In spring 2018, the Japanese automotive giant DENSO moved to A Grid in Espoo and opened DENSO Helsinki Innovation Lab. DENSO is one of the world's largest automotive technology and component manufacturers, and in Espoo's innovation ecosystem, the company wants to create new mobility solutions for smart cities.
You never know into which best-kept innovation secrets you bump into when you turn a corner in A Grid startup hub in Espoo. You come across deep tech startups, international innovation hubs like United Nations Innovation Lab, and nowadays, DENSO, the second-largest mobility supplier in the world. In 2018, the Japanese corporation opened DENSO Helsinki Innovation Lab in A Grid.
With 170,000 employees worldwide and a turnover of $50 billion, DENSO is an automotive industry giant with a global impact. DENSO Helsinki Innovation Lab — the only DENSO office in Europe that creates mobility software — is part of the company's solution to create a scenario for a future with fewer cars.
"We're in A Grid in Espoo because we want to create new products and services, be close to the end-user and test new services quickly," Antti Ijäs, Director of DENSO Helsinki Innovation Lab, says.
Tech, startups, and a great quality of life
But what was it that attracted DENSO to Espoo's innovation ecosystem and A Grid? After all, Helsinki, the Finnish capital, is just a short metro ride away while there are many more well-known innovation ecosystems in Europe.
For one thing, the coming Greater Helsinki 5G network along with Finland's pioneering autonomous vehicle legislation set up a solid foundation for DENSO according to Ijäs. For another, the quality of the local startups and the presence of other innovation players were deciding factors.
"We want to find new partners, startups and technologies. And we'd love to cooperate with Aalto University. This is also a good place to reach surrounding markets like Sweden and Estonia."
But to explain Espoo's attraction with only tangible qualities misses part of the point. There is more to Espoo than just innovation and high-tech buzz, Ijäs says — there's a great quality of living.
"First of all, without the metro, we wouldn't be here," Ijäs notes. "Also, the development of Otaniemi is as important as it's been impressive. Before Otaniemi had a tiny strip mall and the only place to get food was a grill standing lonely on a parking lot. Nowadays there are good restaurants and shops within easy reach."
DENSO embraces collaboration — the Espoo way of working
Ijäs says his team feels right at home in Espoo and Otaniemi. DENSO shares office spaces with a seed-phase startup BOUT that provides a P2P platform for boat rides and Tramigo, a growth company that provides a GPS/GSM tracker for cars, boats, trucks, motorcycles and personal assets. Despite being an innovation arm of a global giant, the Innovation Lab's way of working fits perfectly among the startups.
"A Grid as a whole and our shared office give us a platform to discuss, share ideas and help others. Whether it's market validation or just buying coffee for the office — we're happy to help. Our doors and resources are open to our neighbours."
DENSO offers organisations and talents, locally and beyond, a rare chance to work with a global Japanese company. And according to Ijäs, even though there are few Japanese companies in Finland, Finland and Espoo are fitting locations for them.
"Finns do rather than talk. Here, you get things done," Ijäs says. "For example, it's easy to get a hold of decision-makers. If I need to talk to the Mayor of Espoo, whom I don't know personally, I pick up the phone and know he's a call away. It's all part of the way of working — solving problems together."
And this is what Espoo's innovation ecosystem is all about — getting things done. Together.
"Good things happen at A Grid. This felt like the right environment for DENSO," Ijäs concludes.
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