Our national economy has felt the full impact of the economic uncertainty for some time now. The Finnish government is trying to identify means of securing economic growth, employment and jobs in a way that maintains our competitiveness. The measures proposed by the government have been consistent and well-targeted. At the same time, it is worth asking whether the most central factor in terms of our national competitiveness – the role of new expertise and innovations – has been put to the back burner. Throughout history, technological progress has generated wealth for nations. Now is the time to use visionary, ambitious and well-focused R&D&I projects to take Finland back to a growth path.
Finland is known for its effective education system and innovation-friendly attitude. We have received consistently high marks in the PISA education comparison results, and the gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) in Sweden and Finland has traditionally been the highest globally. Building upon a strong foundation of product development and highly refined products, our export industry has been reporting great results, and Finland has featured among the top nations in the global innovation index. However, at the moment, Finland’s GERD is declining in both relative and absolute terms. Driven into a corner, both the public and private sector are prepared to focus on short-term benefits instead of the long-term creation of wealth.
Inconsistent investment in research provides poorer economic results than systematic research efforts that leverage our national strengths. Since I took the helm at VTT, I have watched with great concern how numerous profitable research areas have been affected by short-term thinking in terms of both their strategy and financing. Good R&D&I is based on long-term strategies and science; it is well-targeted, ambitious, innovative and profitable. It also involves the courage to terminate programmes that do not take off and re-allocate the resources to more promising new areas. It must have a clear objective. Applied research also needs a visionary view that allows businesses and society to benefit quickly from its results.
Good research is a profitable investment – for both the public and private sector. It is productive and will pay for itself.
The seed for growth can be planted specifically during challenging times, when industries are facing disruptions and economic pressures. Success is created by the ability to foresee and recognise the upcoming shift. Radical innovations created during industrial change plant the seed for success, establishing completely new kinds of business and promoting industrial renewal. Good examples in Finland include mobile communications, forestry bioeconomy and smart machines that utilise ICT. These areas are also where successful companies can be found.
Innovations often require a catalyst in the form of a strong R&D&I player with multi-disciplinary expertise, such as VTT, and cooperation between industries. Large enterprises can also utilise this method to generate new business with radical innovations. For example, Stora Enso and Neste Oil have worked in cooperation to create biodiesel, and Kemira has coordinated a programme developing new water treatment technologies.
Innovations, and radical innovations in particular, are an excellent opportunity to maintain and improve Finland’s competitiveness. They are an integral source of renewal that can help turn our native land, dubbed the “sick man of Europe” by politicians, into a top athlete and a world champion.
We have great potential, but we cannot succeed without proper gear. In this international endurance sport, VTT can act as both a coach and world-class equipment developer.
In cooperation with you, with a positive and optimistic attitude, foreseeing new business opportunities.
Antti VasaraPresident & CEO, VTT Ltd.
Photo: Timo Kauppila