Neither the world, nor Finland lack for new business ideas. It is also gratifying that there is no shortage of capital available for strong ideas. We were all in agreement about this when we gathered to discuss Finland's possibilities for growth with a group of visionaries.
Taking part in a panel discussion with me on September 2 were Emilia Kullas (EVA), Mårten Mickos (HackerOne), Risto Murto (Varma), Leena Mörttinen (Ministry of Finance), Risto Siilasmaa (F-Secure), and Anu Partanen (Nordic West Office). We pondered how Finland could be turned into a global front-runner in growth. Emilia Kullas made the pertinent point that Finland has innovation power. Excellent technological skills and knowledge and first-class research abound in this small nation, which is the happiest in the world. However, Risto Murto asked pointedly if our financial greed – the ability to make money – is sufficient.
I feel that entrepreneurship in Finland is in the acceleration phase, and now we need to make sure that there is enough momentum. A possibility that deserves more attention in Finland is synergy between research and business. We need better capabilities to combine the experiences and business acumen of both researchers and those in the business world. This autumn at VTT we are continuing to do this by bringing companies and research projects together at VTT Disruption Lab events.
Mårten Mickos, who works in Silicon Valley, stressed that institutions do not build companies, and that entrepreneurship is dependent on courageous individuals. According to Mickos, we do not need to compare Finland and Silicon Valley with each other, even though Finland has plenty of can-do spirit. So let's use it.
Research illuminates future possibilities and catalyses cooperation
I see the illumination of the possibilities for the future and the different paths that are available for the future as an important societal mission of research. Therefore, I compiled a list of exponential hope out of five global growth areas with great potential. I am sure that these fields will grow into significant sectors and that successful businesses will emerge in these fields. But when and where will this happen? Will we in Finland be involved - possibly even as guiding stars?
Will we in Finland be involved - possibly even as guiding stars?
At VTT we are developing new technology for these fields together with our university and corporate partners. This is precisely what is crucial for growth; public funding and research reduce the risks of entrepreneurship through the better development of new technology. Companies scale and commercialise an idea, and when companies invest, hire people, and prosper, the effectiveness of technology is implemented. Some new technology and patents work as seeds for the emergence of new high-growth enterprises. Actors in research, such as VTT, work together with financiers who can invest in promising technologies and spin-off companies.
Important opportunities emerge for enterprises through network-type cooperation, in which both those conducting research and actors in the public and private sectors work on behalf of a shared vision. We are bringing various actors together into the innovation ecosystems of different fields, such as Smart Otaniemi, which is developing a smart energy system with the help of about 100 actors. The goal is both to resolve questions of carbon neutral energy production and to create solutions for export onto the global market. Research in Finland is not trapped in a bubble. It is strongly linked with European cooperation through the EU, among other things.
Companies are not alone
Good ideas are nice, but if the right people are missing, there are no results. As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the concerns raised in our panel discussion was if there are enough skilled people committed to business-oriented ideas. For example, Risto Siilasmaa said that he is primarily looking for good teams and product launches regardless of the field. For some people, entrepreneurship is a natural feature from an early age, but it is also possible to start from research, and grow into being an entrepreneur, for example. VTT researchers are supported in the VTT LaunchPad start-up incubator to build an enterprise-oriented team around research, to create contacts with funders, and finally, to set up a spin-off company. VTT has been giving rise to science-based spin-off companies for years. This is also an important channel in which research can benefit society. One promising example is Solar Foods, founded by Pasi Vainikka and Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, both from VTT, which develops food protein out of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Will it solve the global food crisis?
At this turning point we in Finland need to latch on to fields of the future and to invest especially in giving rise to new solutions. Leena Mörttinen pointed out that the pandemic is increasing the need for public funding, which could bring with it the idea of supporting that which is old. However, now it is important to invest in technologies that solve future problems, because that is where growth comes from.
Just one researcher or one entrepreneur can give rise to magnificent enterprises. We at VTT are creating innovations and growth. We want to even out the path for companies to produce solutions and services that correspond to both current and future needs, such as stopping climate change, sustainable food production, or the ageing of the population. Only the sky is the limit. I invite all Finnish actors to join this courageous and revitalising cooperation.
Here you can watch our discussion (available in Finnish)