Justification of the jury

The pre-qualification stage jury chose 20 semi-finalist teams for the Helsinki Challenge accelerator programme. The ideas had to be science-based, solution-oriented, impactful, novel and creative to proceed to the semi-finals. Read jury's statement and comments on the semi-finalist teams.

Pro Fibers
The team clearly addresses a problem that meets the goals of the competition. This innovation can use the existing infrastructure found in chemical pulp mills and utilize forest resources as a raw material in a sustainable manner. The innovation is very versatile and will free up arable land for human needs, reduce the use of antibiotics in animal healthcare and reduce the negative effects of cotton cultivation. Additionally, it will give Finnish chemical pulp mills a competitive advantage. After the scientific research part, the whole concept can be implemented on an industrial scale together with industrial partners.

The World Health Organization recommends early detection and treatment of diseases to avoid the development of multiple chronic conditions among individuals. However, at least 3.6 billion individuals in the world lack access to essential healthcare tools and services. The team is creating a microfluid lab-on-a-chip device that enables the on-site simultaneous detection of multiple infections and other diseases. The technology readiness level for the development of such a device is appropriate, and the project may have a great impact on the lives of millions of people both in terms of their health and well-being, as well as economically.

The goal of the team is to improve the well-being and treatment of an aging population through metabolic profiling, which would, for example, diminish the social expenditure of society when the negative effects of a poor nutritional status and medication could be prevented beforehand. A strong interdisciplinary group from two universities, who also have expertise on commercialisation. The research is highly feasible.

This futuristic topic is very relevant in the age of biohacking and quantified self. The team goes even further: saving lives with 3D printed organs. The team is ready to tackle a huge challenge with breakthrough research. A multidisciplinary approach, long-term focus and remarkable creativity will be needed, but if successful, international recognition and a massive impact will be guaranteed. Also, even if not yet successful, the intermediate findings from this research may open new interesting doors.

Energy Village 500
A test bed of a small regional community that aims at energy self-sufficiency looks promising. The project aims at proposing new modes of governance that will enable the adoption of a systemic approach, which takes into account regional features and societal parameters. This may be feasible in a test bed environment. Whether or not the pilot can be scaled up remains a question.

Parental Box
The aim of the team is to create a “mental maternity box”, meaning a “mental box of well-being” for helping each infant and their parents. Digital tools are used to help solve the ever-worsening feeling of unwellness in families by already preventing the problems before they have formed. The solution also works globally. The accruing data will be used in a longitudinal interdisciplinary study on children’s mental health. The material collected would be unique in the world. There is an academically experienced and diverse group behind the feasible idea. Also involved are The Finnish Association for Mental Health, as well as an NGO in the field who will be putting the results into practice.

The team is searching for the next big thing in sustainable energy. If solar thermal energy could be stored efficiently, humankind could make revolutionary commitments to more environmentally sound practices in the Northern hemisphere. The solution requires a strong multidisciplinary approach. The team is well-positioned and connected to take the step into the unknown. This project could be a breakthrough initiative towards nationwide collaboration around the topic “The big thing from Finland”.

The digitalization of education and learning is one of the most pressing challenges of society. If teachers do not have digital competencies, neither will their pupils. The proposed Collaborative Digital Teaching and Learning Framework seems appealing. However, it will not work unless the authorities adopt it. There is great potential, as well as need for collaboration with, for example, the Ministry of Education and Culture, as well as the teaching authority, the Finnish National Agency for Education.

The team aims to block the mosquito-mediated transmission of diseases in the world. These include major diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and Zika virus infections, plus a number of other illnesses that collectively kill about one million people each year. The team has two approaches: designing mosquito nets that act as traps for catching mosquitoes and developing a vaccine for humans that would make human blood toxic for mosquitoes, but not for humans. The project is strongly science-based, involving researchers from several universities and has multiple companies to provide the technical support for the project.

Senior Cognitive Booster
Along with ageing, risks for physical and cognitive decline greatly threaten the independence and quality of life of the elderly population. Cognitive disabilities are anticipated to produce the costliest crisis in healthcare in the future. The team proposes a new solution for preventing the cognitive decline of elderly people. An elderly-targeted software, implemented in virtual/augmented reality will provide an enjoyable environment for physical and cognitive training to help the elderly maintain and improve their cognitive abilities. The team has an international background and competitiveness in clinical and cognitive brain imaging research, software development, and environmental health research, which creates a promising premise for successful applications.

Wave Farmers
It has been a challenge to monitor and manage soil essential properties in large fields, even though mass-scale fertilizing and watering systems are used globally. By managing soil more effectively, we can get more out of the limited farmland.

The team addresses the challenge related to city development from the point of view of mass flourishing and aims to use the concepts of inclusion, self-realization, self-expression, vibrancy, creativity, engagement and abundance as the cornerstones for change processes in urban settings. The goal is to accelerate the shift from control-dominant models driven by authorities, norms and institutions, towards practices that are systems intelligently centred around communities, human experience and the collaborative co-creation of value from the bottom up.

Despite being a risky project that also requires a large amount of capital, this is based on a real capability, a real market and environmental need. The replacement of cotton as a textile material is needed globally. The project is very topical for the call and is firmly based on science and the team’s previous research-derived inventions. The technology readiness level is appropriate for an innovation call. The reuse of cellulose from wood biomass is of high relevance for the textile industry, as well as for the paper and pulp industry.

3A Water
The team addresses the challenge of the increasing costs of new discoveries in mineral exploration. An essential part of the costs comes from the drilling required for analysing deeply buried rock samples. This leads to higher mineral prices that affect the global metal industry. The project is highly relevant for the mining industry worldwide. A mineral map of multiple drilling holes that enables the on-site and parallel analysis of the groundwater of several holes is needed. The project is science-based, and the key material used for the technology has already been developed.

The intent of the proposal is to create a new way to assess natural resources and geological formations by transilluminating bedrock with cosmic ray muon particles. The team is cross-disciplinary and has had active discussions with several mining companies. The team has a clear focus towards prototyping and commercializing the innovation. The technology has the potential to improve the methods of the geophysical characterization of Earth’s crust by enabling the actual transillumination of soil and rock layers. In addition to discovering new natural resources, the technology can be used for the monitoring of existing resources, such as deep groundwater deposits or large-scale material heaps.

Making sure the young generation learns global competencies meaningfully during basic education is challenging. There is a gap between the needs, practices and schools. The team targets the challenge of polarization by developing research-based pedagogical tools and models for helping students acquire global competencies. As a solution, the team proposes an experience sampling mobile application to reliably investigate the learning of global competencies. In addition to the app, they put forward a learning-monitoring tool of global competencies in schools, as well as pedagogical models for schools to integrate the tools with their practices. The solutions are unique, innovative and multidisciplinary enterprises of educational, computational and brain researchers, societal representatives, teachers and entrepreneurs.

CoLearning CoPassion
Loneliness is a pressing societal challenge that strongly affects the social, mental and physical well-being of individuals, groups and communities. It causes direct severe health threats and suicidal behaviour, deeply affects social groups and communities, and profoundly erodes the social sustainability of societies. In the search for sustainable humane cities, the team aims to combat the urban loneliness of young people with compassion. The team brings into dialogue the viewpoints of welfare sociology, sociology of religion, social ethics, medical sociology, education, psychology and organizational studies, and seeks new solutions for spreading compassion tools globally, as well.

Making cancer treatment more personalized and effective is one of the grand challenges of our healthcare system. Hundreds of drugs have entered clinical trials, but have most often had disappointing efficacy, likely due to the lack of understanding on which patient subpopulations are the expected responders. The team aims at systematic strategies that will enable the prioritization of the most potent, clinically actionable drug combinations for each patient individually. The team will develop mathematical and computational tools for identifying drug combinations that can be used to provide personalized and more effective therapeutic strategies, which may prevent acquired resistance. The highly interdisciplinary team combines experts from computational, experimental and clinical development. Their solid base in science and the plan for intense and synergistic collaboration with national and international partners, including hospitals, biobanks and pharmaceutical companies provide the potential for great impact.

Reconfigure Mobility
The team seeks to solve the challenge of sustainable mobility in the modern urbanizing world and has three strategic goals. It will initiate an ecosystem of companies and research organizations interested in smart and sustainable transportation services. It will develop the mobility-as-a-service concept for both scientific and practical discourses, and augment the capabilities of the Helsinki region for sustainable mobility in the transportation infrastructure. The solution has the potential for long-term impact by promoting access to new knowledge and democratizing access to sustainable transportation.

Catalyst Supreme
Catalysis forms the basis of the modern chemical industry, as some 90 percent of the processes utilize catalysts. These materials are also at the core of emerging energy conversion and bioproduction technologies. The project aims to replace critical materials used as catalysts in the chemical industry. The project is firmly science-based, with earlier accomplishments providing it with credibility. The technology readiness level may just be enough for an innovation project.