In the era of digitalisation and health innovations emerging in response to challenges in the health and social sector, the OuluHealth ecosystem remains an excellent example of a network of committed stakeholders who embrace ongoing changes and devote themselves to the mission of improving future health. For ten years, OuluHealth has showcased a collaborative model that brings together stakeholders from both the private and public sector to support the implementation of better, connected, and patient–oriented health services. Located in the vibrant city of Oulu, Finland, the ecosystem has contributed greatly to building the city’s reputation of being one of the leading health technology centers in the world and home to innovations that are transforming healthcare on a global scale. 11 January marked a significant date for OuluHealth, as it proudly celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The anniversary seminar was held in the premises of the Provincial Government in Oulu. It brought together the ecosystem’s stakeholders, local authorities, and other supporters to celebrate remarkable milestones and reflect on the path we have walked together so far. The programme was divided into two parts named ‘OuluHealth – the first 10 years’ and ‘OuluHealth – the next 10 years’, each filled with interesting presentations. Some of the ecosystem’s supporters, such as Andy Bleaden, Communities Director at ECHAlliance, Brian O’Connor, Chair at ECHAlliance, and the Dutch Ambassador to Finland, Govert Jan Bijl De Vroe, extended their anniversary greetings remotely.
“Our relationship with Oulu goes back even before the ecosystem was formed. It has become an essential and permanent engine for innovation in the region and we are delighted to have its representatives as important members of the ECHAlliance Global Ecosystem Network”, said O’Connor.
The anniversary seminar proved to be a great opportunity to showcase the achievements of the past decade, and also to set the stage for future endeavors.
The journey of collaboration and innovation
The first part of the programme was officially initiated by Jarmo Husso representing the authorities of the city of Oulu, followed by OuluHealth key players’ presentations.
Noora Jansson, Director of Research Development and Innovation at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences, invited the listeners to a trip down memory lane. She described how OuluHealth started and evolved over 6 years when she worked as the ecosystem’s Network Director.
“In 2012, I started to work for BusinessOulu, and my job was to supervise a new project. The Executive Director, Juha Ala-Mursula, told me that there were several new initiatives ongoing that required support’, Jansson opened her story. “Then, there was no OuluHealth yet. We created the name during the fall of 2012. It was first called the Kontinkangas project. At that time, there were many phases of development, including receiving funding for the AVAUS project, establishing the Centre for Health and Technology at the University of Oulu, and so on”, she continued.
Then Maritta Perälä-Heape, Professor of Practice and a founder of the Centre for Health and Technology, delivered her speech referring to the experience she gained representing OuluHealth during numerous European Commission events, workshops, and digital health conferences.
“I enjoyed working with many different types of stakeholders and bringing something new to their innovation processes, bringing researchers closer to companies, defining the development needs from the healthcare providers, and finding solutions and developers to address them”, said Perälä-Heape.
OuluHealth’s standout achievements worth mentioning are the establishment of OuluHealth Labs- testing and innovation platform, Oulu being listed as a top global city for health tech in the Startup Blink’s assessment, joining the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH), granting to Oulu 4 stars and recognition as the Reference Site of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, the OYS2030 programme ranked first in the International Hospital Federation’s IHF Awards 2023, and many other. Beyond its local impact, OuluHealth has gained recognition also on a global stage. Collaborative projects with international partners, participation in conferences, and the export of innovative healthcare solutions have established Oulu as a key player in the international healthcare community.
The ecosystem has also been an active part of many success stories shared by Oulu-based health technology companies, both industry leaders and agile startups. Therefore, there could not be a celebration without their involvement in the programme. The audience listened to presentations by Finnadvance, Near-Real, Cerenion, Nucu, and Smart PD Solutions, which are great examples of leveraging innovative research and transforming it into cutting-edge technologies.
The session ended with a speech delivered by Maria Vuorensola representing the Oulu Innovation Alliance, followed by closing words from OuluHealth’s Network Director, Minna Komu.
Looking into the future
During the second part of the programme, the attention shifted from the past to the OYSTER project and its influence on the ecosystem in the future. It was time for OuluHealth’s main stakeholders to take the stage. They shared their insights on behalf of the Wellbeing Services County of North Ostrobothnia, the University of Oulu, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the Oulu University of Applied Sciences. The speakers agreed that the 10th-anniversary celebration was a perfect opportunity to come together and look back on how much we have achieved through cooperation, but the ecosystem’s focus remains on the future. OuluHealth will make sure that the collaborative spirit of its stakeholders will continue to power new business models, innovative projects, cross-cultural partnerships, and groundbreaking health solutions.
‘’For the first 10 years, we focused on building an ecosystem, engaging stakeholders, creating structures and common modes of operation. In the next 10 years, we will focus on scaling our operations and turning them into even more impressive. The goal is to work together towards the big goal, which is of OYSTER – the RDI center for digital health. OYSTER will be built to complete the future hospital project, OYS2030. Bringing this innovative RDI center to Oulu is a significant investment for Northern Finland and for the whole country, as well as an internationally significant entity’’, concluded Minna Komu.
With a strong track record of success, we are confident that OuluHealth is well-positioned to lead the way to the next generation of healthcare, a mission in which all stakeholders have embarked with us. The goal is to remain a shining example of what can be achieved when diverse stakeholders come together with commitment and a shared vision. As the ecosystem continues to evolve, it will serve as an inspiration for regions seeking to transform their healthcare landscapes. OuluHealth’s journey demonstrates that by fostering a forward-thinking environment, we can build a healthier and more resilient future for all.
Text and image: Joanna Seppänen, Health and Life Science, BusinessOulu