At a time when our export sector is in dire straits, shouldn’t we be looking at ways to detect early signals of potentially lucrative markets for our SMEs much earlier than we do now?
Last week saw a wide variety of companies and decision-makers gather together in the Turku Smart City seminar, and through all presentations and discussions one message rang loud and clear – the continuing importance of small and medium sized enterprises to our economic growth. Mayor Aleksi Randell stated that Turku wants to be an internationally competitive innovation platform for those SMEs. In order to achieve that, communication and co-operation between the City and the companies is crucial. This is especially the case for companies producing smart city applications and technologies.
Cities play a key role in our efforts to seek economic well-being while reducing the effects of climate change. In order to reach the goals of low-carbon economy and resource efficiency we must examine closely the ways in which we live, move, use energy and build our cities. We have to be smarter, and our cities need to be made smarter.
Global ideas, local testbeds
A smart city application is something that is directed at urban areas and uses digital technologies to enhance well-being, reduce costs and consumption of resources, and engage the citizens more effectively, for example, in the fields of energy, health care, and water & waste management. In Finland, and in the Turku region, we have many good, innovative companies that offer such products or services to global markets with great potential.
However, many of these SMEs and start-ups are small, high-tech companies and their focus lies in heavy R&D investments and pilot projects to ensure local testing and gathering of references, and thus they lack the resources and know-how necessary to efficiently enter the international markets. This is a good place for meaningful co-operation where the City of Turku can act as a platform for testing and growth, fertile ground for new, innovative ideas to grow into global successes.
Moderator named Turku Science Park
Smart city applications have global appeal, but companies looking to export their products have many challenging hurdles to cross. The target market can be geographically far away, and the cultural distance is often nothing less. Add to this the fact that cities and SMEs can have a hard time finding a common language which is often hidden behind tricky language barriers, and you can see how a lone company may find the prospect of entering an international tender very intimidating indeed.
This is where neutral actors like Turku Science Park Ltd have a role to play. We can offer assistance and work as a go-between, help cities and SMEs match the needs with solutions. This goes for large companies as well which often need subcontractors in their big international projects. Here, again, open communication and co-operation that takes the needs of both parties into consideration is key.
Help in entering international markets
Working together, and in a smarter way, also means that we have to be open to new opportunities and ways of working. At the moment there is not enough co-operation between different smart city clusters in Sweden, Finland and Estonia. As big tenders are often too demanding and extensive for any one SME to tackle alone, would it not be smart to look at our neighbours around the Baltic Sea and see what can be done together? At a time when our export sector is in dire straits, shouldn’t we be looking at ways to detect early signals of potentially lucrative markets for our SMEs much earlier than we do now? How can we help Finnish companies enter international tenders from international institutions such as the United Nations or the World Bank?
At local level, we must learn how to more efficiently utilize our national networks, like Team Finland, to offer SMEs concrete, actionable information to use earlier than we do now. I believe there is much we can learn from our partners in Sweden and Estonia in this respect, and the only way to learn is to work together, in an open and reciprocal manner.
It’s time to start working smarter, together.
The author works as a Senior Advisor in Turku Science Park Ltd. He currently focuses on internationalization of smart city SMEs in co-operation with Swedish and Estonian partners in the EU-funded SME2GO project.