Merja Hiltunen: Let's work together and learn from others – also in Europe


Over the past couple months, I have travelled a great deal around Eastern Asia and been impressed with the region's economic growth, as well as the speed at which development has taken place there recently.

In Asia, I found a strong ability to learn from others and from key international partners. Application of expertise and technology in innovation activities is a part of everyday business life. The challenges there are the same as those we face in Finland or Europe; aging, the population's health and wellbeing, urban development and continuous renewing of the ability to innovate. It is true though that these social challenges are evident in a much larger scope in other parts of the world than they are in Finland.

According to a new report by the European Commission, Sweden is Europe's most innovative economy. Recent development was measured with a new innovation indicator, and Sweden's superiority was evident in its ability to transition ideas to the market.

Experts at Tekes and our Swedish partner organisation Vinnova work in close cooperation in order to find the best new practices and develop these in innovation funding. Expert exchanges between our organisations are continuous, and our operating principles are open and confidential. I admire the Swedes' interactive and relaxed way of working. Swedish leadership and cooperation exude the strength with which one rises to the top position in European innovation statistics.

Finns have also gotten good news from Brussels this autumn. Upper secondary school student Perttu Pölönen won first prize in the EU Contest for Young Scientists with his innovation Music O'Clock. In addition to money, Pölönen's prize included an invitation to the after party for the Nobel Gala in Stockholm, Sweden. Versatile entrepreneurship demonstrated by young people has clearly come to stay in Finland. I strongly believe this.

Finland's participation in the EU's Framework Programme has for the most part been a success story for only a few businesses. The top 10% of participants in the present framework programme receive as much as 84% of all funding. However, there are opportunities for many others. New participants are needed as the premise for the soon to begin Horizon 2020 programme is a completely new one: the research and innovation programme is very solution-centred.

In addition to traditional R&D projects and expert mobility, we need innovation activities, i.e. public procurements, pilots and demonstration projects. Now, enterprises have the opportunity to receive risk funding (capital financing, loans) and special financing for small and medium-sized enterprises. When national investments in research and innovations experience a downward trend, it becomes more and more important to meticulously utilise the opportunities afforded by the EU.

Tekes's experts and programme managers are preparing for active committee work as part of the Horizon 2020 programme; the national programme support has been built based on a network-like operating model. The objective set for Tekes's strategic programme activities is the utilisation of international funding and, now, the focus is especially on EU funding. Tekes wants its clients to be familiar with EU funding opportunities.

The Swedes are ahead of us in the EU's innovation statistics. Even so, I still often get asked: why are you Finns so innovative?

I believe that an adequate sort of scarcity brings about an increase in innovativeness. Young people, an entrepreneurial-spirit and education will also bring added vigour to renewal. Our basic skills have not disappeared either, despite the decline in jobs. We Finns can learn from others, and others want to learn from us. We just need to trust in the future and in success.

The Horizon 2020 programme's objectives fit exceptionally well with our prospects for this autumn and next year. Our objectives are to ensure new jobs and improve competitiveness. People's attitudes towards learning and cooperation determine who will be the most agile to overcome important challenges. Networking helps people learn, and by working together we can make amazing things happen, also in Europe and the EU.

Merja Hiltunen is Director of Strategic Support for Programmes and Networking Activities at Tekes.

Soile Thalén

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