Faculties on their way to new inventions and intensified business collaboration

The commercialisation of research and business ideas are being made easier at the University of Helsinki, with collaboration between the campuses and new Inno team getting off to a good start. What are the specific strengths of each faculty, and what kind of services are needed to transfer innovations to the market?

The campuses of the University are currently considering how to better refine research findings for the benefit of society as a whole. To this end, vice-deans with innovation as one of their areas of responsibility have been appointed at several faculties in the beginning of 2022.

According to Sasu Tarkoma, the appointee at the Faculty of Science, the vice-deans on different campuses have already convened to exchange ideas on their new role.

"We are excited to be able to advance such an important topic."

The vice-deans are cooperating with the Inno team, which was established in the autumn to pool together partnership services and help faculties take innovation and business collaboration to the next level.

On the City Centre Campus, the greatest potential is seen in multidisciplinary collaboration

Dean Johanna Mäkelä of the Faculty of Educational Sciences thinks that multidisciplinarity in innovation is one of the strengths of the University of Helsinki. When research groups from different fields collide, something new and unexpected may arise.

"I believe that interdisciplinary collaboration can boost the meaningfulness, impact and, above all, effectiveness of innovation."

According to Mäkelä, the City Centre Campus has a lot to offer: it can help researchers in other fields understand how people use inventions. And there is also potential in, for example, the study of compassion and the improvement of basic services with the help of language technology. Accordingly, Mäkelä emphasises the significance of social innovations. Among other things, they can support society in implementing the health and social services reform.

"Innovation does not always automatically generate business activities."

Mäkelä thinks long-term basic research is a precondition for inventions. Furthermore, it is important for information on innovation opportunities to also reach people who have not previously been interested in the topic.

"The operating culture must be conducive to participation."

This year, early-stage incubators collaboratively coordinated by the University and the City of Helsinki will start providing innovation support at the City Centre Campus. Mäkelä herself also considers it important that new services are now being made visible to all members of the University community.

In Meilahti, innovations and businesses are founded on principles developed at Stanford University

Novel cancer drugs, analysing masses of data and demonstrating the social impact of therapies. These are some of the fields from which groundbreaking inventions may emerge in the coming years.

According to Risto Renkonen, who heads innovation activities at the Faculty of Medicine, Meilahti Campus has been systematically investing in innovation for roughly five years. Now, the University’s most recent investments are adding new impetus to the operations.

"Pretty soon you can ask what we have gained through this additional inspiration."

Several innovation tools developed at Stanford University are in use on the campus, including the cross-disciplinary Biodesign teams that visit operating rooms and hospital wards to see what could be done in a smarter way.

In the Spark Finland early-stage incubators, researchers can hatch their business ideas with the support of mentors, trial them in international networks and continue their journey to the Health Incubator Helsinki accelerator programme. Renkonen finds it important for researchers to have the opportunity to present their ideas to international investors right from the start.

"There’s no hope in targeting the Finnish market alone."

Meilahti also hosts the Health Capital Helsinki innovation platform and the Terkko Health Hub entrepreneurship community. These activities are supported by Renkonen’s belief that the most important thing now is to organise innovation services in Meilahti into a clear whole and join forces with the other campuses.

- Scientifically speaking, we are well equipped to engender more business activities.

AI and climate inventions to put Kumpula Campus on the map

At Sasu Tarkoma’s home campus in Kumpula, the starting point is promising: several startups are founded every year, among them successes such as Nanoform. Under the Kumpula Business Labs solution, businesses too have found their place as part of the campus community.

The next goal is to make Kumpula known for its innovations both in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in the world.

"We aim to raise our profile considerably", Tarkoma says.

Kumpula could take its place on the world map, for example, through groundbreaking atmospheric research or artificial intelligence startups. They will also have an important role this spring, as the first sketches of an innovation platform housed on the campus will be drawn up.

To bring about innovation, Tarkoma believes it is essential to invest in the flow of information and in services. Researchers must be provided with straightforward paths to refining their inventions, while businesses must be offered information on what is being investigated on the campus.

"Not everyone knows we have such great activities."

Tarkoma thinks investments in business collaboration and innovation will make interesting data and funding opportunities available to the academic community. And what does the vice-dean himself consider the best aspect of his new duty?

"I expect to get the chance to conduct excellent collaboration with our researchers and teachers."

Building a sustainable food system inspires the Viikki community

According to Mari Sandell, the recently appointed vice-dean for innovation at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, a good productive spirit prevails in the Faculty. As a matter of fact, her primary goal is to have researchers, teachers and students retain their enthusiasm.

"The people at our Faculty have a lot to offer", Sandell says.

The Viikki Food Design Factory, a recent addition to the campus established in cooperation with the City of Helsinki, aims to make the food system sustainable. The planning of a similar innovation platform in the field of forestry will commence in 2022. There is no shortage of suitable themes, since forests are associated with almost everything.

"You can link them to wellbeing, health, eating, construction and climate change."

According to Sandell, the Faculty’s strengths include a long tradition of collaboration with businesses and other societal operators. Former members of the Viikki community have also established businesses of their own, whose sectors range from ice cream to soil measurements and analysis services related to antibiotic resistance.

Sandell thinks the key is now to ensure that the innovation activities that have got off to a good start take root as part of everyday life. This requires cooperation with the other vice-deans, ecosystem teams, the Inno team and all members of the University community.

"The future of innovation here looks really good", Sandell sums up.


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