Of course Finland can’t keep up with the Silicon Valley but it has to make progress to stop the economy decreasing. Startups and changing production are thereby central.
On the first day of the programme, we heard that Finns are really good at underrating themselves and see better what has to be improved instead of being proud of their success. Well, that’s quite true: How often did I hear “We could do better” in the past ten days? A bit too often for a well-performing nation like Finland.
On the other hand, Finnish people are not closing their eyes to changes that could be a problem in the future – or are already ones. So why is Finland losing its competitiveness and faces a huge challenge? At least because the former flagship company Nokia lost its supremacy, and Finland’s economy struggles because the world operates with more tech instead of paper. The exports of goods (wood!) are decreasing and the growing exports of services are still not big enough to compensate that. No wonder that the Finnish GDP is not doing well. Okay, Finnish underestimation again: The GDP is still three points above the EU average.
But is it realistic to expect an upward trend and an important place in the rankings again?
The country is under pressure and there are just two ways to improve the situation: A renewal of traditional branches and/or compensating the losses with gains in the service industry.
“We’ll use the forest somehow, it’s an endless resource,” Finns are convinced. It’s good that they know their strength – I mean: 60% of the territory is covered by it and one out of six Finns owns forest. So they focus on sustainability and try to re-use as much material as they can: The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, for example, is focused on investments in companies and startups which care about recycling and resource wisdom. ZenRobotics is a company that has developed the world’s first robotic waste sorting system.
And what about hot new ideas now after I mentioned Helsinki’s lively startup scene already here and here ? Three years ago students at Aalto University founded “Startup Sauna”. It hosts great startups like Tespack which provides a light, high efficiency Solar Smartpack. Furthermore, the charming industrial building of Startup Sauna offers free (and awesomely furnished!) co-working space for anyone, organizes one of Europe’s leading startup and investor conferences and offers an internship programme. At the heart of Startup Sauna is a five-week accelerator programme, to which by the last bidding 550 of the most promising startups from the Nordics, Eastern Europe and Russia applied.
We heard in one of our lectures today that the Finns have been doubtful and cautious for a long time but that they are now more optimistic than they’ve ever been before.
They have a reason to be.
The industry has never been easy and even when people look longingly back to the golden days: Economics are changing everywhere. And Finland isn’t afraid of facing that.
Photos: Mohammed Alfaraj, Fabienne Kinzelmann, Johanna Unha-Kaprali