Finland’s national innovation agency Tekes, is to change its name to Business Finland after merging with Finpro, the body that helps Finnish SMEs scale up internationally and encourages foreign direct investment in Finland.
At the same time Tekes’ Research Funding will be rebranded Business Finland Research Funding.
Pekka Soini, director general of Tekes said bringing Finland’s support schemes for research and innovation under one roof will enable a more networked type of innovation, boosting collaborations between research institutes, universities and companies. “It’s better to be served by one entity,” Soini told Science|Business.
Some may regret at the loss of the Tekes name, which is a well-known brand in the innovation world, but Soini thinks any nostalgia will be short-lived. “Business Finland will offer even better services for our customers and it will enrich the innovation ecosystem,” he says.
The responsibilities of Tekes and Finpro will not change, but the way the two are organised and provide services will be harmonised, to combine the needs of local companies with global opportunities for scaling.
A key goal of the new strategy is to provide SMEs with “an even better platform for innovation,” says Soini.
As the EU gears up towards the next Framework Programme for research and innovation, Soini believes that more support is needed for scaling up European innovations globally. Start-ups and SMEs should be able to “scale up faster,” he says.
Tekes is currently funding some 1,500 industrial R&D projects and almost 600 public research projects at universities and research institutes. While funding for basic research will continue as usual, the reform is expected to boost collaborations between research institutes, universities and companies.
More funds will be allocated to innovations in cross-cutting fields, such as ICT and digitalisation of industries, while research organisations will be able to strengthen cooperation with companies on topics of common interest.
One of the foundations on which Business Finland will continue to grow is the huge skills base that was developed during the heyday of Nokia. Thousands of people who lost their jobs after the company withdrew from mobile phone manufacturing, “Are now determined to start new companies and to use their ICT skills in different industries,” says Soini.
This skills base is one of the reasons that the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce was attracted to set up a research and development centre in Turku. Backed by a Tekes grant the centre will carry out research into the use of artificial intelligence in remote and autonomous shipping. The project is already attracting local SMEs, which are providing know-how and expertise in both maritime technology and ICT.
With the formation of Business Finland, the Finnish government hopes to replicate this Rolls Royce story, “attracting international companies to do cross-fertilisation,” Soini says.
Finland is in the midst of reforming its social and healthcare services, presenting another opportunity for ICT experts. The reform is expected to dramatically change the structure of public institutions, reducing costs and digitising services. “It is an opportunity to innovate in this area,” says Soini.