Finland is an R&D hotspot

Text Martti Ristimäki    Photos Junnu Lusa

Finland is an R&D hotspot

Funding

To build new growth stories, we need to find new competence areas. Director General Ilona Lundström at the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is convinced that growth funding becomes available when companies have the desire and prowess to grow.

Funding

To build new growth stories, we need to find new competence areas. Director General Ilona Lundström at the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is convinced that growth funding becomes available when companies have the desire and prowess to grow.

To build new growth stories, we need to find new competence areas. Director General Ilona Lundström at the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is convinced that growth funding becomes available when companies have the desire and prowess to grow.

When Ilona Lundström worked at Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, she had an up-close view of company growth and ambitious research and development projects. She has a strong opinion about the factors needed for growth.

“New success stories stem from a combination of demand and strengths. To build new growth stories, entirely new competence areas must be found,” says Lundström, Director General of the Enterprise and Innovation Department.

The Finnish Government aims to stimulate economic growth, boost employment, and even double the exports of SMEs. All this adds to the challenge of enhancing business growth and internationalisation and increasing domestic and foreign investments.

“Thanks to Nokia, we have strong digital expertise. GE Healthcare, in turn, is investing here because significant health technology know-how has been developed in Finland.”

IBM has invested in Finland many times. The most recent investment is a collaboration with Tekes to develop artificial intelligence in healthcare. Last year GE Healthcare announced that it is moving its development of medical data communication technology to Finland.

Health technology’s good reputation

Behind the high-level expertise in health technology is the Instrumentarium success story, among others, but Lundström also credits the Nordic wellbeing society. Advanced healthcare has created strong domestic markets and a good reputation for the companies in the sector.

As an example, Lundström points to the successful Noona service in the US market, developed to support cancer patients.

“Noona wouldn’t have been created without close collaboration with the top Finnish experts in cancer treatment.”

“I sometimes hear people say that Finland is the best-kept secret. We have to do more marketing around the world,” Lundström notes.

Lundstrom-UK

“Thanks to Nokia, Finland has strong digital expertise. GE Healthcare, in turn, is investing here because significant health technology know-how has been developed in Finland.” says Ilona Lundström, Director General, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Momentum from legislation and procurements

Lundström says that progressive legislation can accelerate the creation and success of new business. She strongly believes that the Transport Code, for example, will provide this kind of growth impetus.

Deregulation often drives growth and renewal. Lundström cites the deregulation of store opening hours as an example of this. However, regulation can also work in a favourable way. Lundström points out that there is promising development of Europe’s energy markets because of new laws and change targets set by politicians.

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New success stories stem from a combination of demand and strengths.

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Ilona Lundström

Along with legislation, Lundström sees big opportunities in public procurements, in which there is still plenty of room for practical development. She promises that, as Director General, she will influence officials in all ways so that, within the framework permitted by legislation, public procurements would be used to promote economic policy goals, like new business and the market access of SMEs, more boldly than today.

Does the new Director General plan to become a travelling promoter in these matters?

“Our work here at the Ministry is sort of like that of a pumping station,” Lundström chuckles.

“The Ministry and its agencies and organisations collaboratively produce material for use in the entrepreneurial environment. We draft several smart alternatives for policy makers. At the same time, our job is to raise awareness.”

A thirst for more growth

Lundström notes that she is an advocate of less is more when it comes to funding.

“Austerity is a virtue in state financing. At the same time, it’s good to keep in mind that also other countries fund research and product development. Some are generous, some are most surreptitious when giving subsidies. Funding is part of international competition.”

In Lundström’s experience, when it comes to company growth and internationalisation, a thirst for growth and strong expertise are more determinant than funding.

“Funding often follows the desire and prowess to grow. Companies tend to obtain the additional know-how that’s needed before the decisive push for growth. It might be an external Board member with international market expertise. A founding entrepreneur might transfer the CEO’s duties to a professional executive. After that, funding too falls into place,” Lundström says.

The way Lundström sees it, what Finland needs is specifically companies that are thirsty for growth and are ready to take giant steps forward. She has praise for the communities like the Slush events for startups and Kasvuryhmä for growth-oriented companies.

“Five Slush events and six Kasvuryhmä Kaski days are needed. Then we can start talking about a popular movement,” Lundström says.

Orienteering guerrilla

Why does Ilona Lundström do orienteering only from spring to June? The reason is the Venlojen Viesti orienteering competition that is held every year in mid-June. Lundström says she trains for this classic event, but the rest of the year she enjoys ordinary jogging and spending time outdoors to counterbalance her work.

Lundström first participated in the Venlojen Viesti as part of the Tekes team and then as part of Team Finland. She talks with enthusiasm about the competition and her team. The same energy and positivity carry over to her personality in general. This is likely to be promising for the development of business and innovation policies.

Scouting has been a long-time hobby for Lundström. Her busy schedule in recent years has shifted the focus of her scouting activities to primarily a supportive role, i.e. catering. Scouting is a hobby shared by her family.

Lundström became familiar with a somewhat different form of scouting in the mid-1990s when she was among the first women in Finland to complete a voluntary term in the Finnish Defence Forces. Today a reserve sergeant, she took part in guerrilla and radio operator training in Vekaranjärvi.

Ilona Lundström

  • Director General of the Enterprise and Innovation Department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, as of 1 August 2016.
  • Doctor of Administrative Sciences.
  • Born 1976.
  • With Tekes 2007–2016:
  • Senior Adviser 2007–2012.
  • Director, built environment, safety and security; Director, large companies and public organisations 2012–2014.
  • Executive Director, Networking businesses and research, a member of the Executive Board 2014–2016.
  • Specialist, Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities 2002–2007.
  • Reserve sergeant.
  • Hobbies: jogging, orienteering, and scouting.