The Helsinki Energy Challenge finalist teams took part in a three-day virtual bootcamp in order to hone their solutions even further to suit the context of Helsinki. Each team had a full individual program filled with one-on-one meetings, joint sessions with all other teams as well as their own working time.

“Now we have come from 252 teams with over 1 500 innovators and solution providers to you who have been selected as the Helsinki Energy Challenge finalists. Have courage to think differently, challenge yourself and your team, do not settle for the usual road or approach, create something unique. You really have a chance to make a difference”, Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori stated as he set the teams off on the final leg of their journey in the Helsinki Energy Challenge.

Wednesday 9 December marked the kick-off of the three-day virtual bootcamp, which was designed to provide the competing teams with the golden nuggets of information they need to hone their ideas into the winning proposal. Teams were given the opportunity to get further insights and mentoring, on the one hand to ensure their solution will fit the Helsinki context even better, but on the other hand, to challenge them to think about how other cities can benefit from the solution too.

During the opening session on Wednesday morning, the teams  heard interesting keynotes, among them Managing Director of Euroheat & Power Paul Voss, who reminded the teams that even if they don’t win the Helsinki Energy Challenge, the market is enormous and hungry for their solutions. There are currently a whopping 100 million fossil fuel boilers in Europe alone.

“It's not realistic to think that we will turn all buildings to passive buildings and not need heating anymore. But it's also important to think about heating and power as a whole and not get stuck on individual details. I like the idea of falling in love with a problem instead of falling in love with a solution”, Voss stated.

Getting to 100 by 2030

The ambition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is to have 100 net carbon cities by 2030, but that’s a challenging goal to reach as there’s only 10 years left to go. Cities, Infrastructure & Urban Services Lead Alice Charles from the WEF noted in her remarks at the opening session, that that goal is even tougher to achieve in a situation where cities need to tackle multiple problems including the current financial challenges amidst a public health emergency.

According to Charles there are two critical challenges to success: finding innovative ways of getting financing from the capital markets and rounding up the needed technical expertise.

“The Helsinki Energy Challenge is important because it recognises that cities alone do not necessarily have the solutions. The challenge requires a multi-stakeholder approach: it is essential that city and national governments, business, academia, and citizens collaborate”, Charles said.

Charles commended the Helsinki Energy Challenge for bringing in other cities for peer-to-peer learning. She too reminded the teams that winning isn’t everything: the teams will learn a lot that they will be able to take to other cities as well.

Shared enthusiasm and learning

All three days of the bootcamp were jam-packed with coaching, mentoring and networking sessions. Each team met several different people, including industry experts and City of Helsinki representatives. No ready-made answers were provided to the teams, however. The information they received merely provided them with signposts on their journey.

One of the City of Helsinki representatives the teams met was Kaisa-Reeta Koskinen from the City’s Urban Environment Division, Project Director of the ambitious Carbon Neutral Helsinki Program. She says that she has judged competitions before, but this type of “coaching role” was new to her.

“It was a very inspiring experience as we all had a shared enthusiasm for the topic. All the teams had very different approaches, although there might have been similarities in some of the details. I saw some very interesting and innovative thinking.”

Koskinen says that the teams asked a lot about the current heating system and what has already been done to decarbonise it. But a lot of the questions were also very specific.

“We also learned a lot from the participants’ questions. After the bootcamp I have really high expectations for the finalists and can’t wait to see how the solutions evolve even after the competition”, Koskinen says.

The finalist teams will submit their final competition entries by 22 January. An international panel of judges will evaluate the final proposals and the winner will be announced in March 2021.