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News, 11/8/2017 | Embassy of Finland, Washington

Scientists Search for Grand Solutions at Helsinki Challenge

Helsinki Challenge is a science-based idea competition attended by teams of scientists from ten Finnish universities. They work on solutions that help the humankind reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Helsinki Challenge is a science-based idea competition for Finnish universities.
Helsinki Challenge is a science-based idea competition for Finnish universities.

UN SDGs consist of a set of 17 measurable goals set in 2015. The goals range from providing the world with clean energy to ensuring access to safe and affordable drinking water for everyone by 2030. In Helsinki Challenge, teams of scientists are utilizing multidisciplinary approaches to solve these grand challenges.

The solution could be anything from a new scientific field to a commercializable idea, entrepreneurship or pioneering research. The seven finalist teams are addressing, for example, contemporary pedagogical challenges, mosquito-borne diseases, the overuse of natural resources in energy production, and the mental health of families with small children.

Bootcamps, meetings and workshops

During the one year process, teams develop their ideas into solutions in bootcamps, meetings and workshops. The most recent bootcamp was held in Brussels in late September. Global Impact Camp consisted of public events, as well as co-creation sessions with the teams and selected mentors.

International experts and high-level EU decision makers showed great interest for the teams' ideas in Brussels. The Impact Prize acknowledgment, presented by three Members of the European Parliament, was awarded to team POCKit. With the technology they have developed, several different diseases and their stages can be diagnosed from one's own blood sample using a pocket-size analyzing device.

"Many of the mentors and visitors were impressed not only by the solutions, but also by the enthusiasm and attitude the researchers showed towards the collaboration and further development," Helsinki Challenge Coordinator Juuli Hilska from the University of Helsinki tells.

"One could truly feel how these researchers urge to engage the society and try new ways of doing research. That sort of attitude is much needed in the academia in the future," she continues.

From left to right: Members of European Parliament Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Benedek Jávor and Sirpa Pietikäinen with members of the Impact Prize winning team POCKit.
From left to right: Members of European Parliament Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Benedek Jávor and Sirpa Pietikäinen with members of the Impact Prize winning team POCKit.

Making science visible

Helsinki Challenge is an effort by the Finnish universities to make science visible, enable new science-based research proposals and strengthen the dialogue between science and wider society. Thus Helsinki Challenge provides a platform for collaboration where science meets business, decision makers, non-governmental organizations and representatives of public sector.

The Helsinki Challenge jury selects one or more winning teams and announces its decision on November 24 in Helsinki. The prize is a sum of €375,000, intended to realize the team's solution.

However, in a way, every team is a winner at Helsinki Challenge. Each presented idea is likely to have a bright future because of the new partnerships formed and competences discovered during the journey.

"All of the teams involved have experienced the competition useful for both themselves and their solution. The assignments and clinics have given them new tools to develop their project," Hilska rejoices. She does not yet comment on the future of Helsinki Challenge, but mentions that all the collaborative universities have truly recognized its value.

"This sort of initiative definitely has huge potential in the future. Like Dr. Wiljan van den Akker from the Utrecht University expressed in his speech in Brussels: 'The ten Helsinki Challenge universities are not just on the right way – they lead the way.'"

The Helsinki Challenge Award Party on November 24 will be streamed online. More information on Helsinki Challenge: http://challenge.helsinki.fi/

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Updated 11/22/2017


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