Preparing for the best: Regional innovation environments are developed for success

Let’s say it all together: Oulu’s ICT sector is among the world’s finest and most talented. With that simple fact dealt with, it’s not a surprise that keeping things that way requires more than just trusting your luck. Creating a healthy environment for further innovation in a world where competition is beyond fierce is not an easy business, but first and foremost, something quite difficult to define. And it’s not a regional thing: the Finnish government announced almost 10 years ago that the country was to become the best innovation environment in the world.

When it comes to modern technology, Oulu has been very systematic in feeding innovation. The first Nordic technology village for creating a suitable development area for tech companies was founded here 30 years ago, and the potential has been recognised in agreements such as Triple Helix and the birth of the Oulu Innovation Alliance in the 2000s. “To be the best innovation environment in Finland, and in the world, we need to be consistent and systematic. The main thing is close collaboration between the city, education organisations, research institutes and the companies. At the moment, we are already working on the next phase of innovation development in the region, which will be published this year”, says OIA Communications Coordinator Ari Saine.

Stronger together: The Oulu Innovation Alliance

The Oulu Innovation Alliance, or OIA for short, was founded in 2009 as a strategic agreement between the City of Oulu, the University of Oulu, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Technopolis and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. Recently, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE joined the alliance. The OIA focuses in five categories: Internet research, printed electronics, international business studies, health technology and environment and energy. Creating a stable environment for technological progress is not only an agreement to work together, but actually working together. “Acting according to the agreement is one of the major actions within the environment. The collaboration has founded new companies and new business among joint development ventures and other co-operation between the partners. It’s important to continue this.”

At the moment, the actions are already quite massive in the innovation environment. A health industry ecosystem called OuluHealth is to become an internationally attractive centre, providing new solutions in health care by combining research, technology and new generation models for health and social care. With over 700 million Euro planned for investment for a spearhead project, the expecations are high. “Another major project is the intelligent city, which will be roadmapped this year and should become reality in 2020, including intelligent housing and public spaces, virtual environments, intelligent services and extremely energy-efficient solutions in construction”, Ari Saine explains. One of the bigger launches in the intelligent city development will be a large investment in the upcoming 5G technology.

Keeping an open mind in innovation

But public bodies aren’t exactly the most agile of beasts, whereas technological innovations are in a constantly speeding cycle. For instance, with the onslaught of 3D printing, connected appliances and intelligent spaces, how is a region to stay up to things? “We need to check actions in real-time but with flexibility when needed. Some of the strategies and decision span years if not decades; those need to be checked annually, and made agreements need to be re-evaluated when necessary. In BusinessOulu, we are offering innovation services, such as event organising, forecasting business information, activating new business and developing existing innovation environments further”, explains Saine.

“For innovation’s sake, an innovation environment should not be limited to a single, or even few perspectives, such as need of use, available and upcoming technology or even goals or aspirations – it should include all of those. However, it is only natural that in a town with this level of ICT knowledge, the solutions from that industry should be used in the development of the innovation environment.”