Elina Huculak from University of Vaasa: “Business Incubation Centres have crucial roles as facilitators”

At UPTEC, we have our doors open for new ideas, innovation, challenges and secondments. We welcome startups, big companies, universities and hubs from all over the world. Elina Huculak from the Universitat of Vaasa, one of UPTEC’s partners in the OpenInonTrain community, is the next interviewee of “Open Doors, and she will share her four week experience in UPTEC and his main reasons for joining our ecosystem.

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Elina Huculak || Doctoral Researcher at the University of Vaasa, Finland
University of Vaasa || Finland || 5618 Students and 611 Personnel

University of Vaasa: A university with a heart

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your research project and the reason for coming to Porto through OpenInnoTrain?

My name is Elina Huculak, and I am the project manager for the ORBIT collaboration project with ESA BIC Finland and a doctoral researcher at the University of Vaasa. ORBIT, the Ostrobothnian Regional space Business and InnovaTion project plays a pivotal role in fostering outer space innovation in the Ostrobothnian Region by collaborating with the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre Finland (ESA BIC Finland) and VAMK. By guiding startups in space innovation, company development and securing funding, ORBIT aims to support the region’s space innovation hub endeavours alongside the Kvarken Space Center. Accepted startups in the ESA BIC Finland programme receive technical support, business coaching, networking and investment matchmaking opportunities at the Vaasa office, enhancing their chances of success in the burgeoning space economy. On a personal level, I am passionate about space for sustainability and exploring how space-related research and policy can support SDG targets.

I am also a regional studies doctoral researcher at the University of Vaasa. My research focuses on social-spatial justice, the green transition, and equitable regional development. For the Nordic countries to achieve their climate and carbon neutrality goals, success depends on leaders across the Barents region integrating traditional knowledge into regional development processes and taking communities’ perspectives into renewable energy investment decisions. My research aims to critically analyze regional leaders’ decision-making processes and discourse on the green transition in the Barents region.

Through the OpenInnoTrain project, I came to Porto via the CleanTech work package. My “home city” of Vaasa is the Nordic Energy hub and hosts approx. 160 energy companies. Vaasa, the city, also hosts the annual EnergyWeek event, the largest international energy event in the Nordics. It is dedicated to networking, industry keynotes, and sales tailored to the energy sector. Our team from the Kvarken Space Center hosts EnergyWeek’s “Powered by Space” talks, with this year’s keynotes focusing on how space technology can support sustainable energy systems.

Why did you choose to come to UPTEC for your research project?

I chose to come to UPTEC as they are also one of the ESA BIC Portugal offices. The main goal of my secondment was to enhance collaboration and innovation between ESA BIC Finland and ESA BIC Portugal, specifically in the renewable and clean energy sectors. The ESA BIC Finland Vaasa office was contracted in May 2023, so as the newest office, my goal was to learn best practices from the more established ESA BIC Portugal offices, mainly focusing on what makes successful interactions between offices, startups, and university partners. I also wanted to identify mutual interests and develop a framework for collaboration, emphasizing shared goals and long-term partnerships between Finnish and Portuguese offices and energy startups.

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What expectations did you have before starting your secondment in Porto?

I tried to go in with minimal expectations to observe and absorb as much as possible in person. With the rise of Teams and WFH options, I am old-school because sometimes the best way to learn and engage is face-to-face. From discussions at last year’s ESA BIC Networking Event with some ESA BIC Portugal representatives, you could tell that their office structures and protocols were successful and thriving. I hoped to learn from their experiences, understanding their successes and challenges, to enhance the flow of our office operations.

Were your expectations met?

I was pleasantly surprised by UPTEC. Generally speaking, I sometimes need to remember how diverse cultures and characteristics between different countries are, especially Southern versus Northern European cultures. Just exploring Porto itself, strangers were so engaging, curious, and helpful. Coming from Finland, strangers are typically more reserved and value privacy and quiet, so I experienced some culture shock the first week. That was also reflected in their Business Incubation Center (BIC) styles. In my conversation with Raphael Stanzani and Pedro Pinto from UPTEC, I learned how crucial BICs’ roles are as facilitators and coordinators, providing essential support, resources, and networking opportunities for startups. This pivotal function nurtures entrepreneurship and enhances the overall ecosystem for aspiring business ventures. Vaasa’s BICs communication styles are more close-knit in nature, which is important for trust-building, etc., but I do believe we (Vaasa) could benefit from adopting a more engaging and communicative approach. This shift towards increased openness and interaction could facilitate stronger connections with and between local entrepreneurs, mentors, and stakeholders, ultimately fostering a more dynamic and collaborative ecosystem within the incubation centre. With this knowledge exchange in mind, I would say that my secondment at UPTEC most definitely exceeded my expectations.

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Which connections to stakeholders in the Porto ecosystem could be made?

From the Porto ecosystems, I met with the ESA BIC UPTEC office, as well as met and visited with CEiiA, and through participating in seminars and networking events, I bumped into other new space industry actors. Outside the Porto ecosystem, I visited the ESA BIC Coimbra office. Overall, I had a lot of great and exciting discussions and gained a good sense of the different research opportunities and challenges within the Portuguese new space tech and economy. It was also interesting how the discussions highlighted the parallels and shared challenges between Finland’s and Portugal’s energy and forestry sectors, showcasing how space data can address industry needs and contribute to SDG targets.

What aspects of your secondment in Porto did you especially enjoy?

The food and “azulejo” tiles, of course! I love vibrant colours, so seeing the azulejo tiles from the São Bento Station, Igreja do Carmo and living a street right over from the Capela das Almas Church was fantastic! I am also a big fan of Art Nouveau architecture, so Porto as a city was visually wonderful.

How will your project continue after your time here in Porto?

When I return to my office, I plan to follow up with my team regarding the best practices I identified from the ESA BIC Portugal offices. I also hope to speak with our Digital Economy director and business development teams and see if we can establish an MOU between the University of Vaasa and UPTEC to facilitate accelerator exchanges and better networking opportunities for startups within the energy and sustainability domains.

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March 15, 2024

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