Riku Mäkelä is Team Finland’s extra resource for SEA

As part of enhanced efficiency and coordination within the ‘Team Finland’ umbrella, Asia can now benefit from an extra resource: one of six persons spread out globally is placed in Singapore.

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And this resource is a Finn with relevant knowledge within the right fields of experience, namely Mr Riku Mäkelä, Trade and Innovation Affairs Counsellor at Embassy of Finland in Singapore.

The Team Finland concept was established some 3-4 years ago as a network model for connecting all public services in Finland. It targets companies in order to assist them in internationalization, and also to targeted foreign companies interested in investing into Finland. Third it should boost the Finnish brand abroad for travel and other services.

Another important objective is to identify and seize the new opportunities arising globally. The Finnish government has allocated extra funding to the concept, and its recent objective is to take Team Finland activities systematically to the next level and beyond.

Improved Coordination
“We have looked for different ways of optimizing the resources and impact of the public support mechanisms and public services that we provide in Finland for innovators and for companies, and especially for companies looking for international business growth,” comments Riku.

“In Finland, like any other country there are within all sectors several agencies and government-funded activities doing similar things and it is a matter of maximising the impact of those activities by better coordination.”

In a previous position where he reported only to Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) in Silicon Valley, Riku experienced first-hand the lack of information sharing and synchronisation.

“There wasn’t much info flow between my work and other ministries and agencies in Finland. Since back then we have devised lots of mechanism for maximising the information flows and joint coordination and planning for different kind of services we see that Finnish companies or foreign investors might need.”

Finland is looking for ways to do things more efficiently.

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New posts in hotspots
“One of the big things that we have initiated in 2016 is the new posts with specialists in foreign trade and innovation placed in six hotspots that we didn’t cover well enough earlier. So actually we didn’t have anybody looking after these trade connections or FDI or innovation connections between Singapore and Finland and actually Southeast Asia and Finland and also connecting to Europe. That role had been missing in many places and Singapore is the only additional post we added for Asia,” he explains further.

It is a pilot until the end of 2018 to test how good this will work. Riku sits in an embassy, employed by MFA, but dedicated to specific directions and purposes and supported by three different organisations. He is part of three different teams.

“Singapore is a great way to connect to investment flows, start-ups, growth companies, businesses in the region, and to connect them to Finland and the wider Europe,” he thinks

Riku’s region is primarily Southeast Asia but relating to investments linked to Singapore also includes China and India. He is however only one extra person at a small embassy, and will focus on a limited number of priority areas at any time.

“We are very careful in our strategy where to put our focus and so on.”

Main areas of attention
The Counsellor lists the main areas for now as being:
– Singapore ICT Smart Nation, especially healthcare and education-related, digital services and solutions.
– Vietnam: “Finland is moving from official development aid-focused collaboration with Vietnam over forty years towards multiple kinds of partnerships in all sectors. Within a few years we will finish our last big bilateral development aid projects and programmes. Mainly we are looking for bilateral and multilateral business collaborations, within innovation, education etc. Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) currently running one special programme for emerging countries is one example. I am supporting their BEAM programme from here.”
– Third big focus area in 2016 is start-ups and investments. “One great activity in that sector is the Slush event in Singapore. That is the biggest effort so far between the Nordics and Singapore and SEA/Finland – Singapore within the start-up scene.”

The Team Finland network is a partner of Slush, and in that capacity co-organised the ‘Connecting Globalizers and Localizers’ matchmaking event. It aimed to connect growth stage companies looking to scale their solution globally (Globalizers) and serial entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs (Localizers) looking to adopt existing innovative solutions from another region to start a new business venture within their local and regional markets in SEA countries.

The event adopted an alternative approach towards internationalization by providing leading start-ups a platform to showcase their solutions with the aim of generating successful partnerships to drive the commercialization and adoption of proven products and business models locally.

 

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Bottom up approach
It turns out that Riku has a lot to say in terms of start-ups within the areas of focus. He himself has background as an entrepreneur in the IT sector, before he landed his “dream job” at Tekes (which is all about innovation, business growth, turning ideas into businesses).

“When Vietnam starts doing something it happens fast,” he says when talking about its potential and the tipping point that is not yet there in terms of regulations and handling of foreign companies. “I was working there with start-ups for the last two years prior to Singapore. When we started supporting incubators and accelerators there we started to educate trainers for start-ups while not much was happening. Then we saw that it looked like an eco system for start-ups started to develop fast. Two years later there is almost too much happening.”

“The most important things happen through grassroots so that’s bottom up, and regulatory things and policies have to happen top down. But things start to happen thanks to bottom up. That is for example why we did everything we could through local grassroots organisations, just like in Finland; the biggest boost I claim for the Finnish start-up scene to evolve would not have happened without it was the Slush, the first start-up event in Finland, which is entirely organized by entrepreneurs, volunteers, students and so on. And it also accelerated the knowledge in the Finnish government and public sector for the need to support bottom-up approaches.”

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“In Vietnam, there are plenty of really smart and passionate people and that’s number one for start-ups to succeed and we found plenty of them, which tells that there will be lots of successes coming.”

For the start-up scene he thinks the tipping point in Vietnam will come no later than next year, while for foreign business in general it will take longer.

“One of the factors in reaching that tipping point is the FTA with the EU. That will give a boost.”

“A large number of Finnish companies have been looking actively towards Vietnam and a number are active already, with more than 100 are doing business in Vietnam but only a minority of them with own operations. There is lots of potential; the question is how to tap into that.”

Players in the education, clean-tech energy and telecom (with different types of applications for mobile world) sector players from Finland are actively looking towards Vietnam, Riku has noted.

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He also finds Singapore’s start-up scene promising: “There are hundreds of start-ups in incubators and accelerators and so on in Singapore now and it will be highly interesting to follow and also connect Finnish and also Nordic start-ups and investors to the scene here and back to Finland and beyond.”

Riku and the Finnish embassy’s task are to link Finnish companies, innovators and organisations to Southeast Asia, especially Singapore, and to link Singaporean/SEA companies, potential investors and travel business developers to Finland.

“If anyone in Finland or in the Nordics, or in SEA, is interested in this breech between SEA and Singapore and Finland and through Finland to the EU we are happy to help. So we are a good first contact point; my task is to connect directly.”

He is also confident that this pilot project will grow into an established format.

“We believe we’ll continue and also expand these kinds of posts and mechanisms. We’ll see how it goes and it depends who will be in government, with the current one being highly proactive for international business support and investment to Finland.”

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