Finland offers a first-class innovation and business environment. Starting a business is easy and fast, the country has a highly educated workforce, and public research and development funding is readily available. Networking is also something that’s taken for granted by everyone, and collaboration between the business sector and the academic world is extensive.
We live in competitive times, and economically turbulent ones as well. That’s nothing new, of course. History is littered with numerous examples of nations and regions finding themselves faced with challenges that just seem to keep growing at various points in their history. The challenges we see around us today, though, are unique, and the pace at which they are reshaping the political, social, economic, and natural environment here in Europe and globally is accelerating.
Retaining one’s existing strengths and developing new ones, and attracting others, such as international investors, to join you in your endeavours is something that countries large and small need to address. By international standards, Finland is very much a small player, but this has certainly not stopped Finland from carving out a place for itself that is the envy of many other countries.
|Networking has become second nature to many in Finland, bureaucracy is minimal, and the number of public-private partnerships is growing all the time.
The articles in this edition of HighTech Finland certainly attest to the fact that many companies here have been surprisingly successful in developing strong positions for themselves in numerous sectors – from forestry, chemicals, and metals to ICT, gaming, new materials, and environmental and medical technology. None of these companies can afford to rest on their laurels, however, or rely simply on the dynamism of their existing technologies to power them on their way to future success.
Finland – or Europe for that matter – cannot afford to be complacent either, however satisfying it is to be regularly ranked high up in international statistics and surveys comparing the merits of different countries and regions against each other. After all, they only tell part of the story. The decisive part of the story takes place on the ground, in the day-to-day work that companies and organisations do to keep themselves at the front of the field.
Open to innovation
One of the things that Finland has certainly got going for it – and one that is difficult to pin down in terms of exact statistics or other types of facts and figures – is the Finnish mind-set.
In practical terms, this mind-set, which is driven at least in part by the small and intimate nature of Finnish society and the sense of common purpose that has informed the Finnish experience at many points in its history, translates into a business environment which is easy to operate in and remarkably efficient by international standards. The public and the private sector are both very much committed to investing in research and development, and people have a positive, can-do attitude towards most things new.
Networking has become second nature to many, bureaucracy is minimal, although not non-existent of course – we do live in the real world, after all – and the number of public-private partnerships is growing all the time.
|Pekka Soini, who took over as Director General of Tekes in September 2012, is an advocate of the need for businesses to reinvent themselves. Only by doing so will they be capable of generating the dynamism needed to compete and succeed in tomorrow’s world, he says.
A systematic approach to promoting innovation has also been something that Finland has focused on for many years, through things such as a national innovation strategy, various technology programmes, and a network of regional science and technology parks. Accessing this ecosystem is, of course, critical to benefiting from it.
Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation plays an important role here, in providing expertise and information about research and development networks in Finland and putting people in touch with each other and funding R&D and innovation projects.
”More than 80% of our customers that have successfully implemented new innovations tell us that Tekes funding was an important factor in their achievements,” says Pekka Soini, Tekes’ Director General. “That’s not to say that there aren’t the occasional flops, but without them you don’t have much of a chance of getting hits either.”
What is essential, believes Soini, is encouraging businesses and organisations to reinvent themselves.
“This is vital if Finland is to stay ahead of the game. It’s also why we encourage our customers – and everyone in business – to brainstorm and experiment with new and different ideas. After all, isn’t that what innovation is all about when you get down to it? Thinking outside the box and taking risks, learning from your successes and your failures, and always striving to go that one step further?”
|Source: EU, Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013
Finland in figures
- Independent parliamentary democracy since 1917
- Member of the Eurozone since 2002 and the only Eurozone country in Northern Europe
- Population: 5.4 million
- Sixth largest country in Europe, with a surface areaof 338,424 square kilometres, 188,000 lakes, and 179,000 islands
- Population density: 17.9 people per square kilometre
- GDP per capita: €35,928 (2012)
- R&D as a proportion of GDP: 3.5%
- Proportion of highly educated people in the general population: 28%
- Main exports: Electrotechnical goods, metal products, machinery, transport equipment, wood and paper products, and chemicals
- Main imports: Raw materials, investment goods, energy, and consumer goods.
Highly ranked internationally
Finland has regularly been ranked among the world’s top performers in numerous surveys and studies.
- Finland was ranked third overall in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report, 2012-2013, after Switzerland and Singapore. In terms of innovation capability, Finland was ranked second, and seventh in terms of business sophistication. Finland’s track record in introducing and deploying new technology was seen as a particular strength.
- Grant Thornton’s Global Dynamism Index for 2012described Finland as having the world’s most dynamic business operating environment, and rated Finland second in science and technology.
- The OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard for 2011 rated Finland’s innovation-related investments and innovation performance among the strongest in the OECD.
- Finland was ranked third in the WEF’s Global Information Technology Report for 2012, after Sweden and Singapore. The quality of the education sector and the country’s excellent infrastructure were highlighted.
Key organisations promoting innovation in Finland
Academy of Finland
The Academy of Finland’s mission is to finance high-quality scientific research, act as a science and science policy expert, and strengthen the position of science and research in Finnish society. Its operations cover all the major scientific disciplines. www.aka.fi
Finnvera is a specialist financing company owned by the State of Finland with official Export Credit Agency (ECA) status that provides businesses with loans, guarantees, venture capital investment, and export credit guarantees. www.finnvera.fi
Ministry of Employment and the Economy
The Ministry of Employment and the Economy is responsible for underpinning entrepreneurship and innovation, ensuring a well-functioning labour market, and promoting regional development. www.tem.fi
Sitra is an independent public foundation that operates under the supervision of Parliament and is dedicated to promoting stable and balanced development in Finland, the growth and international competitiveness of the Finnish economy, and cooperation. www.sitra.fi
Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation
Finland’s Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation act as public-private partnerships. Their goal is to develop world-class expertise in strategic fields and generate critical mass. Six centres are currently in operation:
- Energy and the environment: CLEEN Ltd.
- Bioeconomy: Finnhish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC Oy
- Metal products and mechanical engineering: FIMECC Ltd.
- Built environment innovations: RYM Ltd.
- Health and well-being: SalWe Ltd.
- Information and communication industry andservices: TIVIT Ltd.
Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation
Finland’s main publicly funded expert organisation for financing research, development, and innovation. Working together with the business community and researchers, Tekes identifies strategically important areas of R&D and designs programmes to develop new business expertise and international coopera¬tion opportunities. It finances some 1,500 business research and development projects annually, as well as close to 600 public research projects at universities, research institutes, and polytechnics. www.tekes.fi
VTT Technology Research Centre of Finland
VTT is Northern Europe’s largest multidisciplinary research organisation. Its R&D, testing, product approval, certification, and venturing services help customers create new products, production methods and services, and generate new business. www.vtt.fi