The Six City Strategy has strengthened cooperation between cities and companies

A pupil (a boy) pointing an iPad towards a city miniature. The phote is shot from behind.

Schoolchildren testing the Exove game application using the Helsinki 1878 miniature. This pilot was part of the Smart Learning Environments of the Future project. Photo: Yehia Eweis / Helsinki City Museum.

Nearly 4000 companies have participated in Six City Strategy (6Aika) projects funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund. Thanks to a new type of cooperation, city organisations are now better able to understand companies’ needs.

In the 6Aika projects funded by the European Regional Development Fund, companies have tested brand new or renewed products, services and operating models in different urban environments and with real users.

Chief specialist and member of the 6Aika management group Kimmo Heinonen from the City of Helsinki Economic Development Division says that cities have challenged companies to solve problems by opening calls for innovations.

“Thanks to the 6Aika strategy, cooperation between cities and companies has increased especially when it comes to innovations,” Heinonen says.

The purpose of the pilots has been to further develop the products’ functionality. The pilots can also be used to determine how new needs can be addressed with new solutions. A prime example of this is a pilot by Elisa and Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Media Arts which examined how the Elisa 5G Solution can be utilized in teaching remotely. The pilot was conducted in the Smart Learning Environments of the Future Project.

“New pilots in different sectors are now constantly initiated on the Testbed Helsinki website,” Heinonen says.

The website has recently opened innovation challenges connected to technologies utilised in teaching, promoting mobility among elderly people and smart mobility, to name a few.

A man in a protective overall is standing next to a big pile of waste, which consists of insulating materials.
Ekopartnerit sought new ways of recycling insulation wool in the CircHubs project in Turku. Photo: Johanna Liipola / Muotomyrsky.

Companies interested in piloting

The Six Cities all have ambitious climate goals. Reaching these goals require joint actions and collaboration between cities, companies, research and development organisations and residents. Thanks to the 6Aika strategy, companies are more aware of the cities’ sustainable development plans and how they intend to realise them.

Pirkko Eteläaho from Business Tampere worked as project manager in the CircHubs – Future Circular Economy Hubs in Finland project. Currently, she works in the ILPO – climate positive industrial areas and value chains project.

“It has been wonderful to see that companies, regardless of sector are interested in climate work,” she says.

Eteläaho says that companies have been interested in offering their solutions to pilots related to climate efforts.

According to Eteläaho, the projects have focused on strengthening the cooperation between companies in the same value chain, in particular. Meetings concerning topical matters and development needs at circular economy hubs, for example, have increased cooperation between businesses.

“Regional development needs and solutions and cooperation opportunities between companies have been discussed in these meetings together with companies,” Eteläaho says.

Contacts to research and development partners, people in charge of regional development at circular economy hubs as well as companies already operating in the area or companies offering local solutions have proved important to companies.

“These events have led to interesting discussions, brainstorming and practical applications.”

An infographics of 6Aika collaboration with companies, including the following information: 3330 companies have been involved in the ERDF funded projects, 626 companies in the ESF funded projects. 806 products or services have been developed on innovation platforms in the projects. Companies’ rating for 6Aika is 4,4 (scale 1-5). 3 out of 4 companies benefited from 6Aika collaboration. More than 4 companies out of five would participate again. Companies cocreate their services in the projects and receive feedback from customers. It has become easier to test a public premises. Companies’ innovation capabilities have increases and they have found new networks via 6Aika.

Companies satisfied with new forms of cooperation

In addition to piloting opportunities, 6Aika projects have offered companies training and courses on current themes, such as robotics. In the Ecosystems of Growth project, the Six Cities have developed innovation solutions and networks intended for companies looking to grow.

6Aika projects in the field of employment have trained potential employees for companies and created new opportunities for jobseekers and employers to meet. By this winter, these projects, funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), had already involved 626 companies. This brings the total number of companies who have participated in the 6Aika strategy to nearly 4,000.

Companies’ views on participating in 6Aika projects have been predominantly positive. This satisfaction was demonstrated by an external assessment of the 6Aika strategy, in which the overall score given by the companies was 4.4 on a scale of 1–5. More than four out of five companies said that they would take part in a 6Aika project again.

Smooth transition from pilots to purchasing

Many SMEs and start-ups have initially learnt to work together with one city in a 6Aika project, after which it has become easier for them to collaborate with other cities as well.

“It is precisely scalability to other cities that may pose a challenge that companies need support with,” Eteläaho says.

It is beneficial for companies that cities discuss their development needs with them as early on as possible. Cities will also benefit from gaining insight into the market in different sectors. This knowledge will improve cities’ procurement skills.

According to Kimmo Heinonen, the objective is to tie the testing platform and testbed activities closer together with city procurement.

“This is related to cities wanting to promote the creation of a market that fosters innovation,” he summarises.

This article is part of a series of articles in which we present the main results of the Six City Strategy this winter and interview experienced members of the network who have followed up the development of 6Aika cooperation closely.