Twenty teams compete for a prize of €375,000

The Helsinki Challenge idea accelerator programme involves a broad selection of world-class science from genetics to happiness research. The prize of €375,000 will be awarded to the best ideas.

Kirmo Wartiovaara answers our Skype call in sunny California. Docent of stem cell biology at the University of Helsinki and doctor specialising in clinical genetics at HUCS, Wartiovaara is in charge of a Finnish-American team seeking a cure for a hereditary haemoglobin disorder. They are close to a solution: it seems that the key could be recoding the patient's genes. The results may also be helpful in curing other hereditary illnesses.

But there is still much work to be done. The team needs help from many different directions to develop their idea, so they signed up for the Helsinki Challenge and were admitted into its idea accelerator programme.

"Opportunities to join forces with experts in other fields and the business world are few and far between at the University. Now we have the chance to do so,” Wartiovaara says.

The University of Helsinki is organising the first ever Helsinki Challenge, a science-based idea accelerator programme and competition where selected teams seek solutions for both global problems and the future challenges of the Finnish welfare state. More than 80 cross-disciplinary proposals were submitted, of which the jury selected 20. The shortlisted teams were published today. The list includes a tremendous scope of ideas from medical innovations to robotics, from ensuring biodiversity to happiness research, from easing sleep problems among young people to better urban planning and from understanding climate change to tracking personal energy consumption.

Five themes, big ideas

Paavo Pylkkänen, university lecturer in theoretical philosophy, was immediately excited by Helsinki Challenge. Pylkkänen’s Upstream Solutions team intends to update and formulate a new scientific worldview consisting of the best ingredients of the natural sciences and philosophy. Knowledge of the world being round revolutionised the way humanity thought about the world. Pylkkänen believes it is now time to articulate a clear science-based world view on which to base future breakthroughs.

“I’ve been planning this ambitious project for a long time. When I heard about Helsinki Challenge, it felt like someone was finally asking for my idea directly,” Pylkkänen recounts.

The proposals are related to one of the competition’s five themes, which are environment, health and wellbeing, future learning, the global Helsinki and a new world view. The Helsinki Challenge accelerator programme will launch in January. The teams will develop their ideas throughout the year, and the programme culminates in the jubilee seminar and gala in November, when the 375,000-euro prize will be awarded to the best ideas.

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Semifinalist teams and their leaders:

Citizen Mindscapes, Krista Lagus

Climate Whirl, Eija Juurola

Co-creating the Finnish Children’s Hospital Education Concept, Kristiina Kumpulainen

Generation Green, Tiina Sikanen

Genetic correction of inherited hemoglobin disease, Kirmo Wartiovaara

Ground and Growth, Kristina Lindström

Engaging Future Workplace, Kirsti Lonka

Improving laboratories in Africa, Christina Lyra

Moralities of Intelligent machines, Michael Laakasuo

Minimum Viable Organizational Structure of the Future, Veikko Eranti

Natural emotionality in digital interaction, Katri Saarikivi

Offsetting losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Markku Ollikainen

Sleep Factory, Anu-Katriina Pesonen

Sustainability tracker, Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki

SafePreg – Health into the next generation, Katri Räikkönen

Tell-Us, Maria Niemi

The Happiness Project, Laura Visapää

Unbounded pedagogy! University teachers without boundaries, Katalin Miklóssy

Upstream Solutions, Paavo Pylkkänen

Urban Academy, Jari Niemelä

More information on the teams (pdf)