Finland’s Singapore-based innovation, trade specialist continues

Embassy of Finland in Singapore has grown its contact network tenfold in the last three years. Number of new Finnish business entities starting their business in Singapore has grown steadily. The innovation and trade specialist working at the Finnish Embassy continues to connect Finland and ASEAN through Singapore.

Team Finland, in its effort to assist business internationalization and also to target foreign companies in terms of investing into Finland, during 2016–2018 appointed specialists in foreign trade and innovation to be placed in six hotspots, one being Singapore. Another important objective was to identify and seize the new opportunities arising globally. This pilot project was deemed fruitful so it is continuing in 2019.

Riku Mäkelä, Counsellor for Innovation and Trade, Embassy of Finland in Singapore

Riku Mäkelä, Counsellor for Innovation and Trade on one of these positions, based out of the Embassy of Finland in Singapore, has been appointed anew. Previously Finland had not had anybody looking after these trade connections or FDI or innovation connections between Singapore/Southeast Asia and Finland. Now the resources are even enhanced further.

“We were able to show that good resource use produces results, and continuation of these positions was decided last summer. I am still the only one in Asia-Pacific, but I have other people doing the same work, however in different positions. We have Business Finland people like in Vietnam, Malaysia, and they do the same work as I do,” says Riku.

The previous period also coincided with a very timely year for Finland to get extra attention and roll out many initiatives, namely the 100 years of Finnish independence that was celebrated and highlighted throughout 2017. The official report from ‘SF100SG’ highlighted the results with all the good achievements, which also connects to Counsellor Riku’s efforts.

Getting the attention of many more Singaporeans for Finland to become as well known as the other Nordic countries had been one of the goals for 2017- they also reached. Team Finland declared that the work would continue doing more together with the other Nordics going forward.

A key approach during SF100SG was themed: ‘Facing Common Challenges’, which led to “deepened trust with local partners”.

“We have continued to learn from each other as we have so many similarities between Finland and Singapore. Delegations visiting both ways initiated collaborative efforts in the core themes of the SF100SG year of 2017. The biggest interest and largest number of business deals and joint projects happened within the topics healthtech, smart properties, edutech and skills development,” Riku reports.

Riku Mäkelä, Counsellor for Innovation and Trade with Ambassador Paula Parviainen, Embassy of Finland in Singapore

Hugely increased Singapore interest

One of the tools of the Team Finland network was ‘Marketing Opportunities’, where the embassy in Singapore published and marketed to Finland business opportunities relating to Smart nation, design, and digitalisation of healthcare.

This resulted in a hugely increased interest of Finnish companies towards Singapore, which in turn raised the interest among Finnish government agencies and other national level coordinators of joint operations related to innovation and business. This led to significant increase of resources helping Finnish companies towards Singapore and Asean.

Almost all Finland 100 innovation and business events were knowledge exchange, marketing and matchmaking platforms for these sectors, where 160 Finnish organisations participated. The purpose of all the events was for those first timers, Finnish start-ups and SMEs to come and get a sense of the markets in Singapore and Asean.

“I see our role mainly as a platform provider; platforms being operations such as delegations, events and market entry programs. Our platforms provide knowledge, contacts and inspiration for Finnish companies wanting to grow in Singapore and SE Asia, and for Singaporean actors to find opportunities in Finland. More and more individual companies contact us, but our main goal is to connect them to different platforms and to 3rd party service providers,” Riku evaluates.

During the last three years they annually served 100–150 Finnish companies and produced or co-produced between 22 to 42 business-to-business events.

“According to local authorities, the number of Finnish companies operating in Singapore is currently 180. The number was 160 a year ago and 140 two years ago.”

“Out of the 160 Finnish organizations who participated in our events around Slush and SWITCH 2017 more than 40 continued their business development efforts towards Singapore and more than 20 came to the SWITCH 2018 week. A few of them also established their office in Singapore during 2018.”

As for the initiated discussions about concrete Finland-Singapore collaboration in innovation and business in several sectors with Singaporean counterparts Riku says: “We have not established bi-lateral agreements between our governments, yet. We believe more in creally do education research, innovation and cooperative efforts where front line organizations really and business development activities together. On that front, it has been great to witness and support initiatives with our targeted services. Among those are Wärtsilä’s maritime-related cooperation with PSA and MPA, concrete cooperation between Singapore University of Technology and Design SUTD and Aalto University, and projects to implement Finnish technologies in Singapore in several sectors.”

Nordic Innovation House

The focus areas in 2019 will be healthtech, smart cities, edutech and circular economy.

“A major difference in our operations when moving forward is that we will do the majority of our visible business development activities together with other Nordic countries under the joint umbrella Nordic Innovation House Singapore. For example, a joint Nordic Healthtech event late this year during SWITCH week will replace the annual Finnish Healthtech event we have done already three times.”

“Nordic Innovation House is going to change the way the Nordics and Finland will be visible going forward.”

Be it a tech-oriented, young start-up or an established innovative SME Riku sees their approach to business internationalisation as depending on the key questions around the willingness towards international growth and capabilities.

“I would estimate that one third of the companies contacting us have a clear will to grow here. Half of them have the needed human and monetary resources to do it. Most of these companies that have what it takes are tech-driven companies. Some of them are young and some are more mature SMEs. We try to be more serious with those companies who have at least a few million euro of revenue, several people who can invest their time to Singapore efforts and have experience from also some other foreign markets.”

In Vietnam, Finland has also staked big regarding Finnish innovations and start-ups during recent two years in Ho Chi Minh City. “Ho Chi Minh City innovation week has been one of the visible showcases of cooperation between Finland and Vietnam. That is one result of more than 45 years of international aid-related cooperation moving to a new era this year. In the future, we will build cooperation in education, research, innovation and business without running international aid programs in Vietnam. Innovation and entrepreneurship was one of our last focus areas in large scale aid programs that just finished,” Riku informs.

Finally, Finland is also utilizing the ongoing EU Business Avenues for Southeast Asia programme well: “We have been successful in encouraging Finnish companies to apply for EU Business Avenues’ delegation trips. These trips are great opportunities to showcase products and services in Singapore and one additional ASEAN country 4-6 times a year in different topics. Each trip accommodates 35-50 European SMEs. Each trip has included between 2-8 Finnish companies who have given positive feedback about the amount and quality of potential customers and business partners they have met during the program.”

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