World is changing rapidly and the need for new innovations in many different fields is in constant demand. At the University of Helsinki, we continue the journey of tackling worldwide food-related challenges with ten new agrifood teams again this year. Last year’s programme was a great success, and this year we are working to make it even greater!
As the main partner in EIT FAN Helsinki hub, the University of Helsinki provides a wide variety of resources to help the startup teams to accelerate their businesses. Our lecturers and mentors share their invaluable expertise with the companies to help them with topics such as production and packaging, consumer behavior, healthy nutrition and business development. In addition to knowledge our experts provide, startups have possibilities to use facilities such as a research farm, greenhouses, and process laboratories whenever reasonable joint research projects can be created. By being ranked in the top 1% of the world’s research universities, expertise and facilities are the best one can get. We continuously search for synergies to merge world-class research and the most innovative practitioners like the ones that have now been filtered to this programme. The concept appears to work pretty well: last year, the companies in EIT FAN Helsinki Hub were able to raise over 28 million euro from investors.
The programme is organized with the University of Helsinki for the second time. Vice Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Professor Maija Tenkanen, is leading the project and ensuring that the best possible match can be found among the multidisciplinary scientific community of 40,000 students and researchers. Help is provided in forms of lectures, expert sessions, and by finding students to conduct studies in practice – which is also a great way for recruiting. Besides expertise in food chemistry, sensory-based food research, and food regulation, companies are supported to develop their skills in sales and marketing. Interesting research opportunities are opened when disruptive startups start to do things differently. For instance, one of the startups we had last year, Acoustic Extra Freezing, is revolutionizing industrial freezing by using acoustic waves. Another, Solar Foods, is producing protein out of air. Huge leaps in development are taken each year. Data streams are becoming increasingly important part of physical production. I’m happy to notice how important knowledge e.g. in artificial intelligence is in the competencies of the teams we have this year.
Some of the challenges are actually social and technology is enabling more sustainable lifestyles. One topical example we have about this is Kamupak and their use of reusable takeaway packages. People may already be quite aware of the piles of waste that is created with single use packages. Still, they keep on going the way they are used to. Previous research in energy consumption shows that the most influential trigger for behavioral changes towards sustainability is not about being informed about savings in money or CO2-emissions – it is much more social. If you know that you are lagging behind your neighbors when it comes to saving energy, it is much more likely that you start behaving differently. It will be interesting to see what strings need to be pulled to encourage consumers to change to zero-waste solutions in food packaging.
The last year can be called a success. This year, the program is further improved. All the activities, including expert sessions, corporate collaboration, and mentor matchmaking have been revised to better match the needs of the startups. I am curiously looking forward to getting even better results than what we got last year!
Written by Osmo Mattila, PhD, University of Helsinki.