17.8. 2015 Blogi

Support for export efforts

”A seemingly small contribution by an expert may be decisive when first customers are being sought for new products or the operations are being scaled up for the international markets”, Olli Mankonen writes.

Finland has been known as a high-tech country around the world for a long time. That reputation in itself will not bring any deals for Finnish products, but as is commonly known, images play a big role in decision-making. We should hope that there will be grounds for our reputation also in the coming years and decades. In the current low-key economic conditions, to me the most staggering information is found in the statistics indicating that the exports of high-technology products have fallen from over 11 billion euro in the last decade to less than 4 billion euro last year. Measured in euros, the value has shrunk to just one third! Moreover, high-tech trade shows a 2 billion euro deficit, while in peak years it showed a 3–4 billion surplus. With high-tech products, the price is often not the decisive factor, but the buyer is ready to pay for unique features.

The fall in the exports of electronics and telecommunication devices (read: Nokia) is of course the main explanation. So it’s time to find something else to replace it. Do we have what it takes? Certainly, know-how and other key factors will not disappear over a few years. Persistence and long-term investments in both product development and marketing are now needed more than ever.

An important share of those expectations is directed at SMEs. Hopefully we can finally reach a situation in which we have a number of SMEs with growing export volumes. One example of that potential is the companies that have managed to receive funding from the SME Instrument under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The programme commenced a little over a year ago, and nearly 40 Finnish companies have so far been accepted in it. The application is continuously open, and I can for a good reason encourage companies to try to get into this European “champions league”, as far as the basic requirements are met.

As in international arenas in general, the competition for SME Instrument funds is fierce and the standards are high. In addition to novelty value, the projects need to have major commercial potential, and the company needs to have realistic resources for the successful implementation of the project. That is aimed at large or at least medium-sized enterprises.

For enterprises that receive SME Instrument funding, the EU also offers 3–12 days of expert services, the purpose of which is to speed up and facilitate the entry to the market of the project outcome. The idea is to pay more attention to and create solutions for the know-how needs for which the company’s own resources are not enough. A seemingly small contribution by an expert may be decisive when first customers are being sought for new products or the operations are being scaled up for the international markets.

I have been managing this coaching service in Finland for a year now, determining the development needs together with enterprises and helping in finding the right experts. It’s great to work with those companies and see their attitude in aiming at the global markets. That group of companies will surely provide new successes. However, the work has only just started. There are no achieved benefits, but (competitive) advantages will surely be achieved. The competitive advantages are exactly those that will help to increase the export figures of high technology.

Olli Mankonen

The writer is responsible for the EU-funded EEN project aimed at enhancing the innovation management capacity of SMEs. Further information: http://www.turkusciencepark.com/kam/.