Every year, on a bleak and chilly day in November, a group of passionate and curious minds from both the scientific and business communities come together for an event at Messukeskus Convention Centre in Helsinki. There is one common goal – to inspire and be inspired to create a positive impact in the world. This event, known as Y Science, an official side event of Slush, brought together nearly 1000 attendees last year in 2022.
A captivated audience at the Y Science event in 2022
The Many Iterations Of The Y Science Event
This free event, first organised in 2017, originates from a collaboration between Slush and the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE) from the University of Helsinki. Currently, at its sixth edition, the event comprises of highly anticipated pitching competitions, exciting speeches and discussions divided into different thematic sessions.
Over the years, the Y Science programme has undergone significant changes. Initially, the event focussed primarily on the transition from research to entrepreneurship. The programme consisted of one hour of short talks by scientists showcasing their most exiting research findings and how they could lead to innovations.
Vincenzo Cerullo giving a talk during the Y Science event in 2017
The talks were followed by a life science pitching competition with eight finalists. In the last hour, entrepreneurs, investors, and business professionals from the tech industry would share their insights through talks or panel discussions.
“Once, more co-organizers joined the planning of the event, we decided to have multiple thematic sessions focusing on the intersection of science and business, which allowed us to dig deeper into different life science subfields. Each session now has its own pitching competition and panel discussion or small talks highlighting innovations in that subfield,” says Chiara Facciotto, who took over organising the Y Science event in 2019.
Winners of Y Science pitching competitions in 2022, SCellex and BinkiApp
The Latest Edition Of Y Science Has A Lot To Offer This Year
Y Science is divided into three main sessions this year: Health and Pharma, Food Systems, and Forest and Environment, including the pitching competitions. Each session’s pitching competition has four finalists. This year, there will also be a new Science to Business runway session where teams from the University of Helsinki commercialisation projects will pitch their innovations.
“We create an event that brings together researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors interested in deep tech innovation in different fields. By having sessions specifically focused on food systems, biomaterials, health and pharma, we can reach a much bigger audience and also foster more meaningful connections among our attendees,” says Chiara.
Last year, the Y Science event included panel discussions during different sessions focusing on topics that provided the audience with unique perspectives. For example, one of the panel discussions was between the entrepreneur Simo Ellilä, who is the CEO and co-founder of the company, eniferBio and the investor Mika Kukkurainen from Nordic FoodTech VC, who has invested in that company.
Mika Kukkurainen and Simo Ellilä at Y Science, an official side event of Slush 2022
This year’s programme features fireside chats and a panel discussion during different sessions. One of the fireside chats will be between Eeva Salminen, a Senior Director of Health and Consumer Business at Business Finland, and Marcel Hofstetter, a Scientific Officer at Innosuisse, a Swiss Innovation Agency.
“This years, for the first time, one fireside chat will focus on comparing innovation practices in different countries. Unlike in Finland, Switzerland has really strong bio/pharma industry, but the drivers towards innovation are quite similar. It will be exciting to see the practices utilised in each country to make spinouts fly,” says Aleksandra Dobrego who is organising the Y Science event this year during Chiara’s leave of absence.
Y Science Offers Numerous Benefits To Those Who Attend
Apart from the stage programme, Y Science provides an excellent opportunity to learn about many new startups and the Helsinki Innovation Ecosystem. For many researchers who are on a path towards commercialisation of research and entrepreneurship, Y Science offers an avenue to showcase innovation.
Networking at Y Science, an official side event of Slush 2022
“We’ve had some finalists at the Y Science pitching competitions that have gone a long way since they pitched at our event. Many times, the finalists we select haven’t pitched before, as they are at the beginning of their commercialisation journey. When your idea is more mature, you can apply to pitch at Slush. Meanwhile, we want to offer that first step when you’re still kind of feeling like a researcher, but you’re starting to dip your toes into the innovation water,” says Chiara.
Attending Y Science can be beneficial for students and researchers as it provides them with the opportunity to gain fresh perspectives on science, thereby enhancing their research.
“We must remember that one doesn’t have to innovate when doing research. But attending these events and having networks and talking to people, it all improves your research and how you see your science,” adds Aleksandra.
Researchers need funding for their work, and funding is not always available from public sources. Sometimes, funding also comes from companies. By attending such events, researchers could find corporate partners. Attending such events is also important to hear about job openings and build a varied network early on.
“If it’s your first time at an event like this, just go with an open mind and talk to people. You might find something interesting or get some inspiration, even if you don’t have any goals. It’s great to see how scientific discoveries are applied to solve today’s biggest challenges in health, food production, and sustainability,” Chiara advises first-time attendees.
Partnerships Are The Secret Sauce To A Successful Y Science Event
The Y Science event owes much of its success to its strategic partnerships with various organisations over the years. For instance, this year, the event will be organised by HiLIFE and the University of Helsinki together with Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd., Finnish Forest Industries, Health Capital Helsinki, Viikki Food Design Factory and Aalto University.
The event’s goal has always been to engage both the local and the international communities. This is why Y Science organisers have collaborated with organisations like the BioInnovation Institute from Denmark (which has been a sponsor for many years and has provided several jury members for Y Science pitching competitions), as well as companies like AstraZeneca (whose representatives have also been part of Y Science juries). This year, Y Science has yet another international partner, Swissnex from Switzerland.
“In addition to collaborating with external organisations, we have also expanded the collaborations within the University of Helsinki. While HiLIFE has been the initiator of the event, Viikki Food Design Factory and Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd. have since joined the organising team, allowing us to showcase not only innovations in different sectors but also the many ways our university fosters commercialization of research,” says Chiara.
Laura Forsman, Manager of Viikki Food Design Factory at the University of Helsinki, hosts the Food System session of the event.
Organising an event like Y Science with several stakeholders involves a great deal of preparation, such as identifying potential partners and speakers, creating a marketing strategy, and more. According to Chiara and Aleksandra, proper planning and communication are critical to the event’s success, and it’s essential to start early, preferably in January, for an event like Y Science that happens in November.
“I think, as an event, it’s been a stepping stone, not only for the attendees, but also for the organisers. We have been able to leverage the collaborations among partners for projects other than Y Science, creating a network of people that keep each other in the loop and hence fostering a more connected innovation ecosystem,” says Chiara.
Wishes For The Future Y Science Events
Beginning as a small event to moving towards including the Helsinki Capital Area ecosystem, Y Science has already come a long way. The next step would be to attract more national players, if not international ones, into Y Science.
There are currently no plans to detach Y Science from Slush. About two-thirds of the Y Science attendees are Slush attendees who attend the Y Science event while they are already there for Slush. Y Science’s partnership with Slush has been working well, and Slush also values Y Science as one of their most popular side events.
“I think one of the most rewarding feedback we received for the event is that, by focusing on how to solve today’s grand challenges, the innovations showcased by speakers and finalists bring hope for a better future,” says Chiara.
Such is the essence of the Y Science event. Y Science is not only sharing knowledge and connecting people but also instilling hope that all of us, together, can resolve the many global challenges. So, will you be attending Y Science this year?
Text by: Usha Mohanraj
Banner illustration: Usha Mohanraj
Photos: Sanna Kujala