Mika Lintilä, Finnish Minister for Economic Affairs, talks about Finnish innovation strongholds, the importance of international cooperation for growth and the upcoming Finnish EUREKA chairmanship.
Photo: Laura Kotila, valtioneuvoston kanslia
- Mr Lintilä, your country is clearly one of Europe’s innovation leaders. In your opinion, what is the secret to this leadership position?
- Finland has invested many decades in knowledge and expertise as a key success factor. There is a common understanding that education, research and innovation support the well-being of citizens through renewal of the economy and societal reforms. Alongside with a solid knowledge base, I wish to emphasise the close interaction between enterprises, research, public actors and other societal parties. This is key to need-based innovations and to relevance of research. We have always emphasised multi-stakeholder collaboration in our innovation policy measures.
- One of the most widespread characteristics Finland is famous for is its excellent and innovative education system. How important is human capital for the economy?
- Indeed, highly educated people and a high standard of expertise are enablers for innovation and thus keys to success. Take the example of Nokia: Restructuring of the mobile devices cluster in Finland has happened simultaneously with the growing need for digital skills in all corners of our economy and society. So, having had these highly-skilled and experienced people available to boost digital competences in other companies and branches has certainly had a positive impact to the renewal of the Finnish economy. The ex-Nokia employees have also established dozens of companies, of which many are born-global by nature.
Investment to high-quality education forms the basis for a long-term research and innovation policy. According to the Strategic Programme of Prime Minister Sipilä’s Government, knowledge and education continue to be key priorities. The objective is, among others, to encourage people for life-long learning, to modernize learning environments, to reform the higher education system as well as to improve the quality and effectiveness of research and innovation.
EUREKA is a good example of a pan-European R&D framework that promotes internationalisation of Finnish companies.
- Public support for the internationalisation of Finnish companies is organised under the umbrella ‘Team Finland’ – can you explain what ‘Team Finland’ means?
- Team Finland is first of all a governance exercise to increase synergy and coordination among the various public services relating to internationalisation of Finnish businesses. In practice this means focusing on companies targeting growth on international markets, rendering a seamless package of services to them. This has meant several improvements to the delivery of these services in Finland as well as abroad. E.g. collaboration between Finland’s embassies and business development agencies in the various hubs of our global network goes very smoothly today.
Team Finland also means a common brand towards our clients: the client-companies do not need to understand how the machinery in the back-office works. Team Finland was created with this purpose, effectively a single entry point to innovation and internationalization services for companies looking for a swift and quick international launch of their businesses and innovations. Meeting this promise is challenging but we will continue to develop our services to this end.
- Why is internationalisation so important for Finland?
In the global economy, national borders do not define innovation collaboration. Even if some of the world’s leading science is conducted in Finland, only a fraction of all new knowledge is produced here. When developing new solutions, we need to be able to exploit the latest knowledge produced elsewhere and connect with relevant partners globally.
International cooperation is also a means for pooling resources and making strategic partnerships. This is especially important for small R&I intensive economies like Finland.
EUREKA is a good example of a pan-European R&D framework that promotes internationalisation of Finnish companies. Based on this cooperation, Finnish companies have been able to create close links and networks in Europe. We joined EUREKA already ten years before Finland’s access to the EU and we believe that the experience with EUREKA paved our way to join other European R&D frameworks later on.
- ‘Scaling up’ for businesses is a problem all over Europe. How do you tackle this in Finland?
- Scaling up is indeed a crucial issue for Finland’s enterprise policy, like elsewhere in Europe. We have a palette of public financing instruments, of which loans by the State’s enterprise financing company Finnvera are the most relevant. Also, we have been actively seeking ways to exploit the European financing instruments like EFSI and other possibilities under EIB.
However, scaling up a business is not only a matter of availability of financing. Actually, the bigger challenge is to create sound business proposals to the market and have the capacity to deliver them. Due to the small domestic market, scaling up challenges Finnish enterprises to grow internationally. Thus, improving competences for doing international business is in the heart of Finland’s economic policy.
- Finland has been a EUREKA member since its beginnings in 1985, and has always been one of the most active countries in terms of projects participation and funding. What is the added value of EUREKA for you?
- Indeed Finland has been with EUREKA ever since its beginning. As said before, it has been obvious for a long time that international cooperation and contacts are crucial for innovation. EUREKA was the first important multi-lateral platform for intergovernmental innovation cooperation in Europe, with substantial value added for Finland right from the beginning. Even today, with the extensive ERA activities of the European Union, EUREKA has a clear role based on its live linkage to industries and national policy administrations. Activities like the Eurostars programme and EUREKA Clusters show that EUREKA has been able to keep up with new challenges during the past 30 years.
- In July 2017, Finland will be taking over the EUREKA Chairmanship from Spain. What do you want to achieve in your Chairmanship?
- To put it simple: we want to pave the road for continuing success of EUREKA. This means above all three things. Firstly, we need to see that EUREKA always takes the needs and expectations of project participants as a starting point. EUREKA must be efficient and concentrate on matters that are important for companies seeking growth and development through international cooperation in innovation: there’s no room for red tape or poor services for customers and stakeholders. Secondly, we want to establish EUREKA on the map of European Research and Innovation Area even more clearly in the future, clarifying its role and offering. And lastly, one of EUREKAs assets is its international dimension, stretching out almost everywhere in Europe, and also to some key countries outside. There’s a clear potential to develop this global dimension of EUREKA even further.