Innovation is now a very common expression to hear not only in technical discussions, but also in the ordinary conversation in the pub over a beer. In recent months in the Czechia, we have also heard about innovation in the context of a new national innovation strategy with the slogan “Czech Republic, The Country For The Future.” It follows that we increasingly see innovation as something necessary for future well-being. That is why, in mid-June 2019, we went to Finland together with several representatives of the technology transfer centres of Czech universities and innovation centres. Finland is one of the world’s most innovative countries according to various innovation rankings. At the same time, Finns are ranked as the second most satisfied nation in the world. Could there be a connection between these facts?
As part of our week-long stay in Helsinki, together with our friends from Helsinki Collaboration Services, the department of the University of Helsinki responsible for cooperation with industry, we visited almost all the key players in Helsinki’s innovation ecosystem, took inspirational lectures on business cooperation with universities, and, with the help of the Czech Embassy, also arranged meetings between representatives of Czech universities and Finnish firms.
For example, a visit to the VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland) where we had a chance to look at special laboratories built in a bomb shelter, or the Terrko Health Hub, a hub and accelerator of medical start-ups. Next, we could get to know the start-up Disior Analytics which i based in Terrko, using VR/AR for precision medicine, or NewCo, which provides support to start-ups. As part of our lectures, we learned about the financing of technology projects directly from Business Finland and found out what Spark Finland brings or how academic start-ups are created with the help of Helsinki Innovation Services.
We have thus experienced firsthand an environment where academic workplaces have orders of magnitude higher revenues from cooperation with industry than Czech workplaces, where only projects with international ambition and a chance to succeed in the international market are publicly supported (and even strict evaluation criteria correspond) and where cooperation is of higher value than competition. Looking at the functioning system that we would all at least like to approach, we wondered: How is that possible? What is the key to success? As part of the joint discussion, we then came to three factors, namely trust, openness and NOKIA.
Trust among innovation ecosystem partners naturally translates into trust in public administration in Finland. Although there is significantly higher taxation of labour in Finland, people do not mind because they see that they get value for it. One key to the success of the Finnish innovation ecosystem is thus a generally high level of confidence.
Openness is also closely linked to trust, in three different forms. The first is networking, with everyone we have had the opportunity to speak to stressing that networking allows them to find suitable partners and clients. Second, openness in the Finnish innovation system can also be seen as a need to succeed internationally, manifested not only in companies but also in academia (VTT is the most successful organisation in prestigious European Horizon projects across Europe). Third, openness is linked to the history of NOKIA, which was one of the first firms in the world to apply the open innovation concept. It has created a unique corporate culture that, after the bankruptcy that hit the company a few years ago, has been channeled through former employees into new start-ups and organizations that foster an innovative environment.
As a result, the decline of a once-well-known brand has meant unexpected support for the innovation ecosystem. Moreover, former employees are still in contact with each other, providing another powerful tool to effectively find suitable partners for innovation. Among other things, Finland is known as one of the world’s hubs in the field of medical technology, to which NOKIA has also made a major contribution, having intensively funded the development of technologies for health care in its glory days. And these technologies are coming to life today with the emergence of new start-ups founded by former NOKIA employees.
Finland was the poorest country in Europe at the beginning of its autonomy. Today is Finland one of its leaders. We can take inspiration from Finnish approach to education, social values and innovation and attempt a similar miracle that has succeeded this 5 million-strong country in the cold north.