The Nordic City Solution trade platform, a public-private partnership between the five Nordic trade promotion organizations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland recently completed a multi-dimensional trade activity in the United States as part of our 2020 programming.
Nordic City Solutions co-hosted a 6-week hackathon in collaboration with the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and Hack the Gap to produce ideas and solutions for modern urban development challenges the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota (USA). These challenges were specifically chosen due to their environmental and social impact with Nordic companies collaborating with American development partners on solutions around racial equity and environmental sustainability.
This program was made possible by the passionate and inspirational leadership of Pamela Tiller, Channon Lemon, and Caroline Karanja with support from Yahsmene Butler and Jonas Dalgaard Nielsen.
Program Manager at Nordic City Solutions
CEO of Hack the Gap
VP at the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce
This project would not have been possible without the contribution of resources and expertise from the five Nordic Trade Promotion organizations who helped structure, recruit, facilitate and close out the project.
Facilitation and programming assistance was provided by Mats Shore (Business Sweden), Imran Ahmed (Consulate General of Finland, New York), Elsebeth Nordlund (Danish Trade Council) and Einar Gunnar Guðmundsson (supporting Business Iceland / Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iceland).
Nordic City Solutions Hackathon October 13, 2020
The goal of this hackathon was to provide an opportunity for Nordic companies to directly collaborate on active American development projects, learn about local context urban development site and meet potential joint-venture partners through collaboration in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Nordic City Solutions worked with our anchor partners the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and Hack the Gap to find active, open and unique development projects with a specific focus on sustainability and overcoming barriers to social inequality in the Twin Cities area. Collaborative developers - called Challenge Owners – committed to sharing their project details, time and resources to the project in order to derive both local and international knowledge from Nordic experts, in exchange for opening up their procurement processes to those Nordic and American companies participating in the hackathon.
Additionally, we faced the challenge of creating the hackathon during the Covid-19 pandemic, a turbulent political landscape and in a city which had experienced deep trauma and reckoning around racism and deeply embedded institutional discrimination. In order to bridge the gap created by travel restrictions, Nordic City Solutions took what would have been a two-day in- person delegation and workshop, and moved it into a multi-week online format.
The hackathon was based on the IDEA framework as a guiding principle for the entire process:
IDEA: Intercultural Development For Equitable Approaches
The IDEA initiative is designed to foster collaboration, create relationships and identify innovation for how we develop land with equitable, resilient, and cost efficient solutions. Our focus is on connecting American and Nordic development experts and suppliers, with intentional emphasis on integrating local Minnesota businesses owned by BIPOC leaders and creating business opportunities for these firms to partner in the future.
The Development Projects
As part of the Hackathon programming, Nordic City Solutions and partners offered three publically accessible workshops focused on overarching development themes between the Nordic countries and the USA. The intent was to provide context, insights and discussion on common elements in urban development to inspire participants and the overall community.
Workshop 1: Holistic Design Thinking
Our first workshop's topic is Holistic Design. Our speakers include St. Paul's Mayor Melvin Carter III and Per Boesgaard, CEO of City Facilitators discussing the design process from both the American and Nordic perspective and where that thinking intersects. Our workshop was concluded by Oliver Zumrik from Solved giving us a demo on the platform.
Watch Workshop 1: Holistic Design Thinking here
Workshop 2: Connectivity
The second workshop focused on connectivity. Our guest speakers included Sam Grant, Executive Director at MN350 and Rob Bennett CEO of EcoDistricts engaging in conversation on the connection between urban development and social inequality. Eetu Helminen from Solved finished off our workshop with a demo on how to add solutions to the platform.
Watch Workshop 2: Connectivity here
Workshop 3: Business Case
Our final workshop of the Hackathon was focused on how to develop a strong business case. Our guest speakers included Russ Stark, Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Saint Paul, Per Boesgaard CEO of City Facilitators and Peter Frosch CEO of Greater MSP, all in conversation on the importance of developing a business model that is both sustainable and equitable.
Watch Workshop 3: Business Case here
The Hackathon was set up as a series of 1-hour collaboration sessions over a period of six weeks.
All participants met together weekly on the main stage for a 10-minute introduction before being digitally allocated to a group-room based on their Challenge team (i.e. development project) of choice. Challenge team sessions were facilitated through problem-solving exercise by a member of the Nordic City Solutions steering group or a project partner. Groups could post resources and communicate through an online digital platform from Finland called Solved.fi.
Over the process of six weeks, groups met, ideated and followed the Nordic-American IDEA hackathon curriculum, eventually breaking down into 14 smaller teams comprised of American and Nordic participants.
On November 17 th Nordic City Solutions and partners hosted a closing event where 14 teams presented a 5-minute pitch to the Challenge Owners and other groups.
Results, Return on Investment, Future Plans
As a result of the hackathon, the teams arrived at 14 unique proposals to the four specific urban development challenges. Each challenge owner will now have multiple solutions to choose from, and they are not limited to one choice. Some Nordic-American collaboration highlights from the hackathon include:
Challenge A: Team Green
Nordic Company Unimi Solutions (Sweden) – EV Charging Infrastructure as part of microgrid solution for North Minneapolis EPIC corridor.
Challenge A: Team Navy
Nordic Company: Powercell Sweden (Sweden) – Hydrogen fuel cells as part of microgrid solutions for North Minneapolis EPIC corridor.
Challenge B: Team Black
Nordic Company: Netled (Finland) – Vertical farming solution for food desert urban agriculture challenge at Upper Harbor Terminal site in Minneapolis.
Challenge B: Team Silver
Nordic Company: Scale Denmark (Denmark) – Social business model for community agriculture challenge at Upper Harbor Terminal site in Minneapolis.
Challenge B: Team Gold
Nordic Companies: Arki_Lab and Scale Denmark (Denmark) – Model for community education programming through architecture to ensure a framework for equitable urban food environment at Upper Harbor Terminal site in Saint Paul.
Challenge C: Team Rose
Nordic Company: ROCKWOOL (Denmark) – Model for net zero carbon neutral multi-unit residential building as part of future RFP for Rondo project in Saint Paul.
Challenge C: Team Mint
Nordic Company: Andreas Tjeldflaat Architect (Norway) – Proposed architectural program for design competition at Rondo project in Saint Paul.
Challenge C: Team Turquoise
Nordic Company: Yorth Group (Iceland) – Proposed integrated resource management district model for design competition at Rondo project in Saint Paul.
Challenge D: Team Beige
Nordic Companies: HOOS (Iceland) and ROCKWOOL (Denmark) – Modular affordable housing models for new Hillcrest development site in Saint Paul.
Challenge D: Team Lime Green
Nordic Company: Circular Solutions (Iceland) – Model for an eco-industrial loop (industrial symbiosis) at the Hillcrest development site in Saint Paul.
All of our Challenge Owners have committed to a continued collaboration with Nordic companies. Each of the 14 teams was provided with a 30-60 minute detailed presentation and discussion with the Challenge Owner to discuss the proposal, concrete opportunities for next steps and the potential for future procurement opportunities.
Circular Solutions (Iceland) has been offered a concrete tender opportunity to continue working with the Saint Paul Port Authority on a model for an eco-industrial loop on the Hillcrest development. A number of other Nordic companies are also in discussions with both the Challenge Owners or other US-based partners based out outcomes or networking from the Hackathon process. The Nordic trade teams will continue to support our Nordic companies and their needs within the North American market as needed, and look forward to the opportunity to do so.
The Nordic-American IDEA hackathon was an overwhelmingly positive experience. In spite of considerable external factors which could have had a dramatic and potentially negative impact on the event, activities and outcomes – the program was a resounding success on all sides.
In our current global climate – with so much economic uncertainty, civil unrest and fear – we were able to find a beautiful silver lining. People crave human connections, and this project allowed us to build those even though it was online. By having small, bite-sized collaboration activities over a number of weeks, participant broke down barriers and got to know each other both personally and professionally. The outcomes from those who committed to the process were resoundingly positive from all participants.
The relationships that have formed through this process have the opportunity to blossom into some impactful social and environmental change and solid business opportunities.