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The University of Helsinki and Slush launch online competition to tackle global air pollution crisis – join the challenge and win €20,000

By 2050, hundreds of millions will be living in 43 megacities worldwide. This means we should start working on ways to improve urban air quality and make sure that as urban environments expand, they also remain liveable. The University of Helsinki together with Slush have launched a global competition looking for solutions that improve urban air quality. Venture with Air online hackathon invites teams of developers to create ideas for applications that use a data set of air quality variables collected from Helsinki. 

Air pollution is a serious global threat to human and environmental health. It is ranked as one of the highest environmental risks to health, accounting for one in every nine deaths annually, and it can accelerate climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Poor air quality is a major problem especially in densely populated areas – for example, a study by Harvard University recently found out that living in areas where air is polluted is linked to a greater risk of dying of COVID-19. 

Despite the fact that two-thirds of the global population are estimated to live in cities by 2050, urban air quality remains understudied.

We’ve joined the University of Helsinki and partners Helsinki City, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and YIT Corporation to tackle this issue. Today, we’ve launched an online competition looking for solutions to make urban environments more liveable and sustainable. Venture with Air invites teams of developers to generate ideas and develop proof of concept of applications that use an online data set of air quality variables collected from Helsinki. 

“With intensifying climate concerns and a global pandemic on our hands, there hardly seems to be a better time to draw attention to the air we breathe – and nowhere is the issue of air quality more urgent than in cities,” Professor Sasu Tarkoma, Head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki and leader for the MegaSense programme explains.

“The world’s most pressing challenges require the brightest minds and the most advanced scientific breakthroughs to solve them. Teams participating in the challenge are leveraging a data set collected using cutting-edge technology – so let’s just say that our expectations for submitted works are high,” Slush CEO Miika Huttunen adds.

The contestants will be judged by a jury of climate technology investors and experts: Hampus Jakobsson, Partner at Pale Blue Dot; Inka Mero, Founder and Managing Partner Voima Ventures; Mark Goldberg, Partner at Index Ventures; Marja-Leena Rinkineva, Director of Economic Development at the City of Helsinki; Edward Haeggström, Professor at the University of Helsinki and Founder & CEO of Nanoform Finland; Anders Stenbäck, Development Director at YIT Oyj Corporation; Maija Palmer, Innovation Editor at Sifted; and Miika Huttunen, CEO of Slush.

The winning team will be awarded with a 20,000 euro cash prize. Second and third place winners will be awarded with 7,500 euros and 2,500 euros, respectively.

Can you create a business out of thin air?

Here’s the pitch: teams generate ideas and develop a proof of concept of an application that will help improve either or both planetary and human health in urban environments. Participants are expected to use a data set of air quality variables collected from indoor and outdoor Helsinki using the university’s MegaSense sensors, but their solution can also make use of any other open data set. Learn more about MegaSense here.

The solution can be applicable to any city or urban environment where there is justified demand. The product does not need to be finished, but we expect the teams to be able to demonstrate that there is a business case, and show technical feasibility of the solution via proof of concept data.

The contest entries should have an answer to the following questions:

  1. Realistic and feasible – how have you demonstrated demand for your solution? We want to see that you’ve clearly defined your target audience and market potential, and explained how your solution works technically.
  2. Original – how creative and unique is your solution? 
  3. Impact – how effective and realistic is your solution in improving human and / or planetary health? Can you demonstrate the commercial potential of your solution?

Think you got what it takes? Check out the terms and conditions, experiment with the data, and gather a team or sign up individually. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Apply at