The assets of the City Centre Campus are in great demand in innovation and business life, according to Dean Marjaana Leppänen of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Project Manager Rosa Salmivuori, who oversees the development of the innovation ecosystem of the campus.
“Public discussion indicates an upsurge in the demand for expertise in the humanities and the social sciences,” Salmivuori notes.
According to Seppänen, understanding humanity, culture and society is vital for novel inventions and business operations. In the future, ideas could in fact be refined further at the City Centre Campus to support, for example, the new Finnish wellbeing services counties and the green transition.
“If you consider, for instance, corporate social responsibility and its related ethics questions, there is even more potential there than we are currently tapping into,” Seppänen estimates.
Pre-incubator attracts record number of applicants
While traditions in the commercialisation of research are not as established at the City Centre Campus as on the other campuses of the University of Helsinki, there have already been successes. Salmivuori points out that the entrepreneurial community Helsinki Think Company opened its first office roughly 10 years ago precisely on the City Centre Campus, and has served as a launchpad for several businesses so far. There is curiosity at the City Centre Campus also for themes arising from the other campuses.
“Students, for example, are really looking for a lot of multidisciplinary activities.”
The latest success stories are Helsinki Incubators' incubator and pre-incubator programs of the City Centre Campus, which have provoked a great deal of interest. The first Tremor incubator is coming to an end and the participants have taken leaps in their business ideas with the help of several mentors and the program lead Minttu Ripatti, over the past six months. Now, the application is also open for the next six-month incubator program. Of all pre-incubators, that of Särö/Fracture pre-incubator attracted the most applicants in a year.
“It’s a wonderful demonstration of the potential of the City Centre Campus,” Salmivuori says.
There are other promising examples of the commercialisation of research: the Faculty of Social Sciences was recently assigned the responsibility for its first project receiving Research to Business funding (project site in Finnish only) from Business Finland. An educational innovation, which previously succeeded in the Helsinki Challenge science competition, went on to become the startup TeamFluent (website in Finnish and Swedish only). Over the years, a total of five research-based spinouts have emerged from the campus, among whose owners being the University of Helsinki Funds.
Building bridges between social and commercial innovations
And what do the opportunities for business collaboration look like? Salmivuori and Seppänen emphasise that, in the case of the City Centre Campus, it is more appropriate to talk about partnerships.
“Public sector operators, foundations and associations are our partners in many projects,” Seppänen says.
At the moment, collaboration can be realised as joint projects with businesses in the social welfare and healthcare sector, or as lecture visits. The broadest business collaboration on the campus is currently conducted by the Faculty of Law, particularly with law firms. It includes a traineeship programme and practical career modules.
The green transition will open up new opportunities in the future, making it advisable to abandon stereotypical notions of business collaboration. Salmivuori sees a lot of potential, for example, in combining commercial expertise and social innovations. Could the City Centre Campus promote them hand in hand?
“Many international universities have centres focused on, for example, social innovations, and these are linked to economics and business administration,” she explains.
Upcoming boost for campus development
A preliminary survey of innovation activities at the City Centre Campus is currently underway, to be completed in May. Exploring the current situation in innovation, the survey is expected to provide resources for future development.
“We are charting the expectations found on the campus,” Salmivuori notes.
Seppänen and Salmivuori see innovation and business operations as a natural part of public engagement, the University’s third core duty. Not all researchers and students need to embark on this path, but there are now tools available to those interested in the matter.
Entrepreneurial skills can benefit students and researchers even more broadly in professional life. In fact, the goal is for commercialisation, entrepreneurship and business collaboration to become viable career paths.
“We now have encouragement and support available,” Seppänen sums up.