Urban Tech Helsinki business incubator, in operation since May 2021, selects 15 to 20 startups annually to develop their initial business idea and try out their innovative solutions with the help of the City of Helsinki, Aalto University, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the University of Helsinki.
The first batch of startups consisted of 13 teams: of which six were international teams, six had a female founder and four were research-based. The first batch had a rather eventful autumn: their busy weeks were filled with activities ranging from advisory and coaching sessions, 'startup power hours' (where the teams got to build some muscle around their operational capabilities) and sessions on the value of impact measurement. They also got to take part in dozens of events at the startup campus Maria 01, where they were introduced to the broader startup community for the first time.
'All in all, we reached almost 400 participants in our public events this autumn,' Kaisa Ahonen, Project Manager at Urban Tech Helsinki, says.
'Cooperation with various parties has been very active. Because our startups have a membership in Maria 01, they have gotten swiftly involved with the community: in addition to office space, there are many other benefits, such as events, networks and partner company services. Next year, as we begin events on campuses, we will get even closer to the know-how of universities and their high-quality innovation and entrepreneurial networks – such as Aalto Startup Center.'
Sustainability is good business, both in Helsinki and away
Helsinki's ambitious sustainability goals and measures are attracting interest worldwide, and Urban Tech Helsinki promotes the spread of sustainable solutions for startups in Helsinki and elsewhere. The first incubator program has already shown that the city’s startup ecosystem is filled with great innovations to solve urban challenges and outstanding teams with a passion for creating business around them.
As the number of companies in the Urban Tech Helsinki incubator increases and their solutions develop further, the incubator will also help larger companies find new partners and sustainable solutions by matching their startups with the relevant stakeholders.
'In 2022, we will start pre-incubator operations on the campuses of partner universities, with the goal of helping researchers, students and staff take their ideas forward in innovation events. We look forward to new ideas, enthusiastic teams and buzzing encounters. The value of an ecosystem lies in the people who do the action,' Ahonen says.
‘University of Helsinki, Metropolia UAS and Aalto University are all top actors in their fields, so we are eagerly waiting for new solutions in their speciality areas. For example, it would be great to see new startup teams stemming from Viikki campus Food Design factory’s urban farming solutions, Metropolia Myllypuro Smart Lab related digitized construction ideas or Aalto Human Centred Living Environment’s urban planning platforms. In our incubator program we will be able to help them test and validate their sustainable urban solutions together with the City of Helsinki platforms like Testbed.Helsinki.’
The work continues with the second call for startups – the applications to join Urban Tech business incubator are now open.
‘You will also be able to meet us (on our partner campuses with our pre-incubation boot camps next year and) at the monthly Urban Tech Helsinki Meet & Mix events that are open for everyone. The next one will be held online on Friday 28th January. We are really looking forward to continuing the work together to make the cities of tomorrow smartly sustainable,’ Ahonen says.
Key takeaways from the first batch of startups: Evergreenwalls, VIS and Mooova
Axel Ackermann, Evergreenwalls
'We founded Evergreenwalls with my brother Cajus in 2020. We both study medicine at the University of Helsinki. I (Axel) also study Industrial Engineering and Management at Aalto University, and Cajus studies Economics at Aalto University.
Cajus and I have been interested in entrepreneurship ever since we were little, and we have always wanted to do something of our own with our own company.
The idea for Evergreenwalls came from our home kitchen, where we lacked the tools for year-round cultivation of herbs and salads for our own use. We wanted to start solving urban food production problems with a product that allows people and businesses to grow herbs and salads locally – we wanted to offer people the possibility to be self-sufficient with these things.
We have received a lot of help from the Urban Tech Helsinki coaches – one significant benefit has been the support of mentors for networking. The visibility we have gained through the program has also been beneficial.'
Pasi Herranen, VIS
'We were very excited to see that there was a great startup program combining all the startup hubs of the Helsinki Region focusing on urban development!
We have had multiple sessions with startup mentors Ari Seppänen and Timo Rossi. We have pitched a pilot to Helsinki City and we have already agreed to have further meetings about our idea.
Our mission is simple: we want to make urban farming easy, sustainable and profitable. Our goal is to have at least a few wood-built VIS vertical farms up and running in the Helsinki region by the end of the programme.’
Erik Zhang, Mooova
'87% of people that wanted to buy second-hand furniture end up buying new ones – only because it's such a hassle to get it transported to your home.
Mooova was born out of this realisation. We help people transport second-hand furniture and connect surplus logistics in the city. So far, we are operating primarily in Stockholm, Göteborg and a little bit of Helsinki. Our team consists of several nationalities.
The specific topic sessions have been excellent, as we can pick the ones we need to improve. Also, the startup power hours have been great, as it has been easy to share best practices and talk about problems concerning different topics, such as social media, fundraising, team management, and so on.
With the joint effort, including the Urban Tech Helsinki program, partner universities and the city of Helsinki, we hope we can create a solid product that fits perfectly into the Finnish environment and witness steady growth in Helsinki. Then, it is time to move forward and expand to other cities in Finland.’
The second call for applications for Urban Tech Helsinki is now open. Apply here!