Strengthening borderless cooperation between Oulu and Japan

The long-standing cooperation between Oulu and Japan dates back to the year 2005 when the first co-incubation agreement was signed with the City of Sendai. It was then renewed in 2014. Recently, a new opportunity arose to move the cooperation to a higher level by extending the co-incubation agreement to year 2025 and signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Oulu and the Kanagawa Prefecture.

The first agreement focused on the welfare industry and the second one on the information and communications technology sector. The recent agreement signed on 13 November, 2019 in Sendai puts high-tech industries to the centre of attention. This agreement is described as a new collaborative endeavor to promote local industries in both cities through various methods, such as exchanging information about industrial cluster policies in the coming years 2020 – 2025. It brings together academic and research organisations as well as hospitals in Oulu and Sendai.

The close cooperation between Oulu and Sendai will include utilizing for example, testing environments in Sendai, such as in elderly care facilities and the university hospital as well as receiving feedback from healthcare professionals. It may also result in developing new technologies that can be applied in the health & life science sector, in both Finland and Japan. In addition, Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai and Oulu University Hospital are going to collaborate on the smart hospital concept and ways of increasing work effectiveness in both hospitals. The cooperation will be carried out through activities, such as mutual presence in trade fairs, piloting cases and participation in business-related meetings. Oulu also aims at increasing its visibility through Japanese media channels.

On 14 November, 2019 the City of Oulu signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kanagawa Prefectural Government. It has opened the door for both parties to identify new opportunities for the collaboration in the fields of science, technology and innovation. The main goal is to promote the collaboration through actions focused particularly on robotics, healthcare, biomedical and pharmaceutical solutions as well as implementation of innovations. Also partnerships between scientific and educational institutions and research centers will be strengthened through a number of joint programs.

In addition, the OuluHealth ecosystem welcomed a Japanese delegation from Tohoku University Hospital in the City of Sendai in November 2019. The delegation consisted of fourteen experts from emergency medicine, radiology, neurology, anesthesiology, intensive care, neurosurgery and regulatory affairs. The agenda featured a visit to Oulu University Hospital to learn about the Future Hospital concept, getting to know to the OuluHealth ecosystem’s activities and the OuluHealth Labs as well as meetings with Oulu-based health companies.

During the visit, Dr. and Prof. Atsuhiro Nakagawa gave a presentation about Tohoku University Hospital and highlighted its main initiatives, such as launching the Open Bed Lab, building new infrastructure for industrialization including AI by utilizing integrated data of IoT sensors and testing new technologies.

‘In Japan, we are facing a problem of an aging population and limited resources in healthcare, so one of the most interesting things to hear about were the IoT platforms as they can help to maximize the outcomes with the use of much less resources. We are looking, for example, for innovations that could be implemented in a Japanese context to support the work of doctors and nurses. Also the concept of the OuluHealth Labs is very good. I like the idea of testing health solutions in cooperation with healthcare professionals. This, I assume, is not a big investment for hospitals but secures a significant outcome for the society,’ commented Dr. and Prof. Teiji Tominaga, Director at Tohoku University Hospital.

The delegation members met also a few Oulu-based health companies; Kipuwex, Medanets, Nukute, Maknee, ProWellness, MoveSole, Neurosonic, Cerenion to discuss their solutions and opportunities for potential collaboration.

‘Our hospital provides a platform for companies for developing health technologies. Maybe in the future we could share information or work on projects together,’ added Dr. and Prof. Tominaga.

‘The discussions confirmed the clear need for Cerenion’s technology and provided us with great insight on the Japanese healthcare environment,’ concluded Dr. Ilkka Juuso, COO at Cerenion.

As a follow-up, eight selected companies including Oulu-based Ikune Labs, LudoCraft, Remod and Finnadvance, visited Sendai in November as part of the Challenge, a program organized by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). The Challenge aims at finding solutions that could be implemented in case of natural disasters, such as earthquakes to help communicate information and evacuate people from a disaster risk area. This initiative is run in collaboration with the City of Sendai, Business Finland and an Industry Hack to help Finnish companies find business opportunities in Japan while solving a truly meaningful challenge with new technology. During their stay in Japan, the companies also joined the Innovation Challenge Camp and participated in various business match-making events.

Now when the agreements have been signed and the bond between Oulu and Japan reinforced, new opportunities appear and the work to turn them into concrete results begins.

Text: Joanna Seppänen, Health & Life Science, BusinessOulu
Image: BusinessOulu