Event|May 3, 2022

Data-enabled Solutions for a Circular Economy Challenge Competition brought data and new talents together

Behind the closed curtains, the spring sun is shining bright, but inside Maria01 the lights are dimming – except for the spotlights directed at the pitching stage. The atmosphere is filled with excitement, as the long-anticipated Challenge Competition Final is about to start. Fourteen teams have made their way to the final event and are about to present their innovative data-enabled circular economy solutions to the jury.

Data is a key enabler for innovative circular economy solutions. Smart use of data helps organizations to plan, implement, optimize and evaluate their operations and impacts. Extending the product lifetime, replacing products with services, creating resource-efficient business, and boosting material reuse – data has its role in all the essential steps towards circularity. Yet, we still lack practical examples of efficient datause for circular solutions. What kind of data should be used, and how? Do we need new tools, or perhaps new business models, to capitalize the data? Many questions are yet to be answered and opportunities to be discovered.

Real-life solutions for real-life challenges

The idea of the challenge competition sparked from real-life challenges experienced by companies that aim to increase circularity in their operations. Together with its partners, Circular Design Innovation Community is continuously looking for ways to enhance data-use in circular economy, and in December 2021 Valio, the City of Helsinki & Motiva Services, the City of Espoo, Akkukierrätys Pb, Recser, the Finnish Mining Association, and Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto opened six real-life usecases for discussion and development. The aim was to find new ideas on utilizing data in promoting circular economy.

By the end of January 2022, the competition organizers had received a number of ideas answering the challenges. After the qualification rounds, 14 teams were selected to present their ideas in the final pitching session at Maria01 in mid-March. Before the event, teams honed their pitches with the mentors from Circular Design Innovation Community.

Competing, but not against each other

The day at Maria01 starts with the City Open Data Challenge, where two teams compete to win over the attention of the City of Espoo. On their web site, the city has a significant amount of open data available for companies and individuals to use. This time the data has inspired Team Wastebook to offer smarter waste management solutions, and Team Circular Economy Market Platform to innovate a common marketplace to advance the reuse of products.

In the morning the audience also gets to hear the pitches from the finalists in the Demolition Challenge by the City of Helsinki and Motiva Services, and the first Circular Textile Challenge team answering to the challenge by Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto. In the Demolition Challenge the teams Incorporated Data Tool, Por-Car, ATLANTES, and Crushed Concrete Demand Tool have found different ways from intelligent tags and circular design tools to concrete reuse to support circularity in demolition. TEXroad, the first team to pitch on the Textile Challenge, is presenting a digital infrastructure for circular textiles.

The range of ideas is delightful and highlights the keyconcept of the systemic change: there is no silver bullet, but a set of new technologies, behavioral changes, and business models that eventually enable the circular revolution.

New connections and fresh angles on data and circularity

During the break the teams have time to enjoy refreshments and mingle – for many it is the first live-pitching event ever, and for all, it’s one of the very first opportunities to meet again live after the tight covid restrictions. Lively discussions flow across the room as the challenge partners, organizers and competitors share their ideas and seek for collaboration opportunities.

The latter half of the event starts with Textile Revolution, the other finalist of Circular Textiles Challenge, presenting a platform for textile recycling.

The last two challenges of the day are the Agricultural Side Streams Challenge by Valio and the Mine Waste Challenge by the Finnish Mining Association. Teams Bioconnect, From Information to Knowledge, and 3E Opti Nutrient Recycling are digging deeper into the fertile soil of agriculture, where circularity can have a significant role in diminishing the emissions. The event comes to a an end with presentations by Inventory Exchange, Smart Agro-Industry and Circomy Block Chain for Mining Waste Management. In the Mine Waste Challenge, the audience also gets to witness the furthest pitching distance of the day, as the Team Inventory Exchange performs remotely from Chile.

The work has only started

The presentations are over, and the jury stands down to agree on the winners, so it is time to give the stage to the challenge partners – thanks to whom the competition was possible. In the on-stage discussion Mia Johansson from the City of Espoo and Mira Jarkko from City of Helsinki remark that cities have a lot to do to promote circularity, and proven solutions can be rolled out nation-wide. Also, the essential role of data and collaboration can not be emphasized too much. Paula Eskola from Motiva Services reminds that increasing the reuse of building materials requires a lot of data to be analyzed, and tight collaboration between the actors as well.

The competitors receive praises from the partners. Miia Jylhä from Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto reminds that for example in textile recycling systems it is all about building something new: it is clear that many pieces of the puzzle are still missing, and all innovative ideas are needed and welcomed. Robert Harmoinen from Valio continues to accent the value of ideas and tells that by opening the challenge for ideation they got even more input than they had envisioned.

Eventually, seven teams are declared to challenge winners by the jury: Espoo City Municipal Circular Economy Market Place, Wastebook, Incorporated Open Data Tool for Designers, Textile Revolution, Bioconnect, 3E Opti nutrient recycling and Circomy – Blockchain for mining waste management. Team Wastebook is also acknowledged for the best pitch of the day.

Slowly the room empties, but the sparkles of optimism and enthusiasm remain in the air for a long while. The actual work around the ideas is just about to start, but the future of data-based circular economy already seems to be one step closer.