“Boundary spanning in innovation creation should be closer to movie production – first you have a synopsis, you assemble the production, collect the talent, produce the output, and then sell it to the market.”

Kari’s role as a Spanning Boundaries agent

Kari Mikkelä is the co-founder of Urban Mill in Espoo, Finland and has five decades of boundary spanning experience behind him. Kari believes strongly in mission and impact-driven orchestration. This is where the key job of a Spanning Boundaries agent is to be an innovation orchestrator/producer, who helps others to make use of all opportunities, prototype solutions and deploy them into practice. Urban Mill is a “public- private -people- partnership” initiative, started in 2013. It is simultaneously a co-creation space, community and a service. Located at the heart of Aalto University campus, its main partners are the City of Espoo, Aalto University and “Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK”.

Kari and his colleague, Lars, have been able to implement cooperation across the “quadruple helix” through activities such as joint prototyping, co-creation, curriculum development and delivery, consultancy, shared resources and spaces, and entrepreneurship and startup creation. All this has been made possible through the vast number of individuals and organisations that they have brought together:

– 150 000+ people participated in 3500+ registered events;

– 15 000+ visitors hosted, from Finland and abroad;

– 1 000+ pioneers involved in service co-creation;

– 1 000+ organisations and projects as platform users.


What is Kari’s main motivation?

Kari emphasises two things: He has always had a passion for helping others, and he wants to create: “Routines bore me. I would die inside if I was an accountant. You could call me a creative.”

He further states: “I don’t want to do boring stuff anymore. There are so many projects out there, where you have to do exactly what the project paper says. I’d rather spend the money on more worthwhile things.”


How important is having specific knowledge, skills or traits?

According to Kari, Spanning Boundaries agents solve systematic problems, thus they require a general understanding of how the world around them works: “When I studied, I read a little bit about everything. In a factory environment, I got hands-on practice in how everything works: from the factory floor to RDI planning. It is really important to understand the whole picture.”

Kari continues, stating, “I’m not a theoretical person! From an industry and society point of view, universities are creating people that are too theoretical and this direction has only grown stronger in Finland.”


What are some drivers or success factors for a fruitful cooperation between academia and industry?

Kari claims that all barriers are relevant: funding, structures and cultural issues; and If you truly want to do valuable things, you need to generate impact. However, when involved in multi-actor initiatives, everyone has their own goals and shared goals are not a priority. Conflicting business models may make things difficult and making a change is rarely good for everyone involved. However, working with the community of practice of “best-practitioners” means learning from the best. Furthermore, support from top leadership is also important.


Kari was interviewed by Toni Pienonen (Crazy Town)