On the road to impact

"Your solution will be different after these two days." This is how the 20 semifinalist teams were welcomed to Helsinki Challenge Impact Camp.

According to the feedback from previous Helsinki Challenge contestants, the Impact Camp was the most beneficial event during the whole competition.

The 20 semifinalists of Helsinki Challenge 2017 gathered to experience this intense two-days of co-creation and co-development last week. The aim was to refine the problem to be solved, and understand, and find ways to verify and measure, the potential impact of the solution.

This was done by making strategic choices on which way to go with the project and putting the impact of the solution into words in a way that will to convince the target group, policy-makers, and funders.

"Scientists should be better in communicating science – and politicians should be better in listening to them. They don't get all the information they need to make decisions," said Maria Wetterstrand, a former MP and an independent political commentator from Sweden.

In this, the multidisciplinary approach within the team is a key.

"The massage is stronger if there is an economist collaborating with natural scientists," she added, emphasizing that the sustainability goal has more impact if there is economic growth involved.

Wetterstrand was one of the keynote speakers to start the two-day Impact Camp during which each of the teams advanced their ideas with the help of innovation investors, politicians, communications professionals, design thinkers, and other stakeholders from Finland and abroad.

Clarified visions

To start with, Mikael Sokura from Demos Helsinki said that it was still ok to change direction but many teams seemed to find the direction instead. 

"We now understand that we have to start by baby steps, but solid and measurable baby steps, and we also see the big picture and that each step will bring us closer to that,” said Liuliu Du, visiting researcher at National Institute for Health and Welfare, and member of Helsinki Challenge team Senior Cognitive Booster at the beginning of the second day.

In their project, the team will test and research the use of virtual reality to activate elderly people and that way potentially prevent cognitive decline. To draft their roadmap to impact, the team met up with half a dozen mentors during the Camp.

”We did our homework and already knew about the mentors’ expertise when we came to the camp, so choosing among them was quite easy,” Du says.

After the two days of filling in post-its, and hearing various viewpoints to their project, the next step in Senior Cognitive Booster's plan was clear – finding out what motivates the target group, and accordingly, make the solution more appealing to them.

Reaching out

The last mentor to visit team iCombine on the second day of the Impact Camp was Paula Havaste, author and theme leader for the Finnish Science Centre Heureka.

The team had already gotten pieces of important legal advice concerning data ownership and patient privacy from their previous mentors but this session was about communicating the importance of their project to policy-makers and general public.

"The subject is very close to people. This is about life and death, and you have the chance to save lives,” Havaste said.

She pointed out that reaching out to strong patient organisations might be crucial in advancing the project, where the team is developing data mining tools for personalized cancer treatment and potentially increasing the quality of life and reducing overmedication.

During the session there was also discussion about the strong involvement of clinicians to stress that even though there is artificial intelligence involved, the final decision on the treatment is always made by a medical doctor.

"I want to see these ideas succeed"

The two days of Impact Camp ended with some summarizing words from few of the mentors. 

"The quality of these projects is way above average," said Ron Bloemers, business coach for early stage cleantech entrepreneurs from Netherlands.

Bringing together ten Finnish universities for this Helsinki Challenge also seemed to have a positive impact on the quality of the projects.

"The benefits of bringing together several universities is evident compared to previous Helsinki Challenge. I want to see these ideas succeed and live in a future created by the Helsinki Challenge teams," said Ferdi van Heerden, change agent from Germany.


Helsinki Challenge

Helsinki Challenge is a science-based idea competition and accelerator programme that brings different actors from the scientific community and society together to solve the great problems in the world.

This year’s Challenge themes – Sustainable Planet, Urban Future, and People in Change – are linked to the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The idea competition’s prize is 375,000 euros and it is meant for putting the solution into practice. The solution can be an idea, an invention, a concept, a research project, a business idea, an initiative or a new research question.

All semifinalist teams will present their ideas on the Pitch Nights in May after which the finalists are selected.