Umeå Municipality Created a Digital Youth Center Together With Startups

Two Uminova Innovation companies, The Fine Arc and Bufferleaf, cooperated with a startup from Chalmers Ventures in this unique pilot project. The organizations were matched with our process Ignite Public.

Click here to read this article in Swedish at Uminova Innovation’s website

Umeå Municipality had a challenge: to develop a digital youth center (“fritidsgård”). To make this idea a reality, they contacted its local incubator, Uminova Innovation.

“We made the decision that we will be where the young people are and they are mostly online nowadays. We thought it would be interesting to see if we could offer them a digital platform as a complement to our physical meeting place. The goal with this digital platform is to give young people the alternative to meet digitally in a place with an adult presence, where they could feel safe in case they are offended because someone will react and act,” explains Åsa Säfsten Boman, Operations Manager at Fritid Unga in Umeå.

Umeå’s Digital Strategist and CDO, Thomas Molén, thought that for this challenge he needed to “look outside the box”.

“The demands from our citizens are increasing. They expect that the municipality will deliver services in the same way and with the same quality as other civil and private organizations. Sometimes the solutions and services they demand are outside the competence we have today. We need inspiration and we find it in startups,” says Thomas.

Matchmaking with Ignite Public

There are many companies within Sweden’s vibrant startup scene working with new technologies and business models. By connecting the needs and challenges of public actors with innovative startups, incubators such as Uminova Innovation can help startups to test and develop their products in an early stage together with potential customers, contributing to finding new solutions for real needs.

Uminova Innovation is one of the incubators that founded Ignite Sweden in 2017. To match Umeå Municipality with startups that could help them develop their idea, the incubator made use of our process Ignite Public, which has been developed together by startups, municipalities, regions, incubators and science parks around Sweden.

“Ignite Public has been developed together by many relevant actors with different perspectives. Thanks to that we now have ensured the quality of our process. This means that the collaborations between innovative startups and public actors often lead to good results for both parties,” says Ignite Public Project Manager, Mikaela Färnqvist.

Mikaela Färnqvist (Ignite Public)

The process started with defining the type of digital youth center that Umeå Municipality wanted to create: it should be safe, secure, fun, engaging and with an adult presence. The second step was to scout startups around Sweden that had the potential to help Umeå with its challenge and match them with the municipality.

After meeting the startups in a matchmaking, Umeå Municipality decided to collaborate with three of them: Uminova’s gaming companies The Fine Arc and Bufferleaf, and Chalmers Venture’s startup Oterlu AI, which develops an AI text analysis tool.

From Matchmaking to Pilot

The startups collaborated with the youth center in Umeå during the past months in developing the trial version of the digital platform.

Åsa Säfsten Boman thinks that it was both exciting and fun to see how the startups collaborated with the young people at the youth center and shared their thoughts and ideas on the digital platform.

“The whole process has been very professional, from the support we received throughout the process and the selection of the startups for the matchmaking, to meeting the companies, learning what they could offer, and then selecting the ones that were suitable for this particular project. We have put together three great companies with fantastic skills and matched them to our youth’s wishes and dreams on how the digital meeting place should be,” says Åsa.

The Fine Arc’s COO Per Fransson, who previously worked as a teacher, thinks that Umeå Municipality has created a sort of “SWOT team”, a special group to dig into this very challenge.

“There are many aspects and dimensions in games. They can be a place for both learning and developing skills as well as a place for collaboration, meetings and creativity. What we offer as game developers are our technical competence and our behavioral understanding. We listen a lot to what the young people need. Living in a gaming world is completely normal for them. It is crucial that the platform works as a tool for youth center’s leaders in the real world,” explains Per.

Per Fransson (The Fine Arc)

Procurement Didn’t Obstruct the Pilot

Procurement could be sometimes a problem for startup-public sector collaboration.

“Both startups and municipalities often have concerns about procurement but I don’t think the Swedish Procurement Act is an obstacle for startups to do business with public organizations,” says Richard Larsson, business developer and public sector specialist at Uminova Innovation.

Ignite Public always involves the procurement team within the public organization to ensure that the collaboration is done in the correct terms according to the Procurement Act, while at the same time securing the conditions for testing new technologies and innovative solutions.

Richard Larsson (Uminova Innovation)

The Role of the Incubators in the Process

Maria Olofsson, Operations Manager at Uminova Innovation and Process Developer at Ignite Sweden, thinks that this startup pilot with Umeå Municipality shows the important role that regional incubators can play when it comes to creating solutions that the society demands.

“Umeå Municipality has been brave. We can see now that more public organizations around Sweden realize the potential of collaborating with startups. Why try to invent the wheel when the solution is already out there? A smart solution created in a municipality can be available for other municipalities to test too. At the same time, the startup companies get the chance to test their solutions in a real environment and gain insights that help them in their journey as well,” explains Maria.

This pilot project has also proved that it is possible for startups from different parts of Sweden, in this case Umeå and Gothenburg, to meet and collaborate to make an even bigger impact together.

Maria Olofsson (Uminova Innovation & Ignite)

“All these solutions have a connection to a more sustainable society. So creating these kinds of opportunities is a win, win, win, win for everybody,” concludes Maria.

Learn more about the collaboration between Uminova, Umeå Municipalities and the startups in this video

The article was originally published on Uminova Innovation’s website.

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