Jan Vapaavuori


653,867 (2019)

Innovation Website
Lead Innovation Officers

Santtu von Bruun, Mikko Rusama

Innovation is helping to:
  • Anticipate and manage future challenges

  • Improve internal government operations

  • Help develop a vibrant economy

Critical success factors:
  • Dedicated funding

  • Dedicated innovation team

  • Culture of innovation in city

  • Support from outside city administration

  • Leadership from Mayor

Spotlight on innovation in Helsinki

Helsinki’s pilot project Maria 01, located in an old hospital campus and originally started as a community house for ambitious tech start-ups, has grown into one of the biggest innovation culture hubs in Northern Europe. The campus serves as a supercluster of collaboration and knowledge sharing for key players in the ecosystem such as start-ups, venture capital firms, and corporations. Maria 01 is a prime example of doing things differently: cutting through red tape and adopting a design and prototype mentality. Following its success, Maria 01 is expanding to a future campus of 70,000m2 by 2026.

Vision and approach to innovation capacity

Along with 50% of cities surveyed, Helsinki has an explicit innovation strategy. Similar to more than half of cities surveyed, Helsinki approaches innovation capacity both from a holistic/macro level, as well as in specific policy areas.

Policy areas that Helsinki is focused on

Environment and climate change
Digital services

Environment and climate change: Helsinki is striving to become carbon neutral by 2035. The city is aiming to achieve this goal through a series of innovation methods such as implementing innovative procurement, organizing innovation challenges, developing new energy technologies, opening innovation districts, and building living labs to test urban solutions. Helsinki also focuses on new mobility solutions as they are closely linked to the achievement of the city's climate change goals.

Digital services: Helsinki is opening up large volumes of public data as open data- The city is also testing platforms for solutions regarding future of education and health care.

Policy areas by number of cities

Helsinki utilizes 9 different innovation skills or roles

Project manager
Communication officer
Community engagement staff
Data scientist
Service designer
Start-up expert
Economic development advisor
Innovation roles by number of cities

Situated at the Mayor’s Office, the Economic Development team has 25 staff while the Digital Innovation team has 20 staff. Almost all divisions have their own innovation team.

Terms Helsinki most associates with innovation

Innovation & entrepreneurial ecosystem development

Helsinki's most common innovation activities

Taking risks and testing new ideas
e.g. prototyping new programs or models to address a persistent city challenge
Promoting data-driven analytics / public data management
e.g. data storage/analytics; open data; big data
Developing new solutions based on digital technologies
e.g. use of drones or smart sensors
Facilitating organizational change within the municipality
e.g. silo-busting; new internal performance management; staff training and capacity building on innovation tools or techniques; reforms to contracting or procurement
Rethinking approaches to financing and partnerships
e.g. new public-private-partnerships; collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions
  1. 1

    Taking risks or testing new ideas

  2. 2

    Data-driven analytics/public data management

  3. 3

    Engaging residents in new ways

  4. 4

    Developing new solutions based on digital technologies

  5. 5

    Organizational change within the municipality

  6. 6

    Human-centered design

  7. 7

    Rethinking your city’s approach to financing partnerships

How is innovation funded here?

Like 81% of cities surveyed, Helsinki has dedicated funding to support innovation capacity.

Top sources of funding

International/multilateral institution budget
International/multilateral institution budget
This refers to resources from international and/or multilateral institutions’ budgets (i.e. European Union)
Central/federal/national government budget
Central/federal/national government budget
This refers to funding in the form of budget support to city authorities. Example: Stockholm (Sweden) launched the Hub for Innovation, a three-year long project funded by Sweden's National Innovation Authority, Vinnova in 2017. The hub supports a more innovative working culture within the city hall.
Municipal budget
Municipal budget
This could include, for instance, City Council approved funds; operating budget; a special funding process (bond, Mayoral special initiative funding, etc.); and participatory budgeting / citizen-selected budgeting.
Non-financial resources
Non-financial resources
This could include staff on loan and/or other in-kind contributions (e.g. materials, infrastructure…)
Innovative financing tools
e.g. Social Impact Bonds, Crowdsourcing

Activities being funded

Investing in digital systems
Investing in physical infrastructure
47 cities
Launching or sustaining a project
79 cities
Idea generation & brainstorming
51 cities
Investing in digital systems
36 cities
Investing in physical infrastructure
30 cities
Paying for services

Helsinki’s funding for innovation capacity is generally used to invest in R&D labs, piloting platforms, start-up (pre-)incubation, tech community and cluster organization. Similar to 61% of participating cities in the 2020 survey, Helsinki's funding for innovation capacity is also directed towards training staff and building capacity*.

*"Training staff and building capacity" is not an option in the 2018 survey, while "Launching or sustaining a project" is not an option in the 2020 survey.

How is innovation measured?

Helsinki has developed partnerships to promote innovation capacity with other public agencies, private firms, not-for-profit organizations, city residents/resident associations and with other cities (e.g. Horizon2020).

To improve data use, the city has also developed data partnerships with the private sector, regional institutions (e.g. hospitals, waste and water management, public transport agency), academia and think tanks, to collect and analyze data, as well as with other cities.

Data availability by policy area


Sufficient data

Waste and sewage



Social welfare/social services

Social inclusion and equity

Public works

Policing and law enforcement

Land use

Labour market and skills



Government finance

Environment and climate change



Built environment


Digital governance

Economic Development