Finland’s AppCampus funds Windows Phone App innovators around the world

Nokia, Microsoft and Aalto University collaborate in an €18 million open-innovation programme for developers and start-ups

By Alina Kangasluoma

A human heart sends out a specific signal before a cardiac arrest. Imagine the breakthrough in saving lives if those signals were detectable by a mobile phone application. AppCampus, an €18 million open-innovation programme funded by Microsoft, Nokia and Aalto University, aims to help entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world bring such breakthrough apps to market.

“I think we’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg of what mobile apps could do,” says Pekka Sivonen, head of AppCampus and founder of mobile software company Digia Plc.  “We’re supporting these amazing creative minds, who can revolutionize the mobile app industry as we know it.” 

“I’ve been in this business a long time and never have I experienced this level of international excitement,” said Sivonen, entrepreneur-in-residence at Aalto. Sivonen founded Digia in 1997 and grew it to 1,600 employees and €122 million in revenues in 2011. “With Windows Phone 8 launch on 29 October, developers now have a lot more freedom in terms of the creative process. There are many new features such as augmented reality for camera; live tiles that can show you information on your locked screen; Near Field Communication, a MicroSD memory card, integrated Nokia maps and many more. Reinventing mobile has just begun.”

AppCampus investments range from €20,000 to €70,000 and developers that receive funding are invited to work for up to four weeks in sleek new offices on the wooded Aalto campus in Espoo where they receive coaching, technical and market support. “With AppCampus I have an amazing team of eight people with a combined experience of over 100 years in mobile technology. All things combined, I think it’s safe to say that makes us one-of-a-kind program globally”, says Sivonen, who has logged 30 years in the ICT-       

Finnish recruiting company Sihti Oy, one of the teams funded by AppCampus, aims to revolutionize the electronic recruitment process with a mobile application to accelerate the process of matching ideal candidates with a given job opening. “What job seekers value the most is a contact person who helps them in the process of finding a new job. That is why we also created a direct “Sihti Chat” channel between us and the applicants, so people can contact us regardless of time and place”, says Jukka-Pekka Annala, partner at Sihti Oy. The app will be piloted in Finland first and then released in international markets. 

AppCampus does not take equity or commissions from the start-ups it funds. The only requirement is that successful applications are expected to be available, for the first six months, exclusively on Windows Phone and Nokia S40 platforms. The selection criteria for the programme, which kicked off in May, include innovative first-to-market ideas, design elegance, technical quality and performance.

“There is definitely a need for a program like AppCampus, which supports the publication of applications on a currently installed base of more than 500 million devices”, Sivonen says. “And that number is only growing with the increasing range of new devices. Windows 8 alone will bring some 450 million new devices into our ecosystem by the end of 2013. That brings the total addressable market into 1 billion devices to our developers. That’s an opportunity not to be missed.””

Microsoft and Nokia each contributed €9 million to programme, which is led and managed by Aalto, which also invests 3 million in-kind to the project. “Having two of the greatest corporations in the world invested in AppCampus, we really have a chance to create a few new Rovios,” Sivonen says, referring to Finland’s high-flying entertainment media start-up Rovio, creator of the Angry Birds mobile phone game. “Among the 60 funded apps there are already a few gems.”  

So what kind of apps does Sivonen expect to bring to market in the near future? “There really is no limit. In my opinion, the best ideas evolve from the mobile users’ own needs.”  It’s not just about saving lives, I’m talking about making every day life easier.  I, for example, would love to see an app that could help me define the best fly-fishing equipment for me, based on the location that I will be fishing.” 

Aalto University was founded as an innovation university in 2010 by the merger of three leading Helsinki universities in design, technology and business. A growing hot spot for software start-ups, Aalto provides tailored training and coaching for students and entrepreneurs who are selected for the AppCampus programme. “I think we are exactly what the industry now needs,” Sivonen says. “By harvesting on early stage innovations and supporting new companies we’re actually creating more jobs and helping the mobile industry evolve and reinvent itself in this time of uncertainty.”