From a problem to a solution in 7 minutes


The Helsinki Challenge competition semi-finalist teams, with eight from Aalto, pitched their solutions for the UN's sustainable development goals in just seven minutes.

The science-based idea competition has reached its semi-final stage. Twenty multidisciplinary university teams, from all around Finland, pitched their solution for global challenges linked to the UN’s sustainable development goals. The pitch nights on 22 and 23 February were held at Helsinki University's grand hall, and both evenings attracted an audience of some 500 people. The competition finalists will be announced in June, and the winner in December 2017.

'There have seldom been such challenges than what we face today. What can we do? The world definitely needs co-operation to solve global problems. The challenges are economical, ecological and cultural, and we need innovation and change on services. One of the hardest things to do is to give people the services they need in barren areas of the world', said Minister Elisabeth Rehn in her opening words. 'I am very impressed about the range of topics the teams are solving.'

The Aalto-led teams are, for instance, working on: reducing the cognitive decline as we age, utilising the summer heat during winter, and developing a new type of cellulose fiber out of wood.


Team Catalyst Supreme, led by Professor Tanja Kallio (second from right), develops clean catalyst materials that would make the chemical industry cleaner and the world more sustainable. 'We can create solutions that advance the production of renewable energy and materials, which are essential to everyone, everywhere', they note. Follow Catalyst Supreme on Twitter.



'We’re developing a Tinder for urbanisation', elates team F-Factor, led by Professor Esa Saarinen (on the right). The team wants to change the way cities are developed. The aim is to build an open platform where communities and urban developers can meet and build more user-centred, personalised living spaces. Follow F-Factor on Twitter.



Team HeatStock wants to develop a material that stores heat for long periods of time, and utilises the summer heat during the winter. Their success would mean a leap forward for renewable energy, and it would help stop climate change. The team is led by Senior Scientist Ari Seppälä (second from right). Follow HeatStock on Twitter.



As the global population grows and Asia becomes wealthier, there is a growing demand for cotton and other cellulose-based textiles. 'Our team is developing a new type of cellulose fibre made out of Finnish wood. We also want to support the Finnish wood-based industry and bring textile manufacturing back to Europe,' team Ioncell comments, led by Professor Herbert Sixta (second from right). Follow Ioncell on Twitter.



Team Pro Fibers wants to put forests to good use, instead of clearing them for arable land. The team has produced a wood-based biomass that can be mixed with animal feed. 'This blend significantly improves the health and bacterial resistance of farm animals', says team leader Professor Olli Dahl (third from left).



Team Reconfigure Mobility wants to create a network of experts who will solve the challenges of sustainable mobility. 'The aim is to facilitate cross-disciplinary research and link it with business and society', says team leader, Dr Mikko Särelä (second from right). Follow Reconfigure Mobility on Twitter.



Team Senior Cognitive Booster tackles elderly people's cognitive challenges using virtual environments. 'We wish to reduce the cognitive decline, which we face as we age. This can be prevented by creating 3D environments for cognitive and physical training, and studying the changes in the brain activity', says team leader and a PhD student Ping Jiang (second from right). Follow Senior Cognitive Booster on Twitter.



Team Wave Farmers helps people understand what nature wants, and how people could get beneficial outcomes from it without causing negative effects on it. The team is building a smart sensing device, which monitors the soil properties and balances the soil ecosystem, thereby optimising plant growth in a specific soil condition. Team leader Robertus Nugroho,  PhD, (on the left), says that he got the idea for this project after seeing photos of starving people on social media. Follow Wave Farmers on Twitter.

You can watch all twenty pitches on videos. (YouTube)

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Photos: Linda Tammisto, Meeri Utti

Helsinki Challenge is a science-based idea competition and accelerator programme, which brings different actors of the scientific community and society together to solve the great problems in the world. The challenge themes Sustainable Planet, Urban Future, and People in Change are linked to the UN’s sustainable development goals. The idea competition’s prize is 375,000 euro and it is meant for putting the solution into practice.

The competition organisers are: University of Helsinki, Aalto University, the Hanken School of Economics, University of Eastern Finland, University of Jyväskylä, University of Oulu, University of the Arts Helsinki, University of Turku, University of Vaasa, and Åbo Akademi University.