A Student Perspective on Y Science, an official side event of Slush 2019

Y Science – what’s that?

Every year, for a few days during dark Nordic winter, Slush gathers tens of thousands of changemakers and turns Helsinki into the epicenter of business and start-up stories. Y Science is one of Slush’s official side events, where the Life Sciences meet the entrepreneurial world. 

The Student Perspective (& Instagram story!) 

My name is Katja Kaurinkoski and I’m a Neuroscience Master’s student at the University of Helsinki. This was the second time I attended this interesting and upbeat event and this year I also had the opportunity to be an event volunteer, which gave me an even better glimpse into what life in the start-up scene is like. Attending Y Science is not only a way to get your foot in the door of the buzzing and exclusive Slush atmosphere at a total cost of 0 € (this year a Student Ticket to the main event would have set you back 100 €), but it is also an excellent way to find out more about other options that exist in the Life Sciences sphere, outside of academia. To get a feel of what the event was like check out the Instagram story that I made here.


The Nordics have great conditions for biotech innovation investment

We started the day hearing from Roger Franklin, from Hadean Ventures, who set the tone for the rest of the event with his encouraging message: the Nordics have great conditions for biotech innovation investment. This is great news for any students wishing to delve into the start-up scene! At university we live inside the academic bubble, and we sometimes forget about the world of opportunities that exist outside of the lab. Y Science shed more light onto some of these other worlds, particularly the ones of start-ups, business, and technology. 


The programme – A journey from academia to business

Since there wouldn’t be Life Science business without science, the first part of the programme delwed into a wide range of scientific fields spanning from cellular biology and ageing, to new imaging techniques, food sustainability, and to how the brain is mapped. I particularly enjoyed this session; it was refreshing to hear about other areas of science. We often get stuck in our own niche fields and these talks reminded me of the bigger picture in society, and how we’re all working together to figure the world out. 

After this more academic session, the programme continued with the Life Science Pitching competition, where eight early-stage start-ups and pre-startups pitched their idea to win 30,000 €. The finalists presented a whole range of impressive products and services, ranging from biomedicine to agrotech. Hearing the stories behind many different start-ups and their products was interesting and it made me think about research from a different perspective. What are some current needs and market holes that might exist where research in my field might be useful? The pitching competition also gave me insight into what is needed for the successful pitching of a product or service; it takes plenty of skill and conviction to say the least. Pitching and entrepreneurship in general are no easy roads, but they can certainly be rewarding if you put in the effort and hustle to execute your vision. The high quality pitches meant it was hard for the jury to choose a winner, but in the end Medicortex, a start-up specialising in improving the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury, took home the prize. 

After the competition, we moved to business’ perspective of life sciences, and we got to hear  Founder’s stories from investors and entrepreneurs. The speakers told us about everything from what it is like to scale a product up from the lab to a large-scale factory, to what founding a Venture Capital passionate about science is like, and we also got to hear about angel investors in the Life Sciences sphere. We also heard that leading a biotech company can be risky, sometimes feeling a bit like a rollercoaster ride. However, from everything that I gathered from the speakers at Y Science, it definitely seems like it is worth it. We have these passionate and hard-working people to thank for many of the developments and discoveries that we take for granted today. I’m certainly very glad that I had the opportunity to hear more about the behind the scenes of their work, and to learn about what it really takes to be successful in this intersection of Life Science and entrepreneurship. 


As a whole, attending Y Science reminded me why we study what we do.

We might make discoveries in the lab, or with our codes and computational models, but at the end of the day we’re doing research to benefit society. As Life Sciences  students we are predominantly being trained to be researchers, and so our focus often goes to making new discoveries. However, taking those findings and turning them into something that society can directly benefit from also needs our attention. 


Would I recommend this event to other students? Definitely. 

I would definitely recommend attending the next Y Science to anybody who has even slightly wondered what happens outside of the academic bubble. Even if you’re not directly interested in entrepreneurship, the information you get about trending topics in the Life Sciences start-up scene, as well as insights into how research gets translated into products and businesses, are incredibly valuable. Needless to say, attending Y Science is also a great opportunity for networking; interesting discussions here might just lead to interesting opportunities later down the road. Moreover, it is always good to be equipped with all sorts of skills and knowledge that might turn out to be useful in this ever-changing world. Y Science might open your eyes to a new world of possibilities, and ignite your passion to pave an alternative route in science, in the world of start-ups, business, and technology. 


Do I really have to wait for Y Science until next year?

First of all, it’s early days but make sure to go and like Y Science on Facebook and you can also follow HiLIFE on LinkedIn and Twitter. This way you’ll be the first to hear about all the speakers they have coming at the next event!


If you can’t wait until the next Y Science to dive into the world of health start-ups, Helsinki Think Company has a Health and Life Sciences oriented hub in Meilahti, in Terkko Health Hub. Terkko is more than just a coworking space: it’s a meeting point for start-ups, academics, and medical professionals. They host life sciences oriented events, workshops, accelerator programmes and more. A great way to dig right in and meet other like-minded individuals is to take part in their frequently organised hackathons and accelerator competitions. Aaltoes in Aalto University has a similar community that is definitely worth checking out. 

Another way to get more hands-on experience with innovation in the Life Sciences includes iGEM, a global synthetic biology competition, where teams from around the world design and implement synthetic biology solutions to address some of the world’s current problems. (Psst, the Aalto-Helsinki team are recruiting now until 17.01.2020!).

I can’t wait to see what next year’s Y Science has in store for us – see you there! 


About the author:

Katja Kaurinkoski is a Neuroscience Master’s student at the University of Helsinki. She is also the organizer of the 2019 March for Science in Helsinki and she is involved in several science communication projects, including The Science Basement.

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