Urban Mill — Case Study from Ilkka Kakko’s new book: Oasis Way and the Post-Normal Era — How Understanding Serendipity Will Lead You to Success

Urban Mill — Case Study: ”Urban Mill is located in Otaniemi campus in Helsinki metropolitan area. It’s the latest node of Aalto University’s ecosystem, the other main nodes being Aalto Design Factory, Start-Up Sauna and Aalto Entrepreneurship Society. The development of this ecosystem is a great example of the dynamics and life cycle thinking of communities.

The first node of the ecosystem, Design Factory, was established in 2008 and the successful transformation of the whole is based on the needs of various communities engaged. The grassroots-level activities of students are nicely combined with some institutional support of Aalto University, business community, and other stakeholders. The process of creating something like Urban Mill is a novel example of the public–private partnership. The orchestrating initiator and driver taking also an operative risk of succeeding is a private company Järvelin Design Oy, and other main stakeholders involved are Aalto University, City of Espoo, and RYM Oy (an industrial RDI consortium of urban development). This kind of setup has proved to be a dynamic foundation for the initiative and could be applied as a leading principle also in other contexts. Mr. Kari Mikkelä, Executive Producer of Urban Mill, explains the ambitious vision:

”Urban Mill is as well a co-working space, an innovation community as a change orchestration tool. Urban Mill re-defines the way, how people do joint innovation work, and aims to make societal impact in global urban context. Urban Mill facilitates to re-think how sustainable urban innovations are done, and how urban transformations are orchestrated. Thus, it channels access for its partners and stakeholders to a balanced mixture of appropriate urban innovation actors, thematic contents, collaboration methodologies and a joint development platform. The community shares one common challenge, which is how to enhance the quality of urban life and services through ICT and built environment development, and how to orchestrate and energize urban ecosystems development.”

The development process followed the principles of effectual entrepreneurship and lean start-up methodologies. The funding is mostly from the main users of the facilities, so no venture capital or direct public funding was needed. Sustainability factors are highly respected, the building is a former State Research Centre (VTT) testing laboratory facility in Otaniemi, which was transformed into a 1,300 m2 flexible co-working and co-creation space by the pioneering Urban Mill community itself. Space elements and modules are flexible and multi-usable, and open to all regardless of who is hosting the subspace. Most of the furniture, technology, resources etc. are recycled and shared among all users. Also fixed costs are shared and even some of the basic facility and special support services are co-produced on social exchange basis.

The theoretical background of the initiative is strong, the pioneering community has a widespread understanding of theories like Nonaka’s “Ba”, Kaplan & Norton’s “Strategy Maps”, Susan Star & James Griesemer’s “Boundary Objects”, Joseph Pine’s “Multiverse Framework” along with the theories of Peter Senge, Yrjö Engeström, and Manuel Castells. Figure 12 below will explain the context and main building blocks of Urban Mill approach. Kari Mikkelä describes the creation and the ongoing development of Urban Mill as “a facilitated innovation journey, where the collaborative actions and creative dialogue between different Urban Mill actors is boosted and facilitated by using physical, virtual and social boundary objects, like shared concepts, methods, probes, prototypes, demonstrations, test-beds, and living labs. Joint development work is guided by a co-created broad vision rather than by strictly pre-planned processes. Urban Mill is not only a platform for coming together, rather it is a venue to re-transform, co-align and channel its users objectives, knowledge, practices, and expected development outcomes for fitting better to the future urban life.” Figure 12: A Networked Smart Space acts as an interface between Creative Human Ecosystems and Built Environment One of Urban Mill’s innovation facilitation roles is to enable “precubation” (early stage innovation incubation) of student-led innovation. Four precubation logics have been tested during the pilot year 2013.

● Service Innovation from a University Course: In Helsinki on Tires (HoT) case group of students worked in a RDI project for the City of Helsinki as part of their PDP (Product Design Project) course studies at Aalto Design Factory. Prototypes and demonstrations of a spatial biker’s service were done using the Urban Mill spaces. After the course Urban Mill supported a 4-months extension period. During that precubation phase one of the students took a summer job and a pop-up HoT Service point was operated and tested, and further exploitation roadmaps of the service design were done together with the City Of Helsinki. The service will be implemented in 2014. http://lahioprojekti.hel.fi/ajankohtaista/helsinki-tires-final-report

● Product Innovation by University Students: In Consair Oy case two machine-design students were supported with their idea of developing a user-friendly dust-free mortar mix unit for construction companies. Early design work was done in Design Factory. Urban Mill arranged further testing and proto-building facilities for the team and supported promotion of the product towards its own industrial community. Proto sales were done for three construction companies, and test production started. http://www.consair.fi /

● Early Customer of a Product: Catchbox case is start-up offering a throwable microphone, which was invented by a student group at Design Factory. In proto phase the product was tested, e.g., in Design Factory and Startup Sauna and sold to others as a service. When CatchBox was ready for global shipping as product, Urban Mill was the first buyer of the product and helped the team, e.g., to test their selling and billing processes. Urban Mill uses Catchbox in its own events and thus promotes the product within its organizational community. http://getcatchbox.com/

● Early Customer of a Service: In BeyondGallery case a team of students developed an Art Brokerage Service during the Summer Start-ups Camp 2013 at Start-Up Sauna. Urban Mill acted as the fi rst paying customer of their art service offering. A demonstration point was then established at Urban Mill premises, where potential customers can, e.g., test Augmented Reality properties of the BeyondGallery’s service: visual art speaks at Urban Mill! http://beyondgallery.fi /

These precubaton services for the students were made possible by the support of Urban Mill’s partner community. All student teams were multi-disciplinary and highly entrepreneurial-oriented, which mentality is well supported by the Aalto University. Even though Urban Mill is still in the very beginning of the life cycle, it is interesting to discover that many of the elements of 3GSP thinking are included: 1. strong shared vision among stakeholders nurtured 2. community building in focus, engagement through “pull” factors 3. open innovation principles widely used 4. novel orchestration methodologies piloted (facilitation) 5. connectivity (local and global) supported 6. regional knowledge ecosystem thinking embedded The emergence of Urban Mill proves that novel regional knowledge ecosystems and new types of innovation intermediaries are really needed in this Post- Normal Era. When the prove of the concept has been achieved, Urban Mill concept could be tailored to new locations globally.”


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