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New FinEst Centre-Led Project Sets Out to Cultivate Baltic Sea Region’s Deep tech Ecosystem

Self driving bus in Tartu.  Photo: Janar Lind
Self driving bus in Tartu. Photo: Janar Lind

The FinEst Centre for Smart Cities recently received European Union funding to pursue a project that will help to better understand the deep tech innovation ecosystem in the Baltic Sea Region, with a special focus on green and smart city technologies, as well as supporting women-led business ventures.

The project, called FINEST SCALEUP, is aligned with the overall goals of the FinEst Centre for Smart Cities, an independent organization established five years ago within Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) that aims to create and foster smart city solutions to improve urban life.

FinEst Centre’s core partnership is between research and development teams at TalTech and Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. Forum Virium Helsinki, a City of Helsinki innovation company, and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications are also founding members.

The FINEST SCALEUP project launched this spring with a budget of nearly €1 million, provided through European Innovation Ecosystems, part of Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding program for research and innovation. The new project will run through mid-September 2026. The project aims to connect investors and deep tech companies around the Baltic Sea Region, with a special focus on sustainable and smart city oriented technologies, as well as promoting inclusivity and gender equality with the wider goal of supporting companies to showcase innovative technologies, attract investment and reach global markets.

The organizations taking part in the project include the FinEst Centre for Smart Cities; the Estonian Business Angels Network; EIT Digital, Europe’s largest digital innovation ecosystem based in Brussels, Belgium; the Latvian Startup Association, Startin.LV; Startup.LT,  the Lithuanian startup ecosystem facilitator based in Vilnius; the Lithuanian Innovation Centre, a Vilnius-based nonprofit; the Digital Knowledge Observatory Foundation in Warsaw, Poland; and Poland’s Kraków Technology Park.

The FinEst Centre for Smart Cities will coordinate the project, relying on existing relationships with business support organizations and investors, while developing new collaborations and business support expertise in the deep tech sector.

Photo: Kaupo Kalda

“In the core of FinEst Centre for Smart Cities activities is the Smart City Challenge piloting program, where we help cities to solve their urban challenges by developing and piloting  smart solutions for their needs,” said Kaija Veskioja, a research fellow and project manager of the FINEST SCALEUP project at TalTech.

“The best and most viable solutions should also be commercialized and for that we need to work closely together with deep tech companies, investors and, in general, want to contribute to a better functioning deep tech innovation ecosystem,” she said.

Veskioja became a researcher at the FinEst Centre for Smart Cities in May 2022 and her research interests include sustainability transitions, energy policy, smart city and energy data governance, access and sharing. Last fall, she also ended a seven-year stint at Elering, the state-owned transmission grid company, where she helped to develop and manage the Estfeed energy data exchange platform. Before that, she served as the greentech sector manager at Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol.

According to Veskioja, in the FINEST SCALEUP project, partners will expand and build on the capacities and knowledge of the Finnish-Estonian macro region, as well as the more developed innovation ecosystems in Lithuania and Poland. The goal is to build and strengthen deep tech entrepreneurship around the Baltic Sea Region, helping regions that might be lagging others. There is also the goal to attract funding and investors, not only within the region, but globally.

"In the core of FinEst Centre for Smart Cities activities is the Smart City Challenge piloting program, where we help cities to solve their urban challenges by developing and piloting smart solutions for their needs,"
In the core of FinEst Centre for Smart Cities activities is the Smart City Challenge piloting program, where we help cities to solve their urban challenges by developing and piloting smart solutions for their needs. Photo: private collection.

“Together with the partners more focused on the business ecosystems, we want to enable matchmaking in the Baltic Sea Region to help companies to bring funding onboard,” she said.

According to Veskioja, participants will do mapping around five innovation ecosystems (in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) as part of the FINEST SCALEUP project, compiling data on local companies, investors, support organizations, and accelerators. This will help them to flag strengths, weaknesses, and to build on existing opportunities and capacities.

The project also foresees a large number of mentoring, training, and coaching sessions over the next two years. Not all will be physical, Veskioja noted, about half will take place online.

“We will also monitor what is the wider impact of our work and give impact reports to European policymakers and the European Commission on how to improve the environment for deep tech companies,” said Veskioja.

One product/service from the project will be a digital toolkit provided through a platform already used by the partners. The platform will be used to “consolidate all the knowledge gained in the project,” such as investor-enterprise mapping, opportunities and challenges, best practices, and policy suggestions into a “single-shop-stop, built around a joint digital toolkit repository and digital training program for each of the targeted stakeholders.”

According to Veskioja, there will be a LinkedIn page available soon with a link to the digital platform published in this autumn.

According to Veskioja, supporting equal opportunity is “an ingredient of the project’s success!” Photo: Private collection

Gender action plan

Another noteworthy component of FINEST SCALEUP is its gender action plan. According to Veskioja, project participants aim to “monitor the gender dimension” at three levels: within the consortium, across the coordination and support activities, and in the wider context of the project ecosystem and deep tech domains.

The plan provides objectives and a monitoring methodology, the latter of which will allow the partners to better understand the status of gender balance in the consortium. The plan also provides basic guidelines on how partners can “make their activities and outputs more gender-responsive,” Veskioja said.

According to Veskioja, supporting equal opportunity is “an ingredient of the project’s success,” and this more inclusive and gender equal approach will be embedded in all of the project’s activities. This will ensure that “women-led actors from within all target groups and in particular investors and deep tech emerging innovators and startups are properly represented and actively engaged in the project activities,” she said.

The project will give special attention to working with women-led investor groups and women entrepreneurs and women-led startups, as well as the promotion of gender-balanced teams in startups, Veskioja added. This will be accomplished through the project’s second work package.

A special Gender Task Force has also been created within the FINEST SCALEUP project that consists of five female members that represent each innovation ecosystem. The main aim of the task force is to contribute to the development of the Gender Action Plan, Veskioja said, as well as to the plan’s upgrading and enforcement at a local level.

For the successful implementation of the FINEST SCALEUP project, a special External Advisory Board (EAB) consisting of around 20 external members of deep tech innovation ecosystem stakeholders has also been established, she said. The EAB will allow the project to engage a larger number of target group members that can help the partners in their best practices, tools and training activities, as well as to “maximize the project reach, results communication, dissemination and exploitation.”

This article is written by Justin Petrone. This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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