SparkUp Challenge invites start-ups to innovate and co-create together with Wärtsilä

SparkUp Challenge invites start-ups to innovate and co-create together with Wärtsilä

Wärtsilä’s SparkUp Challenge aims for the perfect match between the company’s business and innovative start-ups.

Wärtsilä’s SparkUp Challenge aims for the perfect match between the company’s business and innovative start-ups.

The Wärtsilä SparkUp Challenge is an opportunity to shine a light on a newly discovered innovation or business idea that could disrupt a whole industry – if only it was found and developed further.

The goal of the challenge, launched at the Slush start-up event in November 2017, is to identify start-ups with the most promising ideas and partner them with industry experts. It is part of Level 2, Cooperation, of Wärtsilä's five-level Venturing Model.

“I believe this approach will help bring in new and fresh ways of thinking to help us with our work,” notes Alid Dettke, Vice President, Open Innovation. Dettke compares the model to forming a relationship. First one gets to know the other, and step by step things might proceed to more and more serious levels.

“At Wärtsilä, we are looking for a special someone.”

The first phase of the challenge focused on Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Vision. The company looked for innovative start-ups to develop ideas for the smart shipping value chain in collaboration with Wärtsilä. The winning team was promised an incubation period in Wärtsilä’s Digital Acceleration Centres (DACs) in Helsinki or Singapore. These hubs are where projects are developed at unprecedented speeds, often in collaboration with start-ups and other partners.


The winning teams

The challenge, which attracted almost 150 entries, reached its peak at the end of February, when a full day of co-creation with Wärtsilä mentors and pitching led to the announcement of the winner of the very first SparkUp Challenge. A total of 11 pitches, mostly focusing on connectivity and green solutions, were of such high quality that the jury had difficulty deciding on just one out of the lot.

In the end, the task proved impossible. The jury decided to name not one but two winners: KNL Networks and The first offers reliable data networks for ships, and the latter has developed a collaboration platform that logs incoming and outgoing ships in ports.

“I did not expect to win, with all these amazing participants,” said’s Bryan Bender after the announcement, brimming with excitement.

“This has been a great opportunity to work with Wärtsilä. I enjoyed the approach and the synergy we got.”

KNL Networks’ team called the SparkUp process amazing yet challenging.

“I really can’t hide my smile,” said Tomi Linden from KNL Networks after the win. “Wärtsilä’s mind-set has changed. They are looking for a big impact – and fast.”

Wärtsilä provides the winning teams with space and mentoring for up to six months, as well as a capital grant of EUR 50,000. Now, and KNL Networks face a collaboration period in the Digital Acceleration Centre, DAC. The projects, including an incubation phase and a go-to-market transformation, will culminate in a Demo Day later in 2018.

For Wärtsilä, the most important aspect of the challenge is the ability to connect the innovative solution to business. “We also look forward to moving on with the finalists and their projects,” says Steffen Knodt, Director, Digital Ventures. “This is a learning process for all of us.”

The future is, by default, a learning process. SparkUp Challenge is one way to prepare for it.

“You cannot shy away from the future,” Dettke points out. “We must roll up our sleeves, embrace it boldly and grow with it.”

The second SparkUp Challenge, focusing on Smart Energy, will be launched in the fall of 2018. The concept is set to become a key part of the strategy of building effective and fruitful long-term partnerships with start-ups.

“This is an amazing opportunity to co-create with us, and really accelerate the development of innovative digital services,” adds Dettke.

Marco Ryan, Chief Digital Officer for Wärtsilä, holds a similar view. SparkUp Challenge along with the DAC concept accelerate Wärtsilä’s digital transformation journey towards an ‘as-a-service’ smart technology company.

“We at Wärtsilä are renowned for spotting trends and innovation,” he says. “The best results will happen, he says, when engineers, business people, data scientists and UX experts sit together and work collaboratively towards a common goal that meets the needs of our customers.”

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Written by

Sofia Kilpikivi
Lotta Heikkeri
Anne Salomäki