Director General Nina Kopola of Business Finland considers it positive that the new Finnish government has pledged to increase investment in research, development and innovation. It is essential to maintain the highest standards for each link in the innovation chain and to ensure that the allocation of funding remains predictable even in the transition from one government term to another.
“It’s important for businesses making investment decisions, but also for universities who plan research projects and attract international researchers,” Kopola notes.
Kopola finds it worrying that attracting international talent is becoming considerably more difficult. According to the government programme, a person arriving in Finland with an employment-based residence permit must leave the country if they are unable to find a new job in three months after termination of employment.
“This rule poses difficulties if you come to Finland as an expert and, for example, have your family with you.”
New funding for university-based research
Thanks to the RDI investment pledged in the government programme, Business Finland can allocate more money to university–business collaboration. According to Kopola, funding instruments were redesigned with this in mind already in early 2023.
“We have started to fund university-based research, something that interests businesses.”
The Research Council of Finland is also piloting Proof of Concept funding, which promotes the utilisation of research in society. According to Kopola, the organisations are collaborating extensively in launching the funding schemes. She would not change the current division of roles.
“We are in close dialogue to avoid duplicate efforts and to have the capacity to offer support to each link in the innovation chain.”
Innovation is needed in digitalisation and the circular economy, among other fields
For Business Finland, the year 2022 saw successes: its customers expanded their RDI operations by 17 percentage points, and seven new projects were launched under the Veturi scheme for leading companies. Kopola points out that universities too benefit from this funding form, as it brings with it ecosystems.
“The current Veturi collaborative projects have resulted in €100 million in partner funding for Finnish universities.”
Kopola estimates that approximately 20% of all RDI funding provided by Business Finland was allocated to universities, including the sums accumulated through business funding. She considers it a good achievement. The share of the University of Helsinki in the RDI pool has fluctuated under and above 10%.
In the autumn 2022 Research to Business funding application round, almost 90% of the applicants from the University of Helsinki secured funding – a record figure. Kopola believes that Business Finland’s mission is to fund precisely this kind of bold testing of ideas that would not advance solely with private funds.
“It’s good that the government is involved in sharing the risk.”
In the future, collaboration between businesses and researchers will be guided by five thematic focus areas: digitalisation, health, energy, the circular economy and immersive experiences. Business Finland estimates that significant business operations will emerge in these areas in the coming years. Consequently, the goal is to allocate roughly half of all innovation funding to these areas.
Business collaboration also benefits research
Kopola believes that Business Finland has an important role in building networks. She points out that in many other countries, there are no similar governmental operators or funding instruments such as Co-Innovation funding. Instead, businesses and universities compete against each other. In contrast, Finnish society is based on trust, and even RDI operators know one another. This is an asset that should be taken advantage of.
“This can give us a competitive edge.”
Kopola believes that collaborative projects with business life do not take anything away from academia, but can provide researchers with valuable information on, for example, what is happening in the market. Naturally, maintaining the autonomy of science and research is important.
“At the same time, this autonomy can be boosted by business collaboration that enriches universities.”