According to Vice-Rector Jouni Hirvonen, who oversees research at the University, and Director of Communications and Community Relations Taina Kyllönen, a great deal of innovation potential remains untapped at the University of Helsinki. The University is strongly committed to highlighting this potential. To this end, it has stepped up efforts to make the results of top-level research increasingly available to society at large, having recently invested millions of euros towards this outcome.
"It makes us a significant partner in research, development and innovation," Hirvonen notes.
The University ambitiously supports the refining of inventions and business collaboration, including in conjunction with international networks. "The goal is for academic staff and students to be able to establish a culture of innovation on the campuses according to their interests," Kyllönen says.
Policymakers can boost the Helsinki Metropolitan Area into one of Europe’s innovation hubs
For the plan to work, the next Finnish government too must take determined measures. Recently, the University of Helsinki released its government programme objectives. One of the most important expectations directed at decision-makers is increased core funding of Finnish universities and the research funding awarded by the Academy of Finland. Only thus can Finland maintain the foundation of its RDI system.
It is also essential to increase the research-oriented RDI funding provided by Business Finland, which bridges the gap between academia and business life, for example, through Research to Business projects.
"It helps to introduce inventions effectively to the market. Research-based innovations have a significant impact on Finland’s vitality as a whole," Hirvonen points out.
The next Finnish government should support higher education institutions so that attractive ecosystems that generate novel ideas and businesses are established around them. The Helsinki Metropolitan Area could become one of Europe’s growing innovation hubs.
"This is why policymakers should also allocate more funding to the innovation activities of Finnish universities as well as their commercialisation and business incubators. The University of Helsinki has the potential to assume an even greater role in promoting Finland’s RDI activities, and it would be important to receive support in this endeavour. At the moment, innovation activities are not covered by university funding, making them dependent on external project funding," Kyllönen notes.
Million-euro investment already bearing fruit
The University of Helsinki’s own investments in innovation, entrepreneurship and business collaboration have yielded good results in 2022. Five pre-incubators for entrepreneurship and two actual incubators, which also receive significant support from the City of Helsinki, operate on the campuses. A large number of applications have been submitted to the incubators, which have already launched 17 startups.
"We are definitely on the right track," Kyllönen confirms.
The incubators focus on interdisciplinary themes such as artificial intelligence, the circular economy and food. Even though they have their own home campuses, researchers and students are welcome from anywhere at the University.
"In recent years, internal cooperation at the University has increased in leaps and bounds. It is particularly productive in the field of innovation, as multidisciplinary activities always easily produce something new," Hirvonen says.
Another major achievement is the creation of a new express lane for business collaboration. Researchers no longer require legal counsel on each individual agreement. Instead, ready-made template agreements and price lists have been drawn up for projects with a value of less than €50,000. In future, joint projects with businesses can be launched quickly.
"That is really important. This is something that both researchers and our partner businesses have been waiting for," Kyllönen says.
The University continues to carry out its ambitious plans
New initiatives will be launched in 2023 as well. The University will initiate the design of an entrepreneurship education module for all students, which will be similar to the responsibility and sustainability course launched a couple of years ago.
"Not everyone will become an entrepreneur, but entrepreneurial activities involve a lot of skills needed in professional life, which we are able to provide to students," says Kyllönen.
In addition, the University of Helsinki intends to offer researchers more support for applying for innovation funding from the European Union. Currently, funding under Pillars 2 and 3 of the Horizon Europe programme cannot be sufficiently utilised because of inadequate resources. Initially, a person will be hired to provide support in the application procedures.
"The goal is to offer fit-for-purpose services specifically to applicants for innovation funding," Kyllönen says.
There is a lot more going on: Soon, a new advisory council composed of representatives of partner businesses will be sparring the University in business collaboration. A roadmap for innovation up to 2030 will be mapped out by the vice-rector for research, the deans and the innovation team. The project is headed by Santtu von Bruun, the director in charge of innovation ecosystems as well as innovation and entrepreneurship services.
Hirvonen and Kyllönen are pleased that the key staff in faculties have brought their own views to the development efforts. All interested members of the University community are welcome to contribute to innovation activities.
"It’s one good way to boost the impact of research," Hirvonen sums up.