Helsinki is a pioneering city in smart mobility with a robust ecosystem of companies, expertise and research. This ecosystem has now attracted major Japanese automotive component manufacturer DENSO to set up an innovation center in the Greater Helsinki region. Helsinki Business Hub together with Business Finland helped DENSO find the right contacts and provided information about the Finnish mobility market.
DENSO Corporation is one of the world’s largest suppliers for the automotive industry with 170,000 employees globally. The industry is changing rapidly with the rise of new mobility services and autonomous vehicles, but DENSO has been quick to embrace it. As part of its quest for new business opportunities and innovation, the automotive giant has turned to Finnish expertise and partnerships. Earlier this year DENSO opened an innovation center in the Greater Helsinki region focused on smart mobility and MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) services.
“We came here because we felt Finland and Helsinki are great testbeds for us,” explains Antti Ijäs, Director of Technology at DENSO Europe, who is in charge of the company’s operations in Finland. “There is a lot of excellent technical expertise here, especially in agile software development, design thinking and UX in general.”
Kick-started with Finnish software company Symbio, then extended by design agency Nordkapp, the innovation center combines design thinking to software skills. In practice, employees with different background work together and use rapid prototyping to build new concepts and services for DENSO.
“Our focus in Finland is about supporting movement of goods and people and transportation in cities and suburban environments,” says Ijäs. “We aren’t focused so much on the vehicle itself but the things and services around it.”
“Software expertise in Helsinki is excellent, from embedded, to cloud architectures and design,” says DENSO’s Antti Ijäs.
The innovation centre is not DENSO’s first venture in Helsinki. The company’s introduction to the Finnish mobility ecosystem started back in 2017 when it invested in Helsinki-based smart mobility startup MaaS Global. The startup developed a mobile platform which unites various means of travel under a single subscription or PAYG schemes to reduce dependency on private car ownership.
Now DENSO wants more out-of-the-box thinking from Helsinki. Ijäs emphasises the collaboration with existing partners is just the start. DENSO is currently in discussions with other potential partners and making a presence in the local startup scene. For example, earlier this autumn DENSO organised a hackathon event which led to partnerships with two Finnish software companies.
But DENSO hasn’t needed to do all of this alone. Ijäs cites cooperation with Helsinki Business Hub and Business Finland as crucial to finding the right contacts and market information.
“We have been very pleased about the support we have received through the process of setting up in Finland. We confine to receive a lot of assistance from Business Finland and Helsinki Business Hub,” Ijäs says.
A global launchpad
Initially DENSO’s innovation center has focused on fleet ecosystem. By testing various services and products, it has gathered data and insight for DENSO’s global organisation. The next step is to strengthen the company’s presence in Finland.
“It is important for us to have our own people so what we learn with our partners also stays within the company,” Ijäs explains. “We are now expanding our team in Helsinki moving forward.”
DENSO is not revealing specifics about its future Helsinki plans at this stage, but Ijäs does admit the company’s interest in working, for example, with open source as this is in Finnish software DNA. Moreover, he wants Helsinki to act as a springboard for further international expansion.
“We are a global organisation with a turnover of 50 billion dollars. We offer great market reach for good concepts,” Ijäs says. “If we get positive results here [in Helsinki], it is a good base for our partners to build an international case.”