InnoLab: The Journey Begins

General
Moving to Finland during the darkest time of winter can be a somewhat demoralising experience. Yet, there I was at the gloomy Helsinki airport, my Spanish tan and Scottish accent rapidly fading.

I spent the last five years working as a visiting researcher at foreign universities in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain, but now, I had returned to my country of origin.

It was New Year’s Eve, and although my four suitcases seemed like plenty, I did not have any furniture—or even a home, for that matter—in my new hometown of Vaasa. Despite all of this, I was excited to begin the new year. I had been appointed as the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship InnoLab at the University of Vaasa, which was the very reason I returned to Finland.

 

I was confident that in this new position, I could leverage my international experience; my wide professional network from years of cooperating with academics in Finnish and foreign universities, decision makers and the media; and the project management skills I gained from working on several interdisciplinary research and publishing projects.

What made this new step particularly exciting was the opportunity to operate in a more long-term time frame, to widen my scope further in terms of research fields and to be able to work as part of a highly motivated and skilled team at the University of Vaasa.

After living and working in Vaasa for just over a month, I am happy to say that InnoLab is well on its way and that I am not working on it alone. Several people, both within and outside the campus, have generously donated their time and selflessly shared their thoughts and ideas.

Our common goal is to form a productive and internationally oriented multidisciplinary research platform that operates in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, communicating and collaborating widely with the surrounding society lies at the heart of everything we do.

At present, we are working on the finer points of the research topics, formulating descriptions for the tenure-track positions that will open later this spring and working on InnoLab’s values and work methods. Activating networks and mapping possible research partners are equally necessary tasks. All of this takes time and requires patience and trust from all the parties involved. While I may not be the most patient Finn you can find, I am extremely appreciative of the faith and the collaborative spirit that the university’s directorship has shown us.

When I think about Vaasa as a city, the first word that comes to my mind is community. I have been surprised to note how deeply the locals care for their university. Whether it is journalists, politicians, CEOs of large businesses, small-business owners or even the people you meet while shopping for groceries, everyone seems to care about what is going on at the campus. This serves as a reminder for us, the academics, to keep our work relevant and reach out to the community in turn—to be open to collaboration, to probe research needs and improve how we communicate the work we do and the research we conduct.

In order to provide a thorough overview of the ongoing research and available skillset within the University of Vaasa, I will continue to arrange meetings at the campus throughout spring. My main question for you is this: when it comes to innovation, entrepreneurship, networks, societal relevance and research communication, what is your team good at, how you would like to improve and how can InnoLab help you achieve this?

While InnoLab is still under development, one thing is certain. People will be at the heart of everything the platform does. I am positive that with the support of all the schools within the university and the enthusiasm of the surrounding society, there will be a friendly and dynamic milieu welcoming the new ‘innolabbers’, once the recruitment process is done.

I hope to see Innolab become a community of brave, creative and ambitious academics, a place where we can help each other follow our academic aspirations and develop innovations that can make the world better. InnoLab is a collective effort. Together we can make it a success.

Let us make this journey a meaningful one, and remember to have fun along the way!

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Mari K. Niemi

Mari K. Niemi - InnoBabble