibility to innovation activities, decided to host this event, the first in a series. But even though the speaker part of the event was impressive on its own, wine and cheese were included to guarantee a crowd.

As with all our other events, this one too, had more content than we could fit. The event’s timetable kept slipping, speakers couldn’t answer all the questions they received, and the audience was growing impatient for cheese and wine. Lesson learned: make things shorter. Another lesson learned was to keep using the name tag system we tested, as it helped people quickly recognise what others were offering: “ideas/research”, “investment”, “looking for employment”, and “giving mentorship/advice”.

The event was a resounding success, as noted by the eagerness of the participants, with everyone in and outside of Viikki now knowing that they could come here to share their innovation practices. The event helped build the culture for the next Cheese ‘n Wine event and showed the innovation community how they can come and play together.

Angles and point of views in organising innovation events

When attending innovation-related events and programmes, the benefits that participants get from them mostly fall within the following three main categories of “personal innovation readiness”, which help them move onwards with their ambitions:

  • Gaining new information, ideas, and viewpoints – how to do, and what to do
  • More relationships and more social capital, or “goodwill”, with the best innovators and teams having a network of hundreds of people to ask advice or help from
  • Increased self-efficacy, a slightly more abstract but highly important benefit, meaning feeling like one could succeed in opportunities. It combines one’s self-esteem and one’s rational understanding of what one can actually do, but also helps participants establish their identity as an innovator as opposed to just being someone who visits an innovation event

These individual benefit types also combine to create the community perspective for innovation. The interactions that are born in these open events do add layers of complexity to the ecosystem, but as a player in said ecosystem, it’s important for us to understand the value they add as well. With each event come a number of new connections. This in turn helps create a growing network of increasingly confident and capable professionals in the Helsinki region who, in addition to having goodwill towards each other being willing to help each other, participate in the propagation of knowledge and opportunities within the ecosystem’s community, something we highlighted as critically important for innovation in Part I.

With Parts I & II, we have now covered both innovation & the need for heterogeneity, the importance and benefits of open events, and how we’ve succeeded with them so far. Join us next time for Part III, where we’ll cover what I believe our role in the innovation ecosystem can be, what the ecosystem needs, and what our limits in it are.