HighTech Finland › Innovation in Finland › All articles in this section   ›  More than just high-tech

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More than just high-tech

HighTech Finland
No country can hope to stay at the front of the field without constantly improving its performance and encouraging greater innovation. The world stands still for no one. Developments such as Aalto University and a network of Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation are just two of the ways in which Finland is aiming to secure its future.

Like many other countries committed to innovation, one of the biggest challenges facing Finland is to learn how to think in new ways, and think differently all the time, not just when ‘inspiration’ strikes.

As the global economy continues to develop and transform itself, it is becoming increasingly clear that simply developing the latest technology is no longer enough. Putting it to work and getting the most out of it calls for a much wider spectrum of knowhow and much wider cooperation between experts across different fields. Companies and organisations need to think ‘outside the box’ much more extensively than they often do today.

And the innovations they develop need the right mix of funding, market intelligence, distribution know-how, efficient business models, and brand expertise to be a real success – together with the right technology of course.

As a growing number of companies that previously concentrated on the hardware aspects of technology begin focusing on the service aspects of their offerings, they will need to change the way they operate – not only internally – but also in terms of their partners and their customers.

Staying ahead

Finland has long been recognised for the success of the work it has done to promote innovation, and the results speak for themselves in many areas, as the articles in HTF show. Looking ahead, however, Finland cannot afford to rest on its laurels. And nor can anyone else for that matter.

Innovations today need the right mix of funding, market intelligence, distribution know-how, and business and brand expertise to be a real success – together with the right technology of course.

This was highlighted in an assessment of Finland’s research and innovation environment by a panel of international experts published in October 2009. This identified a number of shortcomings, most particularly in the area of business support and making it easier for small businesses and start-ups to access the support and incentives that already exist. International links also need to be strengthened in research, the university world, and business, according to the panel’s findings.

Being able to tap into the dynamism of the globalisation process going on around us more effectively is a challenge facing many other countries as well as Finland. Staying ahead of the competition is a must.

A new driver

One of the initiatives that have been taken in Finland to stay ahead is the creation of a new university in Helsinki. This brings together existing strengths in design, business, and technology under one roof to make more of them. Known as Aalto University and merging the capabilities of the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and the Helsinki University of Technology, this began operations at the beginning of 2010.

The university’s New Expertise Workshops – Design Factory, Media Factory, and Service Factory – will bring academic teams, companies, and communities together to work more closer than perhaps they have ever done, to generate and leverage innovation and new ways of teaching and learning.

Greater sustainability

Given the speed and scale of the developments taking place globally today, monitoring them is very important to understanding what is driving change. One of the fundamental trends under way – and one highlighted by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, in a review last year – is the growing emphasis on the need for greater sustainability and reducing unnecessary wastage of the world’s dwindling natural resources.

Addressing this challenge will call for a range of new innovations based on a much lower level of resource usage than we accept today, innovations that have a smaller footprint across the entire life cycle of products and services. The need for these types of innovations is perhaps most obvious in areas such as renewable energy, but ultimately it is also likely to be felt across all the products and services that people interact with in one way or another.

Clean technology

The simple fact is that if the world continues to use energy as it does today, meeting future demand will simply be unsustainable – environmentally, economically, and socially.

Finland has long been recognised for the success of its work in promoting innovation, and the results speak for themselves in many areas.

Finland has already made great strides in developing energy-efficient systems and technologies, and is committed to doing more in this area. The country is expected to be one of the fastest-growing renewable energy markets in Europe over the next five years, and wants to be one of the EU’s leading users of renewable energy per capita by 2020.

A number of initiatives are under way to promote the development of environmental technologies and services in Finland, including the Cleantech programme and the new Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation that has been created to focus on advanced R&D in the energy and environment sector, alongside the other five centres already in place.

Known as CLEEN, its research agenda will address issues such as carbon-neutral energy generation, distributed energy systems, sustainable fuels, smart grids, efficient energy use, resource-efficient production technologies and services, recycling, and waste management.

Graph: R&D investments in various countries worldwide.

Graph: Finnish exports by industry

Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation

Finland now has six centres of this type, in the following fields:

  • Forest cluster: Forestcluster Ltd.
  • Information and communication industry and services: TIVIT Ltd.
  • Metal products and mechanical engineering: FIMECC Ltd.
  • Energy and the environment: CLEEN Ltd.
  • Built environment innovations: RYM Ltd.
  • Health and well-being: SalWe Ltd.

Who’s who in promoting innovation in Finland

Ministry of Employment and the Economy 
www.tem.fi 

  • Created by combining the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Trade and Industry at the beginning of 2008, the ministry is responsible for the foundation underpinning entrepreneurship and innovation, ensuring a well-functioning labour market and people’s employability, and regional development.

Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation 
www.tekes.fi 

  • Tekes is the main publicly funded expert organisation for financing and maintaining networks for a wide range of public and private R&D&I projects, and promotes cooperation between the business and academic communities, as well as between producers, suppliers, customers, and end-users.

Sitra 
www.sitra.fi 

  • Sitra is an independent public foundation that operates under the supervision of Parliament and is dedicated to promoting the economic prosperity and future success of Finland.

Finnvera 
www.finnvera.fi 

  • Finnvera is a specialist financing company owned by the State of Finland with o¤ cial Export Credit Agency (ECA) status that provides businesses with loans, guarantees, venture capital investment, and export credit guarantees.

VTT Technology Research Centre of Finland
www.vtt.fi 

  • VTT is the largest multidisciplinary research organisation in Northern Europe, offering R&D, testing, product approval, certification, information and venturing services that help customers create new products, production methods and services, and generate new business.

Academy of Finland 
www.aka.fi 

  • The Academy of Finland is the prime funding agency for basic research in Finland, dedicated to advancing scientific research and its application, supporting international scientific cooperation, acting as an expert resource in science policy issues, and allocating funding to research and other areas of science.

Finland in the top 10

  • Second-most competitive country in the EU and number one in R&D, innovation, and sustainable development (Lisbon Review 2006)
  • Sixth-most competitive country globally in 2009 (WEF, The Global Competitiveness Report, 2009-2010)
  • Top of the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index in terms of air and water quality, scientific and technological excellence, and environmental governance (Yale and Columbia Universities: 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index)
  • Second-best performer worldwide in terms of gender equality (WEF: The Global Gender Gap Report 2008)
  • Second in the Well-being of Nations Index (The Well-being of Nations. A Country-by- Country Index of Quality of Life and the Environment)
  • First among OECD countries for excellence among young people in the sciences, and second in mathematics and reading (OECD, Programme for International Student Assessment PISA 2006).

Finland in figures

  • Independent since 1917 and a member of the Eurozone since 2002
  • Population: 5.3 million
  • Sixth largest country in Europe with a surface area of 338,000 square kilometres, 188,000 lakes, and 179,000 islands
  • Population density: 15.5 people per square kilometre
  • R&D as a proportion of GDP: 3.5%
  • 21 universities
  • Proportion of highly educated people in the general population: 28%.
> Peter Herring
(Published in HighTech Finland 2010)