Finnish Ambassador to London hosts digital innovation and regional HQ event

“Digital Innovation and Regional HQ Opportunities in Finland” was the name of the game at Helsinki Business Hub and Invest in Finland’s London event. Delegates heard how and why the next stage of their companies’ development could take place in Finland at an event held on 9 March 2017 at the Finnish Ambassador’s Residence in London. Jo Murray was there.

Finnish Ambassador Päivi Luostarinen welcomed technology company delegates to her London residence, calling Finland “a technology super power”. Listing Finland’s achievements, she cited: SMS, wearable technology, the Linux operating system and Angry Birds. She said Finland is an R&D hot spot and a testing ground for the next big thing. To accommodate that ambition, Team Finland was at the delegates’ service, she said.

To add to the list of Finnish technology company accolades, Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, CEO of Helsinki Business Hub, brought up Nokia – perhaps the most recognisable Finnish brand – and went on to deal with the perceptions of what Finland has to offer versus the reality. She pointed to Finland’s number 1 position for its digital skills throughout its society, its ICT specialisms and its vibrant start-up eco-system. On top of all that there is the annual Helsinki Slush event that attracts 17,500 attendees, 1 million live-stream viewers, 2,300 start-ups, 1,100 venture capitalists and 600 journalists – from over 120 countries worldwide.

Anticipating preconceived ideas about Finland, she conceded that Finland is a small market but it is part of the Baltic Sea Region (comprising 100m people), Europe (743m people) and the European side of Russia (another 110m people).

Marja-Liisa also debunked the notion that costs are high in Finland, commenting that Finland is cheaper than Copenhagen, Stockholm and Berlin in terms of operating a regional HQ. “We are not always the most expensive,” she said, adding that in terms of combined costs, Helsinki is actually very well positioned.

And it is a highly accessible city. “Thanks to Finnair’s strategy, we are a gateway both ways,” said Marja-Liisa, commenting on Helsinki’s location as a provider of the shortest route to Europe from Asia. Accessibility is a key point; after all Lenovo, Huawei, Intel and Microsoft all have Finnish R&D hubs, using the Nordic location as an R&D launch pad.

So what are the key investment drivers? She said there are 500 tech start-ups in the Helsinki region alone. Corporate venture partnerships are also on the cards and the sheer volume of FDI projects witnessed in Finland makes it a very attractive location for others looking at the next stage of their companies’ expansion. And let’s not forget that there is a human element to choosing Helsinki over other Nordic cities. Education is free, it is a safe and stable community, it is environmentally sound and, importantly for British and Americans, English is widely spoken – as is Swedish in addition to the mother tongue.

Many of these messages were reinforced by Patsy van Hove, Senior Manager, IBM Global Services Plant Location International (PLI). Her company advises companies on their location decisions; and also works with cities, countries and regions to help them see their locations through the eyes of an investor. She has recently worked with Helsinki Business Hub vis à vis the Chinese market.

She said: “Projects from Asian companies into Europe have been increasing steadily and creating jobs,” adding that almost 90% of those jobs are from just five Asian countries. Today, Finland is among the top 20 countries for Asia-Pacific FDI investments – in fact Finland comes 14th. But the value of jobs created in Finland is high, she added, in terms of the value of the sectors those jobs are created in and the level of remuneration afforded to those roles. “Helsinki is a key destination for ICT-related R&D activities,” she said, commenting that companies from China, India and South Korea were especially interested in locating in, and generating jobs in, the Finnish capital city.

In the case study IBM-PLI carried out for Helsinki Business Hub, Helsinki’s competitive position for digital innovation was fully explored in relation to a high-end ICT company from Greater China carrying out R&D. It was found that the critical location drivers for such a Chinese company were: market access; relevant skills; industry presence; and technology gains. Other factors included: partners; synergies; and track record. The living environment also scored highly.

In addition to all these attributes, IBM-PLI found that Helsinki’s confirmed strengths include: a high level of patent activity and good IP protection; a high volume of available engineering students with good science and maths education; improving visa policies; and well developed IT and telecoms skills generally.

To complement the statistics and the “reasons why” came three presentations from hands-on professionals with intimate experience of the Finnish market as an R&D location and regional HQ.

Michael Haralson is the Deputy General Manager of Techcode Finland. He said that Techcode’s raison d’être is to provide a global network to start-ups, and that Techcode Finland very much works within that ethos. “A big trend is digitation – it permeates everything from healthcare to the cloud to smart cities – and Finland is expert in this,” he said. Praising the thriving technology start-up community in Finland, Michael said that innovation, by its essence, is technical and Finland knows all about that.

His presentation was beautifully endorsed by Kenneth Ma, CEO, Kuan Inc – a British fintech company that had found a safe haven in Helsinki, having been disappointed by licensing delays and the absence of funding in London. His company’s blockchain technology was fully understood by both Helsinki’s technology community and its banks. Not only was a licence promptly forthcoming, but so too was €0.5 million Tekes funding. He also praised the honest, humble and shy Finnish people; and was pleasantly surprised by the Helsinki rents.

Last to the podium was Huber Hu, CEO of Powervision Europe, a fast-growing Chinese robotics company with a Helsinki EU HQ and an R&D centre in Tampere. The CEO also had plenty of previous experience of the Finnish market from his time at Huawei. From both the big Chinese company and the small Chinese company point of view, Huber was able to endorse Finland: “Even as a small company in Finland you still get a lot of support,” he said.

Calling Finland a “hidden Heaven” and “an amazing gateway for Chinese companies”, Huber was generous in his praise for Finland and its rich R&D resources.

Perhaps the last word should go to Antti Aumo, Head of Invest in Finland. He asked rhetorically why companies come to Finland and what do they find. He summed up the Finnish market as comprising: companies that make high-tech products; companies that create enabling technologies; and companies that use technology to create a world-class business.” That just about says it all.