Helsinki Business Hub continues smart building, construction Singapore collaboration

Since Finland’s 100 Years independence celebrations in 2017, Helsinki Business Hub (HBH), a regional development and marketing agency, has been engaging with Singapore based on its ’Smart Nation’ initiative for growth through innovation and technology.

Helsinki Business Hub’s Senior Business Advisor Irma Ylikangas

HBH is the international trade and investment promotion agency for the Finnish capital region (from 2021 it will be fully owned by the City of Helsinki). HBH primarily helps foreign companies to find solutions, good deal flows and business partners from Finland, to set-up their business, grow and develop in Greater Helsinki.

In Singapore HBH collaborates with different organizations and companies. One of the longest collaboration partners is Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI), an affiliate of Enterprise Singapore that catalyses and enables enterprises to grow their business through innovation. The two have been working closely together by organising technology matching events where innovative Finnish SMEs in the building and construction space pitch and seek partners from Singapore. The aim is to strengthen the business relationship between the two innovative countries and to spark new joint business opportunities and innovation projects in the built environment sector.

In connection to a recent business delegation to Singapore, and the Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology, HBH’s Senior Business Advisor Irma Ylikangas (a specialist with more than 20 years of experience in the smart building and cleantech sector) explained further.

This kind of partnership effort with other countries in the area of built environment is relatively new as HBH has been mainly promoting business opportunities in Helsinki Region and attracting foreign companies to settle in or invest in R&D or in companies in the Helsinki region.

“We focus on connecting with larger entities, for example in Singapore at the governmental institutes and large real estate and construction companies regarding what kind of interest they have for and are looking for in the ‘Smart Buildings’ sector. Then we
match-make the companies and fill the gaps that exist on the markets,” said Irma.

Based on in-depth understanding of the ecosystem in the Helsinki region (with thriving sustainable innovations and equal opportunities for all businesses) she can introduce that to stakeholders in Singapore and explore opportunities. HBH has a proven track record in connecting ecosystems and helping companies and start-ups establish and expand their business.

“When there is interest raised we will find suitable solutions and technologies from companies and organise matchmaking events on location. This time we’ve been visiting the Housing Development Board, the Building Construction Authority, a Singapore Airlines lab and Singapore Management University. This is the continuation of what we started back in 2017.”

It was the fourth time Irma visited Singapore bringing smart building companies from Finland. Singapore has also had delegations interested in built environment solutions to Helsinki about 4-5 times during these years.

Finnish companies possess core strengths in technology and services for the built environment to collaborate with Singapore businesses in construction, energy and the circular economy, seeking ideas for sustainable urban development. HBH has also spotted the potential for wider collaboration possibilities outside this particular sector.

“Digitalisation overall is something that adds to productivity and increases the efficiency in the construction and building sector. Energy efficiency is of course also one. Another is robotics, where we in Finland has solutions available and under development in the construction field. Some of the delegations to Finland have already seen that in action. As for digitalisation it could be all-encompassing; from digitalizing of building permits to the whole process,” said the HBH specialist.

While Helsinki has opened up all its big data to be accessible for everyone there are other things the Finnish capital has in common with Singapore.

“Both have the same 3D model, and as Helsinki has opened up the 3D data of the whole city for anyone to build applications on there is interest in Singapore to follow the development in this field.”

Smart building solutions aim to bring cost savings, faster project completion, less pollution, and to minimise the environmental impact of the construction and energy sectors.

“Helsinki has committed to be carbon neutral by 2035 and Singapore is also looking to have a carbon neutral environment, with overall energy efficiency as an included demand. In the Nordics we do it for heating, while here we do it for cooling. There we do heat recovery, and with this heat you can for example warm water. Here, it’s the reverse way but not that different technology-wise.”

As circular economy is very high on Finland’s agenda HBH is currently packaging the Greater Helsinki offering for this. “Finland’s strength lies currently in bio-based products and technologies, but the construction sector is developing fast. Because circular economy overall needs to have systemic solutions – you have to take into account the whole ecosystem. So it’s not something that you do overnight. But there are already companies in the construction field who have come up with something: they go to the sites and collect all the unused materials that can still be used and resold. This same service offers a digital platform where companies can directly sell and buy something leftover from the construction sites,” stated Irma.

“Meanwhile, nowadays you pay attention to, already at the planning and design stage, how you can separate the materials at the end of the lifecycle, which I think is a good trend.. The use of digital twins through the whole lifecycle will also help in circular economy,” she added.

“Modular design for construction is drawing a lot of interest in both Singapore and Finland. You can eliminate at lot quality issues when you can have ready-made elements. For instance you could have a modular bathroom that is fully ready before you transfer it to the construction site. And you can build faster also. We do have a few companies in Finland doing that.”

“Singapore has also growing interest with circular economy, and we have discussed during this trip that more attention will be paid to that so it will definitely be on the agenda as we go forward.”

In terms of overall results from HBH’s engagement there are several pilots going on with Singaporean partners. In addition, cooperation partnership agreements have been signed too.

“These companies are medium-sized companies, and half of the group are first-time visitors to Singapore. We initiate and match-make and help understand the local business environment when needed. Our job is to find the right solutions according to Singaporean needs, open doors and help them to proceed.”

And stakeholders from Southeast Asia can also get help free of charge from HBH for the following: “If they would want to set up an office in Helsinki we would help them. If they want to invest in Finnish companies we have about 1,200 companies in our database looking for investors including within ICT; cleantech, mobility, health and built environment. We would match-make them with the most suitable ones. If they are missing some components for example in the smart building area we could connect them with the right companies in the Helsinki region. If they are looking for R&D partners we could also connect them with those. We have a huge selection of services,” ended Irma Ylikangas.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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