The City of Kuopio’s Living Lab service, originally developed for wellbeing and health technology businesses, is expanding its scope. In the future, its goal is to promote business in every field across the North Savo County.
No other service in Finland has set its sights on offering a palette of support for the entire spectrum of private business throughout a region. The latest fields included in the cooperative effort for development are early childhood education and learning, wellbeing promotion, the urban environment, and the full field of healthcare and social services.
– The Kuopio model in this matter is different from other similar models in that cities generally seek to focus on a given field, whereas we’re taking into account a broader whole that effects wellbeing across the entire region, says Kuopio Chief Innovation Officer Arto Holopainen.
The Living Lab service is founded on ecosystem thinking. This means conducting design, development and testing in cooperation with a client and experts from several fields, in contrast with the traditional business model of mere bilateral interaction of the business and its client. This model is especially apt for fields where the development of applications draws from multiple cooperative relationships. Pauliina Kämäräinen, coordinator with Living Lab, says the model has four key actors.
– We bring together citizen activism, academia, business and organizations. We try to draw on many different points of view for our development.
The Living Lab works to support businesses and offer them opportunities to try out their products and services in a real-life usage environment. This support is available at every stage of product development. It can work with an idea, a prototype or a complete product.
– Living Lab also represents an excellent opportunity for us – meaning the City of Kuopio, the KUH and Savonia – to keep up with the latest developments in technologies that contribute to wellbeing. We are also open to cooperation with other actors as necessary, such as the University of Eastern Finland House of Effectiveness.
The idea of the Living Lab service sprung out of Kuopio’s Centre for Health Technology Development project of 2016–2018. It was noticed Finnish health technology startups have a particularly difficult time trying out their applications in the healthcare and social services system, and a Living Lab to make this easier is much in demand. The new Kuopio Living Lab project exists to empower innovation in businesses that want to grow.
– One of the challenges for a small business is finding a gateway to a larger organization that would allow them access to test their product in a real-life environment like home care, says Holopainen.
– It’s our job, together with the business, to make a clear plan for the tests that are necessary and make it possible to carry that plan out in practice. The most important thing is we learn what the business wants us to test, what questions need answers, says Kämäräinen.
The product need not be complete; an idea is enough.
– That’s when we put together a team of experts to spur on the entrepreneur and point them in the right direction.
At the moment, the Living Lab is funded with the support of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and its services are free of charge to companies. After the project is complete at the end of 2020, the Living Lab service will continue to be offered as a paid product.
– Oulu, for example, has already commercialised a similar service. The costs will, however, be very reasonable; the Oulu service charges from 500 to a few thousand euros depending on the size of the test commissioned, says Kämäräinen.
Insufficient funding should never handicap the development of a product, and Holopainen says a company may be eligible for an innovation voucher through Business Finland.
– This can help a small or medium business to purchase support services such as those offered by the Living Lab.
Businesses can also apply with the ELY Centre for development or internationalisation aid, but that usually requires a more comprehensive plan to be presented.
– In such a case, testing on the product or service carried out by the Living Lab can be presented as evidence for further funding, says Holopainen.
More specific instructions for starting a cooperative relationship can be found at the Business Kuopio website at www.kuopiolivinglab.fi
The Kuopio Living Lab project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the North Savo Regional Council, the City of Kuopio and the Kuopio University Hospital.
Text: Maiju Korhonen
Caption: The Living Lab service is mainly focused on the small and medium businesses in the county.