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Industry Project 2023/2024: Exploring B2G engagement in elderly care

The IDBM Industry Project Course involves seven exciting months of multidisciplinary collaboration, exploration, and innovation, in addressing real-life challenges provided by industry partners. This year, we want to take you along with us on this journey by meeting our 13 different project teams at different points in their process – from research to prototyping and final concept development!

Left: Team Gubbe visiting AgeWell, a Tokyo-based startup, and learning about their approach to elderly care, right: Networking event with J-StarX

This time, we met up with Sarma (Tech), Vera (Arts), Jini (Arts), Francisca (Biz), Iivo (Tech), who are working with the startup Gubbe. Gubbe provides comprehensive care services focused on enhancing the well-being, functional capacity, and health of elderly or disabled individuals. Their IDBM industry focuses on Gubbe's expansion into the B2G market by enhancing their impact assessment methods to better align with government procurement needs. The student team is looking to identify new data points and collection methods within their care services to demonstrate holistic value, facilitate smoother engagement with government bodies, and foster broader community impact.

This industry project is one of two startup collaborations as part of our EIT-HEI Initiative project C-ACCELERATE, focusing on entrepreneurial education in creative fields.

Progress of the industry project course at the time of the interview

You just returned from a 20-day research trip to Japan. How did you choose the locations and what have you been up to?

Jini: Initially, we conducted research on potential destinations including Japan, Costa Rica, and Brazil, ultimately choosing Japan due to its aging market opportunities. During our trip, we engaged with a startup for elderly care, attended healthcare exhibitions, and participated in entrepreneurship events to broaden our insights. This experience not only deepened our comprehension of aging issues, noting similarities between Finland and Japan but also exposed us to innovative technologies and solutions for elderly care globally.

Sarma: During the first week of the trip, we were all based in Tokyo. In the second week, the team split up: Jini, Francisca, and Iivo continued in Osaka and Kyoto, and Vera went to Okinawa.

In Tokyo, we attended large-scale expos like the AI World Tour and Care Show Tokyo which focused on elderly care services. We were lucky to engage with growth conferences and investors interested in startup investment, gaining insights not only into business opportunities but also Japanese culture and hospitality.

In Kyoto and Osaka, our main focus was visiting research institutions, including Kyoto University, among others.

Vera: I traveled to Okinawa, known as a blue zone for longevity and the happiness of its elderly population, with the aim of understanding the local elder community firsthand. I found it more approachable to connect with elderly individuals in the countryside and villages, where people were willing to share their time and experiences openly. I was lucky to be accompanied by two of my Japanese friends, which enriched the interviews and provided incredible opportunities for learning and connecting with the locals.

Left: Elderly ladies gathering and picking their daily fresh vegetables in a local farmer’s market in Northern Okinawa, right: Elderly man in a traditional fifth-generation sweets shop, nestled within Kyoto's historic streets

Now that you are back in Finland and wrapping up your research phase, what would you say were the biggest learnings of your project so far?

Vera: Looking back, I've learned that amidst the coursework, travel arrangements became quite challenging. I think it is a good idea to structure at least an initial field trip research plan early enough so that spontaneous opportunities that emerge during the field trip can further complement and support.

Jini: Our travel approach was quite open, which had its pros and cons. Confirming more arrangements in advance would have enhanced our research, but the openness allowed us to explore unexpected possibilities, leading to new solutions and fostering creativity and innovation.

Iivo: Apart from the travel, we learned a lot about engaging with the government in Finland and navigating the complexities of a new software system. Contacting the public sector has proven challenging. We have also discussed the potential collapse of the public sector in the future with our mentor, prompting us to prepare for potential shifts in healthcare dynamics in our project.

Team Gubbe exploring the izakayas of Tokyo with local friends

How has it been working with elderly care startups, considering that this topic may be new to many of you?

Vera: Radical innovation in that sector is urgently needed. And currently, the societal structures hinder innovation from being implemented. This left me feeling frustrated at times.

Sarma: I learned a lot from this project, particularly in understanding governmental operations and decision-making processes at the municipal level in Finland, which greatly differ from centralized systems like in Japan. This decentralized approach has advantages in terms of democracy, however, companies find it complex while tailoring their offerings and collaborating across municipalities/welfare areas. Also, the project has shed light on the lack of specific focus on elderly care within public services, as elderly and disabled people currently fall under the same category. From the startup perspective, it is important to gather the right team within the ecosystem to effectively participate in public preventive healthcare.

Jini: I feel like this project is a whole new experience compared to our previous ones since we're dealing with real-life issues rather than just ideas. It's tricky when we try to get data from the government or municipalities because they're not always open about it. We've got to be realistic and flexible, maybe change our plans sometimes.

Left: Sunday strolls in Meguro, Tokyo, right: Jini exploring the shrines of Kyoto

How has it been to tackle this challenge in a multidisciplinary team?

Iivo: I think it's been nice. Normally, I'm used to working in pretty homogeneous groups, mainly with engineering students who have similar backgrounds. However, being part of this not only multidisciplinary but also international team has been both useful and interesting.

Sarma: We have fostered positive relationships within the team. This has made it much more comfortable for us during the converging phase to make decisions, contributing to a smoother workflow and learning experience.

What would you say was the highlight of the project?

Vera: Honestly, for me, one of the definite highlights has been bonding with the team. There was a moment when it all clicked, and I felt incredibly grateful for our respectful, supportive team dynamic.

Jini: Our team members are all very kind, nice, and tolerant, which makes traveling together quite smooth. Spending 24/7 with different people isn't always easy, but we manage to deal with everything well and maintain excellent relationships, not just for our project, but also our friendships.

Sarma: That was definitely the highlight for me too. I usually look forward to coming home from trips, but this time, I really wanted to stay longer.

Vera: As this marks my fifth year in Aalto, one of my personal goals in joining this program was to enjoy the IDBM experience and community spirit to the fullest. So, in many ways, I feel like I've already gained that through our process. We are excited about the final outcome of the project, but mainly, we're enjoying the ride together.

Learn more about the team

Sarma (IDBM TECH student with a background in CRM development and design) LinkedIn

Iivo (IDBM TECH student with a background in product development and information technology) LinkedIn

Vera (IDBM ARTS minor student, majoring in Creative Sustainability) LinkedIn

Jini (IDBM ARTS & Tongji University double degree student with a background in industrial and strategic design) LinkedIn

Francisca (IDBM BIZ student with a background in economics and finance) LinkedIn 


Curious to learn more about our Industry Projects this year? Keep an eye on our blog and social media to get to know the other teams!

Author: Nicole Hußmann


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