Director, international operations, Invest in Finland / Business Finland
Companies are always looking for the ultimate source of sustainable growth – what is the game changer that provides the crucial competitive edge for us? More and more, the answer lies in innovation. But what environments are ideal for nurturing innovation? And what does Finland have to do with all of this?
The main principle here is simple enough: an economy grows from ideas, education and fixed investments. Professor Matti Pohjola from Aalto University has thoroughly researched the seeds of economic growth and maintains that, since 1860, two–thirds of growth has resulted from ideas and one–third from education. The role of fixed investments, on the other hand, during the past 160 years has been minimal.
Ideas, or rather, commercially viable ideas, are what we know as innovation, but it seems that we do not fully appreciate how these innovations come to exist. We romanticise a lone genius, hard at work in his lab, until he experiences the inevitable “light bulb moment” and storms off to conquer the world with his invention. The reality, however, is a lot less Hollywood and a lot more collaboration.
An overwhelming majority of all innovations are born in ecosystems. According to the Industrial Innovation in Transition report (2017), 96 per cent of innovations are created in ecosystems, meaning, in essence, that creativity is very much a team effort.
The new recipe for innovation success calls for various players – be they academic or corporate, established or startup – to come together and work on an existing problem to find a commercial solution. The power of partnerships is also the power behind innovation.
96 per cent of innovations are created in ecosystems, meaning, in essence, that creativity is very much a team effort.
This is where Finland comes in. The spirit of Finnovation is very much rooted in ecosystem excellence: here, universities and research institutes routinely co-operate with various enterprises, establishing partnerships and programmes which lead to scientific and commercial breakthroughs. What is remarkable about these ecosystems is that they’re open to outsiders, too – foreign companies are invited to join them and contribute.
The “secret fuel” for these ecosystems is openness and an equal opportunity approach. The best idea can come from anybody – and thanks to low hierarchies, there’s a good chance that an idea from the “engine room” can make its way to the corner office. Finns take pride in their low thresholds, and for a good reason. Everyone can participate, create and add value – this is something written in the core DNA of Finnish business.
Now, heading deeper into the 2020s, it’s worthwhile asking: where is innovation going next? Without a working-condition crystal ball, this is a hard call to make, but for Finland there are at least three growth areas where you can expect big news: smart energy, smart transport and smart health.
Especially international companies with tie-ins to these sectors would do well to look into the related Finnish ecosystems and find out if Finland could be the land of opportunity, innovation and growth for them, as well.