Timber construction, carbon-neutral food production and the promotion of the health of all living beings are among the fields where pioneering innovations emerge in Viikki. The campus’s strengths lie in sustainability expertise and a multidisciplinary approach. Everything is founded on high-quality research.
“The disciplines in Viikki are extremely strong in international research rankings,” says Dean Ritva Toivonen of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.
Viikki has been gaining ground in innovation and business collaboration for several years, with best practices identified on the campus now being deployed elsewhere in the University of Helsinki. One example is the Cheese ‘n’ Wine sessions in which researchers, businesses, investors and other partners network.
“They have now expanded to encompass the entire University,” says Harriet Gullstén, project manager for the Viikki innovation ecosystem.
Test laboratories open up fascinating opportunities
One success story is the Viikki Food Design Factory focused on sustainable food production, a laboratory where researchers and students get to try out their ideas. Testing is important when creating commercial products with the potential to attract funders.
“Without a test platform you wouldn’t be able to verify the functionality of your idea for customers or investors,” Gullstén says.
PharmaHUB, which boosts innovation in the field of pharmacy, came to being in the autumn of 2022. The latest ecosystem under development is the Forest & Wood Hub, which focuses on forests and wood products, and which has just secured funding to carry out a preliminary survey. The work will commence in the near future – if everything goes well, Viikki’s third ecosystem and its incubators may be up and running soon.
“It would potentially launch operations in the autumn of 2024,” Gullstén estimates.
The brand new living lab at the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station also has great potential. Long-term research data on, for example, building materials, indoor air and even facility users can be produced in the timber buildings, constructed in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. The living laboratory can serve as a testing platform for new innovations.
“To our knowledge, no other university has a similar laboratory that enables research on human wellbeing,” Toivonen says.
Entrepreneurship as an attractive career path in Viikki
In the pre-incubators and incubators of Viikki, members of the University community can accumulate entrepreneurial and commercialisation skills. Focusing on the bioeconomy and circular economy, the Circulator pre-incubator and the Biosphere incubator have had roughly 20 teams participating at a time, while the Germinator pre-incubator at Viikki Food Design Factory has already demonstrated its power by resulting in the establishment of four businesses.
“It’s great to see ideas coming from these programmes presented, say, at Slush,” says Toivonen.
In the autumn, an entrepreneurship and innovation module worth 15 credits, targeted at bachelor's students, will be introduced on the campus. The career skills it provides are useful even for those not intending to pursue an entrepreneur’s career – but it is precisely business that seems to be of interest to many people in Viikki.
“Students have expressed the wish for entrepreneurship training,” Toivonen says.
Research of a high standard and innovation go hand in hand
The same campus hosts Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Finnish Environment Institute and the Finnish Food Authority. Diverse expertise in renewable natural resources provides a good starting point for the future.
“Our goal is no more and no less than to be a strong and well-known innovation cluster in Finland and internationally,” Toivonen sums up.
Gullstén points out that, at world-class universities, businesses and funders are also seen on campuses, making it possible to meet their representatives over lunch, for instance. Viikki could be home to a similar culture. International talent is being attracted to the campus, and there are hopes to getting new project partners from around the world.
“It does actually feed the construction of an innovation ecosystem."
Once the Jokeri Light Rail line begins operating, it will be even easier to visit the campus. In fact, Gullstén and Toivonen invite all members of the University community and partners to explore Viikki. They point out that solving problems and high-quality research are not in conflict, but can, on the contrary, support one another.
“Universities that are strong in research are also strong in terms of innovation,” Toivonen sums up.