Gemma Milne: Visiting Helsinki Challenge

”At Helsinki Challenge, I’ve seen a very interesting appetite for doing science in a different way,” describes Gemma Milne, science journalist and co-founder of Science Disrupt. She visited the Helsinki Challenge Experimentation Clinic in the beginning of October.

How did you first hear about Helsinki Challenge?

My co-founder at Science Disrupt came across Helsinki Challenge on Twitter. He saw it and thought: that’s a very Science Disrupt kind of thing, doing science in a different way and getting senior scientists to do an accelerator like startups would. We thought it was a very innovative idea, because we hadn’t really seen a similar project elsewhere, at least in the same extent.

Why does science need disruption?

Science Disrupt is a media and network organization that connects scientists, entrepreneurs, people from government, VCs, designers, coders, all interested in science innovation and the disruption of science. We ask questions such as how to do science differently and how to move science forward faster.

There are two sides to the subject: changing research and innovation and getting science out of the lab. We need to think about how to make science less biased and how to make universities more open and impactful, amongst other things.

Many people are talking about for example making health more technologically advanced but the discussion is very siloed. Not that many link changing the way we do science and science startups with changing funding. We see science as an ecosystem and focus on the scientific process, which might seem boring but for me is the most fascinating thing.

What field of research are you most interested in at the moment?

Energy. There are so many interesting questions in that field that haven’t been solved yet, for example storage and how to create an efficient system of supply and demand for renewables. There is a huge opportunity for many advanced technologies that other industries are using which have not reached energy yet.

What did you see during your time in Helsinki and while visiting the Experimentation Clinic?

I’ve seen a very interesting appetite for doing science in a different way. I’ve really enjoyed the challenging between the scientists, it’s fascinating to see that kind of cross-disciplinary exchange between a behavioral scientist and a physical scientist. It feels like the old cafés where scientists from different fields used to come and exchange ideas. That’s really reassuring.

iCombine is fascinating because this process already exists and is being used. All we need to do is commercialize and it’s mental that it hasn’t happened already. HeatStock and their material is really interesting. And FutuRena, I mean who isn’t interested in a 3D printed kidney?

We must get beyond the “oh but that’s the way we’ve always done it” way of thinking.

Science is becoming more and more specialized. Before, if you were a scientist you would be a physicist, a chemist and a biologist all at once. Nowadays scientists are not encouraged to have open conversations with other type of scientists even though they could learn so much from each other. 

The idea of cross-disciplinary cooperation is not new but it’s hard to implement. Helsinki Challenge is a perfect example of people actually working together and giving feedback to each other. Instead of being critical it has a very open atmosphere. It was amazing to see a group of senior scientists leaning over the table together during Experimentation Clinic. Normally you see young keen startups doing this sort of thing.

Many people in science argue that the problem is lack of funding or university rules. In my opinion you just need a supportive culture and a team like Helsinki Challenge pulling people together, pointing in the right direction and giving the framework. We must get beyond the “oh but that’s the way we’ve always done it” way of thinking.

Any greetings to the finalist teams?

Invest time and finances into effectively communicating your solutions. The biggest hurdle I see science startups and projects facing is their inability to get those outside the expertise circles on board. This is crucial for not only funding and partnerships, but for scaling beyond the lab and ensuring public interest.