Ursel Velve: A woman who’s steering Ülemiste City to be the gateway of Estonia

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Ülemiste City – the largest and most innovative business campus in the Baltics – is like an early herald of summer, welcoming the coming season boldly and dynamically as looking towards the future.

Ursel Velve is responsible for the bright smile (read: brand renewal) and energetic look of the team responsible for developing the campus daily. It is unconventional for a large real estate company to be run by a woman. However, In Ülemiste City, this has been the case since February.

‘I enjoy projects where time never stops and where I am constantly faced with new challenges, and opportunities. This is exactly the kind of work we do here. So exciting and unpredictable’, says the new Chairman of the Management Board of Mainor Ülemiste AS.

Creating value through innovation

Ursel Velve explains that brand renewal was by no means an end in itself but was driven by rapid substantive development and the need to create a unified customer experience in the physical and digital environment. ‘The new identity more clearly conveys our ambition to be a leader and to think outside the box. As do many of the innovative companies on our campus.’

‘We do not invest in traditional real estate development but in creating an environment. So the “always done this way” manner of thinking cannot apply here.’ Our talents are also constantly looking to experience and develop something new, whether in the work, study or living environment’, notes Velve. ‘Everything we are creating must form a complete value proposition for them, companies, partners, and guests.’

‘We involve product and service designers in developing the environment, service portfolio, and buildings. In addition, we work together with one of the world’s leading architectural firms, Zaha Hadid. In other words, we are creating an urban space that would support the development of talent and, at the same time, act as an attractive tourism magnet. All of this together creates new values for Tallinn and Estonia as a whole, and, if the plans materialise, will make Ülemiste Estonia’s gateway and the gateway from which Estonia access the world’, said Velve, noting the importance.

As a test environment, Ülemiste City is becoming increasingly open, with the desire being to develop this into a unique service over time. ‘The state and the city of Tallinn both share the goal of creating more research and development centres. We want to offer a fast-growth environment where testing is a natural part of product development. In the wake of Volkswagen’s arrival, we look forward to the arrival of other innovation units from large international companies. They receive feedback from 13,000 talents and nearly 500 companies’, said Velve, who considers combining large companies and start-ups being increasingly valuable on both sides.

Velve adds that the Test City concept is not something separate; instead, everything created can also be tried or tested in advance on the campus. The testing of products and services could be a natural part of any development.

The Ülemiste City Radar survey found that as many as 91% of the 73 foreigners of different nationalities transported to the campus possess higher education. Not only that, many of them have Doctoral level degrees. ‘The fear that a contingent in need of social assistance is flowing into Estonia, at least here, is not justified in any way. On the contrary, we bring together the top specialists in their respective fields, who create almost twice as much added value for society as a whole’, says Velve.

Health and happiness lead to the success of talents

According to Velve, the recently opened Ülemiste Health Centre laid the foundation for building initiatives related to health innovation and prevention.

‘No company can be healthy and happy if its people are not healthy and happy. Within the Activate 100 project framework, 100 of Ülemiste City’s residents are currently hacking their physical, mental or social health, following tips from mentors. In mid-June, a health nudgeton will be held in cooperation with the University of Tartu, with the help of which we will solve their health challenges, both in the physical environment and within companies.’

She cites a great expression that is gaining popularity on the campus: momentum at work. ‘Today, people want a working environment where the opportunity to rest their spirit, mingle with the community and consume services is guaranteed. That is why the focus of the innovation we create is unequivocally people’, says the former head of development and innovation for the company, who holds a Master’s degree in international marketing from the University of Liverpool.

‘In cooperation with the University of Tartu, the creation and development of a talent health model is unique in the world. It is in this way – relying on knowledge, research-based thinking and deliberateness – that we want to implement initiatives in various fields and create an increasingly inspiring talent environment.’

Green is the way to go

The mental health of the community is also taken into consideration through various green projects. Velve draws a temporal parallel, recalling one of the many bold decisions taken by Ülo Pärnits, creator of Mainor.

‘He made an insanely large investment in the first private park. What we see now is that this manner of thinking has become an inviting benefit. We are interested in further developing the green zone’, says Velve, adding that: ‘During the first wave of COVID, people found their escape thanks to RMK’s hiking trails. I would like to hope that car ownership will decrease and we will also be able to make the urban environment more and more people-friendly.’

Similarly, green thinking is accepted by attaching fundamental importance to environmental sustainability. ‘We are one of the initiators of the Green Tiger project. We realised that the current environmental footprint is substantial, and we mapped 30 areas where we can significantly improve sustainability’, says Velve. ‘We learned that disposable packaging in a volume equivalent to that of a 13-storey building is used in Ülemiste City each year. As a solution, we will introduce Bringpack during the summer to take the first steps towards giving up disposable packaging.’

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