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European Innovation Council

Espoo (Finland)

The European Capital of Innovation - 2nd place: Espoo (Finland)


"A city with a culture for creating the kind of innovation the world needs: THE KIND OF INNOVATION THE WORLD NEEDS

Espoo is an epicentre of systemic innovation on the Finnish coastline next to Helsinki. Its 300,000 inhabitants churn out roughly 60% of Finland’s patents – the fourth highest number per capita among all cities in Europe.

Their message is not about spearhead projects or even processes. It is about a legacy that will enable today’s youth and future generations to overcome increasingly systemic challenges. Espoo’s story can spearhead a wider European culture of radically collaborative human-centred innovation" - Jukka Mäkelä, Mayor, City of Espoo

Known for its exceptionally high standards of well-being, the young city has developed a thoroughly multi-disciplinary culture and ecosystem of collaboration that produces societal innovation as well as a staggering range of deep technology breakthroughs – the kind of innovation the world needs. The culture is characterised by four key tenets:

1) Radical collaboration

With over 400 R&D units, a top-level business, design and tech university and a host of leading companies clustered in a small area, Espoo is a strong contender to be the world’s densest centre of systemic innovation. Together, the city, Aalto University and the technological research centre VTT form a core that brings together all players – start-ups, students, top companies, researchers and ordinary citizens. As collaboration becomes more diverse and multidisciplinary and cross-border activities increase, innovation becomes more creative, and their positive handprint grows.

2) They believe they perform best when we share a purpose and values

It is not only young people, universities and start-ups but also major businesses that embrace sustainability as a core value and strive to create solutions to global challenges. The gap between individual and organisational values is likely to be one of the smallest in the world. Based on ecological, social, cultural and economic sustainability, Espoo’s strategy focuses on facilitating purpose-driven collaboration between companies, the city and residents. One example is the world’s largest waste heat recovery project that is currently underway. In the project, waste heat from data centres is turned into clean district heating for our residents, cutting the city’s total carbon emissions by 40%.

3) They build on closeness and trust

Pragmatic, direct and low-hierarchy, Finnish culture has shaped the way people cooperate. Decision-makers, thinkers and doers from all industries and disciplines are just a bike ride away and willing to help and contribute if asked. These are advantages of not being a metropolis with millions of people – collaboration is chosen over competition. For decades, the City of Espoo has embraced a role as a facilitator for bringing together surprising combinations of people. Biologists and quantum physicists share the same facilities, and top-level CEOs may bump into the nation’s political leaders in a nature reserve next to the world’s leading deep tech laboratories.

4) They believe the change we need starts with people’s well-being

Social and cultural sustainability, inclusion and diversity are high on Espoo’s agenda. The city provides free-of-charge hobby groups at every school for children whose families could not otherwise afford them. Combined with a high quality of life and high-quality education, Espoo’s approach not only aims to attract talent but also lets people feel well and sets them free to innovate.

The surrounding environment also plays a role, and local residents value very highly the clean and beautiful nature that surrounds them. The city invests in opportunities for the residents to recover, rest and be energised in many different ways, including 11 free-of-charge winter swimming places.

The city at your service

Culture cannot be forced, but it can be nurtured through every decision and action we take. Espoo is eager to share its best practices, such as strategies and models to produce the city as a service as well as tools and programmes for empowering communities and individuals alike. We invite everyone to make with Espoo.