From the series “Get to Know the Clusters of the Kuopio Region”
In this article of the “get to know the clusters in the Kuopio region” series, highlights of an interview with Eero Antikainen, the Kuopio Water Cluster manager, have been reflected. The creation and purpose of the cluster, the benefits of becoming a member at the cluster, the SWIM project (one of the major projects in the water cluster in collaboration with Nokia), the main challenges in the water sector, and great opportunities for potential investors interested in the water sector in the region, are the main topics covered in this article. Enjoy!
Some facts about Finland: Finland is the world’s richest country in terms of water resources. Anyone can swim and fish in any of the 187,888 lakes, 85 percent of which are in good or exceptional condition. Groundwater accounts for approximately 60% of the total water supply provided by Finland’s waterworks, with rivers and lakes accounting for the remaining 40%.
The mining, Pulp and Paper, and food and beverage industries are the main users of water in Finland (more than 80 percent of water consumption), while municipalities account for only 10-15% of overall water use.
Memberships and Certifications: European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP), Finnish Water Forum (FWF).
Members: more than 150 experts from 6 main founding organizations and more than 60 companies.
The cluster has begun its work on the basis of agreements with six founding members who are research organizations with distinctive skills and resources, namely University of Eastern Finland, Natural Resources Institute of Finland (Luke), Savonia UAS, Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), Finnish institute for health and welfare (THL), Finnish Food Authority (FFA). The first cooperation actually started in 1980s between THL and UEF in drinking water research.
Then, in the 1990s, Savonia UAS joined the collaboration, and in 2001, the Savonia building and joint water laboratory were completed. Other groups joined in the years that followed, and the study progressed in a more practical manner than it had previously. As a natural continuation of the evolving cooperation, Kuopio Water Cluster was officially established in 2019 as a part of KWC-project initiative creating a structured form for the cooperation.
One important goal of the cluster is to help companies with their product development processes for water technologies and new applications by providing their broad expertise and access to unique research infrastructure such as testing and piloting facilities and analytical laboratories.
“Our main activities are practical testing and piloting, concrete product development services, and applied research. We also strive to assist more traditional water corporations that produce drinking water for cities or clean municipal wastewater”, said Antikainen.
In Kuopio Water Cluster, there are already 150 expert members from all six founding organizations, as well as more than 60 registered company members, working in various disciplines such as creating new technologies, marketing, and so on. The cluster’s company members may be put into the following categories:
Every member of the cluster’s research organization has their own laboratory and analytical tools, which have been integrated to assist the member companies in developing their products or the industry in solving their water-related challenges. The cluster functions as a one-stop shop for what businesses require, concentrating their efforts in new innovation and product development in the main following categories:
Companies may easily join the cluster by filling out a form on the cluster’s website and contacting them, and that’s it!
The Kuopio Water Cluster offers members a number of advantages (some of which are free of charge, while the RDI-services are offered with reasonable prices), including access to laboratory testing and piloting services, laboratory space and analytical services at preferential rates, visibility on the KWC website, free participation in the cluster’s events (e.g. seminars, trainings, and networking events) and free publicity during KWC`s events e.g. showroom, poster or presentation, apply for funding opportunities, help with coordination of national and international funding programs, get networking possibilities, access to a platform for collaboration, and have simple access to talented job candidates among the KWC networks, students, interns, and young professionals (interested in becoming a member? Check out here).
Companies can benefit from the facilities and services offered by the cluster’s primary actors, ranging from lab-scale research to on-site piloting and turn-key test runs based on client demands and throughout the year.
Operating within the cluster’s framework does not imply conducting basic science, but rather focuses on applied research, product development, practical testing and piloting to address water sector challenges.
“We also enable diverse companies to network and produce added value through collaboration. In this light, the water cluster may be described as an accelerator since it offers infrastructure and R&D, links the industry with companies, solves problems, and applies for funding for projects”, mentioned Antikainen.
In other words, one of KWC’s main competences is the ability to provide a unique mix of experience, analytics, testing, and piloting facilities in order to build novel solutions for:
One of the major projects in the water cluster is being carried out in collaboration with Nokia. The Kuopio city’s objective for 2030 is to develop the Savilahti region as a new city district with several chances to apply smart city and data-driven solutions to support sustainable development, making daily living simpler, and the new area more appealing.
With significant investment in sensing technology by water corporations, the Savilahti area may be provided as a unique testbed and demonstration ground for monitoring systems and smart water applications to other Finnish and international companies. Different start-ups and SMEs in Kuopio working in the field of water can cooperate in the SWIM project and be a part of this big network helping to make Kuopio a smart city in water sector.
The new Smart Water Management (SWIM) initiative as part of Nokia’s leading company project addresses the challenges such as water and sewage overflows that squander valuable resources and put public health and the environment at risk. The global smart water network market is estimated to be about USD 22 billion and to grow by 6-18% annually, depending on the sector. Therefore, ecosystem collaboration is essential. In SWIM ecosystem the following ecosystem partners work intensively together to create new capabilities for the global market: Abloy Oy, EHP Environment Oy, Keypro Oy, PipeLife Finland Oy, AQVA.IO Oy, Hurja Solutions Oy, Vercon Oy, Fluidit Oy, Ramboll Finland Oy, City of Kuopio, Kuopas Oy, Neuroflux Oy, Elisa Oyj, ALVA yhtiöt Oy, Turun Vesihuolto, Kuopio Water Cluster, HSY Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority, Kymi Water, Finnish Water Utilities Association (FIWA), Nokia, VTT Oy, Savonia University of Applied Sciences, and Finnish Water Forum (read more about the SWIM project here).
What is being developed in the smart water solution to address the difficulties in the water sector in terms of ideas and technology is something that can be utilized not only in Finland but also given to other countries in Europe. The start-ups’ ideas may be utilized to address the problems, such as leveraging AI to create an application that can be employed in the smart water applications. Combining traditional water practices with computing sciences and software engineering is an attractive approach for start-ups to collaborate.
 FWF is a platform for cooperation of commercial enterprises, governmental and non-governmental organizations, scientific institutes and water-related associations. FWF was founded in 2009 by 39 diverse organizations with a single purpose in mind: to create an umbrella organization for Finnish water know-how. FWF now has over 130 member organizations in Finland and local partners worldwide.
 Read more about the success story of Finnish water here.
Text: Parastoo Jalili
Photos: Kuopio Water Cluster