December 12, 2016

Industryhack disrupts businesses from within

Industryhack is a tool for innovation and a window for collaboration for both small tech companies and established corporations.
Industryhack is a tool for innovation and a window for collaboration for both small tech companies and established corporations.

Startups have the ideas and agility corporations need to keep up with tomorrow’s world. Through Finnish Industryhack, industry leaders open their doors and data to tech companies and startups, who then do their best to show what could be done more and better.

Ever tried figuring out why your TV remote isn’t working or why your bike is acting up? Then a friend walks in and spots what’s wrong – in a heartbeat.

Often an outsider, with no fixed patterns regarding how things should and shouldn’t be done, can offer useful insights – provided he or she understands the matter in question. Finnish Industryhack is based on this very idea: it brings together established large corporations from traditional industries and top teams from technology companies that can shake and stir them with disruptive ideas and innovative solutions.

Petri Vilén, Industryhack CEO, used to work at Slush, where he saw small startups come up with big things all the time. With this experience in his back pocket, two years ago he took part in a public discussion, where participants were contemplating how to push Finland to the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT).

“I felt like everything focused on producing reports and organising seminars and sending suggestions to the government,” he says now. “I’m not against reports and surveys; however, I felt like more actual action was needed.”

Another important aspect, in Vilén eyes, was to make IoT attractive to innovators themselves.

“Developers can choose to go work in sexier fields, such as gaming or mobile apps, so things like waste management or water pumps need to be rendered appealing to top talents.”

Right there and then, Vilén suggested giving a bunch of developers access to APIs (application programming interface) and a weekend to come up with innovative solutions. That was the opening shot for Industryhack.

All companies need digital

Since the beginning of 2015, Industryhack has collaborated with various large corporations and almost 300 teams in facilitating hackathons and open innovation challenges.

According to Vilén, Industryhack is continuously developing its product together with its customers. He points out that all businesses, regardless of their field, will have to start leaning on software and analytics to stay in tune with the world. That’s where Industryhack and its innovation task force, as Vilén calls it, step in to the rescue.

“Companies realise they lack the expertise to innovate new practices, but they know their current systems inside out. When we bring along outsiders with technological skills, we promise to deliver approximately six prototypes or pilots within the space of three months.”

The four founders: Mikael Hautala (left), Pekka Sivonen, Petri Vilén and Ville Riikkala.

The four founders: Mikael Hautala (left), Pekka Sivonen, Petri Vilén and Ville Riikkala.


An example of a hackathon could be an energy company opening the APIs of their water turbines to developers and letting them figure out how to better control them remotely, or how to spot potential malfunctions quicker and more accurately than before. Then they create new, disruptive solutions, building on top of the company’s pre-existing platforms.

Normally the participating teams get to know the company and its industry in the beginning of the challenge on a company excursion. The two- to three-day hackathon is where the magic happens. At the end of the challenge, final demos are presented to the experts, customers and decision-makers of the company for their consideration. The goal is to see at least one to three projects taken further.

Sometimes all participants are paid a reward, and sometimes the teams are competing for a significant sum of money. The biggest incentive lies further in the future.

“Most of the companies are motivated, because there’s a prospect of continuing collaboration. Even if they don’t win a deal in the end, they’ll have learned a lot about the industry and expanded their networks,” Vilén explains.

There’s no worries of ideas getting stolen, either. Industryhack makes sure that the IPR developed during the innovation challenges stay in the hands of their makers.

First up: Germany and the Nordics

Initially Industryhack was started by four people. Now the company team consists of three founders, Vilén included, and a staff of five. The company is funded mostly by its customers, together with funding for product and community development from partners Samsung and IBM and Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes.

In Finland, Industryhack has served customers such as Konecranes, Fazer, Rolls-Royce and the City of Helsinki. In November, Industryhack organised its first challenge in Germany, hosted by MacGregor, and next year some Swedish companies will be on the hacking list.

Sooner or later Industryhackers will be exploring further afield, but Vilén says that first Industryhack is testing the waters from Finland. Opening offices outside of the motherland might be on the cards, but there’s no immediate rush.

Hopefully one day the methods cultivated by Industryhack will be business as usual across various industries.

“Open innovations and digitalisation are universal phenomena. In small countries like Finland, industrywide changes can happen very rapidly when needed,” Vilén points out.

At the same time, Industryhack offers Finnish startups an excellent opportunity for growth and internationalisation. The hackathon in Germany saw six Finnish teams travel to Hamburg together with Industryhack.

There’s plenty more talent in the pool to scoop from. Vilén describes Finland as a very fertile soil for new innovations and ventures. He should know – he’s been an entrepreneur since the age of 15, and he started learning coding when he was just eight years old.

“Right now, I feel like Finland’s mindset is really open for renewals and innovations,” he states. Things are moving and will move even further in the coming years. We might not have as much as money as Silicon Valley, but we’ve got the mood for making things happen.”

Text: Anne Salomäki