Student teamwork turns healthcare challenges into solutions
This spring, around 30 students in seven multidisciplinary teams aimed to solve some future health care challenges, provided for the BM innovation project by both public and private sector actors. The project took three weeks, and combined the expertise of students in technology, economics and medicine.
Finnish society is desperately waiting for the next-generation Nokia, the epic story of Finnish innovation, to be realised globally and to speed up our economic growth. The potential new success of Rovio’s Angry Birds, which just flew into the movie theatres, is intensively followed in every newspaper. The expectations of future possibilities are particularly high in the rapidly growing health care and well-being sectors. Indeed, new Finnish start-up companies seem to be especially strong in programming, cloud-based services, digitalization, and health technologies. But what really enables the birth - and later the export - of something that is globally unique?
This Spring semester, I was asked to be a responsible teacher for the BM (=Biotechnology, Medical, industrial engineering, information networks) Innovations (BMI) course, organized by a heterogeneous group of student organizations (Athene, Inkubio, HLKS, LKS and Prodeko from Aalto/University of Helsinki), and supported by Helsinki Think Company, Vertical, and Aalto Ventures program (http://bmiproject.fi). The challenges were provided by seven different private/public sector actors: Sitra, BlindSquare, Reaktor, NetMedi, Lääketietokeskus, Heimo and SiSU/FIMM-UH. By participating in the project, the partners got access to the strong expertise of students in information networks, bioinformation technology, medicine, biomedical engineering, and industrial engineering and management.
When I entered the kick-off at Vertical Accelerator at the Aalto University campus on a freezing cold winter day, the room was filled with enthusiasm, fresh perspectives, and up-to-date knowledge. During three weeks, the teams of 3-5 Finnish and international students worked with devoted minds on challenges outside the normal curriculum studies. The project consisted of workshops, get-togethers, teamwork (& more teamwork), and the final BMI Demo Day. There, the teams presented their inventive solutions and fearless ideas on personalized health, genomes and genetic data visualization, digitalization, big data, improved wearables, new practices for occupational health care, Apps for visually impaired people and globalization of peer support services (see http://bmiproject.fi/aiheet/).
I was very proud that our institute, FIMM, was a partner in such a visionary project. FIMM offered a challenge to improve the visualization of the SISu website (www.sisuproject.fi), specifically highlighting the regions of origin of the study participants and the frequency of identified genetic variants on a map of Finland. To fulfil the task, the student team interviewed the webpage users and, based on these suggestions, they made several different Website prototypes, again shown to the users for further comments.
Johanna Rantanen, a 3rd year student (major in information networks at Aalto), applied to the BMI project as she wanted practical experience in a product development project and she liked the tight 3 week schedule of the course. She selected to join the SISu Website team as the challenge was concrete and the end result could directly benefit the users. As a personal outcome of the course, Johanna Rantanen has actually ended up working at FIMM during the summer to further improve the website demo version created by the team. You will be able to check the results later this year at www.sisuproject.fi.
I’ve rarely seen medical students, engineers and computer scientists working so smoothly in a unified team and resolving the challenges so efficiently. As I followed the challenges developing towards solutions, I felt that the recipe for new Finnish inventions is easier than we – or apparently our government promoting the education budget cuts - have thought. Maybe we just need some open-minded start-ups, companies, academy and public sector with clever students and experienced mentors to work together under the same roof for united goals. Innovations need a fearless culture, which arises from the intersections between people, technologies and business. Thus, approaches similar to the BMI project could not only bring us closer to “the next Nokia” but even more ground-breaking and unique long-lasting success stories.
Curious in joining the Demo day, which is open for anyone? Or do you want to participate as an undergraduate student? Or does your company need to find answers to some tricky questions? To make sure that you do not miss the next opportunity in 2017, just follow https://www.facebook.com/bmiinnovationproject.