Safety and Security

SURMA: Global Access Program (GAP)

Help for the difficult, but lucrative US market

Finnish companies seeing to enter international markets are supported by Tekes in many ways, and one of the most interesting of these is the Global Access Program (GAP).  In the programme, companies are given the opportunity to benefit from the skills of students of the prestigious Anderson School of Management of the University of California, Los Angeles, who have earned their spurs in working life, and are studying for the MBA degree at their university.

A typical participant in the GAP programme is a company whose product or service is in good shape, but which needs advice and consultation on entering the US market. A local group of MBA students examines the company's products and business model under a magnifying glass, utilises local contacts and market knowledge, and tells the company their views on what would be the best way to move forward.

"The most typical comment coming from the Americans is a familiar one: the technical skills are first-class, but the activity is too engineer-driven", says Minh Lam, who manages the GAP programme at Tekes.

"Go-to-market strategies are typically honed in the GAP program. And sometimes the outcome may be that entering the US market is not feasible at all, and that it would be better to aim somewhere else. In some areas competition is simply too great, and in products and services of of the security business, for instance, the strong regulation of the sector could prove problematic. Such an outcome, which is negative as such, can be very valuable for a company."

GAP has operated for 13 years, and more than 100 Finnish companies have been involved in it over the years. Applications are accepted twice a year – the next time will be in the end of September or early October of 2013. 

"This is an exceptionally successful win-win-win arrangement. The companies benefit from the expertise of young, but experienced professionals, the students gain experience from international business cases, and Tekes is able to give efficient help to Finnish companies on the American market", Lam says.



Surma survived

One of the companies taking part in the programme is the ominously named Surma ("Death" in Finnish). The company, which has also taken part in the Tekes Safety and Security programme, develops software that allows designers of ships to better consider the safety features of a ship they are designing – for instance, the vessel's ability to cope with damage. The Surma software follows the progress of the design of the ship and shows how changes that are made would affect the vessel's safety.

Surma originally developed the software under a commission from the Finnish Navy. Internationalisation was the next logical step. Help was sought from the GAP programme – the Surma people had their eyes on possible orders from the US Navy. One of the key insights of the GAP programme was that instead of military officials, it was a better idea to approach civilian shipbuilders which sell products to the Navy.

"The project was very positive and valuable for us. The eyes of an outsider were able to notice things that we would never have thought of ourselves. I warmly recommend the programme to companies aiming at the US market", Surma CEO Kristian Tornivaara says.


Looking toward the rest of the world as well

In many fields the USA is still overwhelmingly the largest and most lucrative market area in the world, but as the structures of the world economy change, Tekes changes along with them. Tekes has started a Fudan – iLab programme modelled after GAP with the Fudan University in China, and the model is being tested on a small scale in Singapore as well in the UCLA – NUS Management Practicum programme.

Minh Lam cannot rule out the possibility that similar programmes might be started in other emerging market areas.


Further information

Minh Lam
Programme manager, GAP, Tekes
Tel. +358 50 5577 743
minh.lam (at)

Kristian Tornivaara
CEO, Surma
Tel. +358 500 515 007
kristian.tornivaara (at)


Author: Tommi Niittymies, Netprofile