Kumpula Campus accelerates the commercialisation of local inventions – aims to attract major international businesses

Kai Nordlund, who was recently appointed as one of the University’s vice-rectors, believes that natural scientists have a lot to give in the development of, for example, climate-related solutions, human-centred artificial intelligence and drugs. In fact, a new innovation platform is being built at Kumpula Campus.

You can see a multitude of gauges, tubes and other laboratory equipment if you take a peek through the windows of the offices of Kumpula Business Labs. A number of companies have found a location along the narrow corridor. They are taking advantage of the equipment and facilities of the University of Helsinki’s Department of Chemistry to develop their own products.

Among the tenants of Kumpula Business Labs is GlucoModicum, a spinout that is designing a new kind of device for people with diabetes to monitor their glucose values, and Karsa, which specialises in molecular detection. The goal is to have more similar operations on Kumpula Campus in the future.

Vice-Rector Kai Nordlund, who in the beginning of the year still served as the dean of the Faculty of Science, sums up the objective: “To attract more businesses that would operate their research laboratories here."

In fact, deliberate measures are now being taken at Kumpula Campus to accelerate the commercialisation of inventions and business collaboration. In the beginning of February, a dedicated innovation platform was established on the campus, and new forms of support will be introduced for researchers and students to hone their ideas.

A business presence on campus enables seamless cooperation

In the coming years, the plan is to raise the international profile of the campus and establish connections with major international businesses that could bring their research laboratories to Kumpula. Collaboration with Nokia and Metsä Group, among others, has already been ongoing for a long time.

One company that has established its laboratory at Kumpula Campus is ASM International, with which the University has just concluded a collaboration agreement on the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in atomic layer deposition, a revolutionary technique that originated in Finland in the 1970s.

“Today, it is used in the production of every single computer chip,” Nordlund says.

“When the workspaces of the business and researchers are located close to each other, the results of basic research are quickly transferred from one laboratory to another. In the case of researchers, collaboration with businesses can also help them to hone their innovations. For example, industry needs often determine the hot topics in materials research,” Nordlund says.

“They are much better at assessing where genuine commercial potential lies.”

The University is actually currently surveying how to make more room on the campus for startups springing from the University community and for global businesses. The facilities of Kumpula Business Labs, which was established in 2015, are already fully occupied.

A novel innovation platform supports research in all fields

The innovation platform, which the University is currently building with the City of Helsinki, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the business world, plays a key role in improving the preconditions for innovation at Kumpula. The project’s steering group is chaired by Dean Sasu Tarkoma of the Faculty of Science.

According to Nordlund, an innovation environment survey conducted last year indicated that researchers at Kumpula need more support to get started with their business ideas. The city and University are now launching early-stage incubator and incubator programmes on all of the campuses as part of the University’s significant investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. Nordlund believes there is a great demand for new business incubators at Kumpula Campus.

“We know that there are parties with ideas interested in coming to the campus.”

Promising innovations are on the horizon in, among other fields, atmospheric research, artificial intelligence and medical chemistry, but ideas with commercial potential can arise in any field. As an example, Nordlund points to particle detectors developed by physicists, which can be applied to the detection of hazardous substances in technical solutions associated with safety and security. Indeed, the innovation platform is being built for the entire campus community.

“No one will be left out.”

The development of innovation and entrepreneurship services is supported by the University’s Inno team established in the autumn. According to Nordlund, the innovation services available at Kumpula will be located, at least to begin with, in the vicinity of the office of the Think Company entrepreneurship community. It also hosts the incubator staff, who assist researchers and students in commercialisation.

“They have expertise in how to start a business and how to acquire initial funding.”

Promising business ideas expected on the campus each year

Boosting the discovery of inventions at Kumpula Campus is the fact that researchers active on the campus are involved in EUROfusion, the organisation that coordinates fusion research in Europe, the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN and the European Space Agency, which focuses on astronomy. Networks relevant in the climate sector include the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS), which investigates greenhouse gases, and the Aerosol, Clouds and Trace Gases Research Infrastructure (ACTRIS), which focuses on aerosol particles.

Nordlund sees considerable potential in, for example, technologies aimed at carbon capture from the air. However, he believes that a big problem with emission-reducing innovations is their high price, a problem the researchers at Kumpula are also involved in solving.

“If something significant is discovered in this field, it could become a really big deal.”

The hope is that by 2024 the Kumpula Campus innovation platform will be fully operational, producing a steady stream of businesses and patents. Nordlund estimates that five to 10 promising ideas could spring from the campus each year. The broad representation of researchers from Kumpula Campus at last year’s Slush is evidence of a positive outlook for innovation.

“A total of five ideas originating in our campus were presented at the startup event.”