City of Helsinki co-creates with health & wellbeing startups

City of Helsinki co-creates with health & wellbeing startups
Ecosystems, Start-Ups, Wellbeing

The City of Helsinki wanted to put the spotlight on the wellbeing of its employees during these trying times. As a result, an Innovation Challenge was put together in 2020 to increase the physical activity of the City personnel.

Noora Hagman is a Senior Advisor in charge of the City of Helsinki’s business collaboration that aims for new innovations within the field of health promotion. The Innovation Challenge – that focused exclusively on increasing physical activity – was the first of its kind launched by the City, says Hagman.

“One focus area for the City is promoting and increasing employees’ physical activity, since we know that increased activity has a very positive impact on people’s wellbeing,” she says.

The City of Helsinki is no stranger to making these types of moves, but this time, the City wanted to open the doors to something else altogether.

“We wanted to see what’s out there and perhaps find a solution we didn’t even know existed.”

This time, the City of Helsinki wanted to open doors to something else altogether.

Startups answer the call

Enter: the startups! As the City put out a call for startups to contribute to the challenge in summer 2020, a total of 43 companies responded to the call. Eleven of those startups got to make their pitch in front of the Challenge Jury at the end of August, and, ultimately, six startups were selected to be the City’s partners in pulling off the challenge.

The participants were StepOut, Cuckoo Workout, Fibion, Cityspotting, Syke Tribe and Löydä Luonto (Find nature) concept. Typically running from September to December 2020, all of these individual health challenges have now been concluded.

“With regards to the final six participants, we wanted them to reflect the diversity of the over-all applications. These six startups approach health & wellbeing from different angles which is a good thing, since the same methods rarely connect with everybody,” Hagman says.

StepOut empowers via platform

For instance, StepOut has a fitness platform – by the same name – which promotes healthy, happy, on-the-go living. Tarnjit Saini, CEO & Co-founder of StepOut, explains that in the challenge there were two focus groups involved.

“We aimed to have 50 participants from each. However, the overwhelming response got us more than 150 registrations in under an hour,” she says.

According to challenge results, 88.9% of employees thought that a platform like StepOut is a useful tool to have, especially during these remote working days.

“The employees highly appreciated the fact that we were bringing guided workouts to their homes. Majority of the users saw a huge boost in their motivation to stay more active,” Saini says.

“Furthermore, users felt a positive impact on their well-being by participating in the sessions.”

According to Saini, the project was “an amazing learning experience” for StepOut. The experiment period allowed the startup to introduce and test out new features and make improvements based on the feedback received.

“The agile co-creation process allowed us to test our app and service. We gained useful feedback that helped us understand the users’ needs and make improvements,” she looks back.

“I’ve enjoyed your app immensely. It’s easy to use, intuitive. Overall, it has been a very enjoyable experience so far!’’ – StepOut participant

Find Nature wakes up the senses

The Find Nature concept is unusual in the sense that there were actually two startups: Naturested and Fambition. Find nature is, in essence, an online forest bathing program. The concept of forest bathing comes from Japan, and it’s about exploring nature with our senses, sometimes in unexpected ways, explains Partner Laura Hannola from Fambition.

“150 employees from the Social and Health sector participated, mostly care workers who are doing important and demanding work especially during the past year.”

According to Hannola, connecting with nature really has “a powerful effect” on wellbeing.

“It was almost hard to believe when people told that the program has changed their life or made someone physically active again. Participants also found the exercises applicable in their work with elderly people – which makes the potential impact even larger,” she says.

Hannola says one key take-away from the challenge is the value of quick testing. “We gathered feedback and also did moderations along the way. We’ll soon launch the beta version available for a wider audience.”

Co-creation with the City of Helsinki was very smooth from start to finish, Hannola says.

“We have been able to gather feedback throughout the pilot and also interviewed users to gain deeper understanding,” she says.

“It would not be possible to develop a working solution so fast without this kind of co-creation approach,” she credits the City.

“My nerves were resting, my mind was calm and peaceful. I noticed I was walking with a smile on my face.” – Find Nature participant

Fibion: Get up, stand up!

Fibion has a physical activity analysis product that set out to energize City employees who were remote working from home and starving for exercise. Fibion Co-Founder Arto Pesola has a PhD in exercise physiology and knows full well that getting stuck at your kitchen table for months on end is a real problem from a health standpoint.

“We were extremely fortunate to be able to launch this project at the end of the year and to activate all those people trying to cope at home,” Pesola says.

50 City employees participated in this project, receiving a full Fibion measurement treatment at the start and end of the project and a digital intervention to break up sitting time. Using the platform, the employees were able to decrease the amount of time they spent sitting during their working day by 24 minutes.

“Instead of sitting, they would move about or engage in light activity,” explains Pesola.

As the people got up, they felt more energetic and motivated – and were encouraged to keep pursuing this more mobile way of “office life”.

“According to the feedback, people were very pleased with the way the program could bring about a real shift in their lives.”

As for working in collaboration with the City, Pesola says that the startup really could not ask for a better partner.

“When you have a development project, you want to be able to get as much quality feedback as you can. Here, we got feedback from the City and the users throughout the project.”

“Short infomercials and videos about decreasing the amount of time spent sitting really did the trick.” – Fibion participant

Reach out and recommend your solution

After the first Innovation Challenge, the City of Helsinki opened a second call to startups and SMEs in early 2021. This time the Innovation Challenge aimed to find new, innovative solutions to promote physical activity of the elderly people in Helsinki. The call is now closed and the applications are being reviewed.

While waiting for future Challenges, Noora Hagman hints of new Testbed Helsinki website with comprehensive information on development and testing opportunities for new products and services offered by the City of Helsinki. Health & wellbeing is one of the key areas.

On the website, companies can also proactively reach out and recommend their solutions for testing.

Text: Sami J. Anteroinen
Cover photo: Johanna Vilhunen / Helsinki Marketing



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