Following my 1.5 previous posts about Finland (http://www.startup-book.com/2010/10/28/israel-through-finland and http://www.startup-book.com/2008/04/03/finland) here are some of the interesting lessons I learnt from my Nordic friends. Let me add I visited Aalto University as well as the University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä.
The main lesson I got there is that small countries such as Finland, Switzerland or Israel need to be open countries. Nokia is a good example of what a small country can achieve but the company is also worrying Finns at the moment as it is losing some traction to Apple and Android. So Finland needs to look for more fresh air. That’s probably why Finland is so open to new ideas from Israel or the USA. You should just check my post of yesterday to see how both countries have been references for Finland.
At Aalto, I particularly liked a few experiments such as
Will Caldwell is heading a large piece of the effort with his colleagues and I met many passionate people including Pauli, Teemu, Panu, Jari, Paolo, Ramine, Matalie, Juha, Kristo and my apologies to the ones I forget…
Internationalization does not mean just sending people or businesses out but attracting people in. I was very interested by a recent report, the Silicon Valley Journey, Experiences of Finnish IT Startups from Dot-Com Boom to 2010, on Finns based in Silicon Valley, the experience of which should be used. There is an awareness that we never know enough about how SV is performing and our ecosystems (students, entrepreneurs, investors and support) should always know better about it. And it also means attracting international VCs something Israel (and Switzerland by the way) has been quite good at.
Things were very similar in Jyväskylä, though it is quite far from the main capital city, Helsinki. Just three examples:
– the mentors such as Jussi Nukari, also an author of “Launching Your Software Business in America”
– the Protomo experiment which supports local entrepreneurs
– the entrepreneurship courses given by Sharon Ballard from Arizona (who also challenged me about the efficiency of the SBIR program in the USA, something I had/have been skeptical about 🙂 but this is another story!). Sharon is bringing a typical American attitude to European students. And what I liked there is that it was not just Finnish students, but a group of international young and enthusiastic people!
My thanks here to Juha Saukkonen who invited me to JAMK and who may have forgotten he was the 1st person to mention the Victa report to me, and thanks to all his colleagues, Asta, Mari, Heikki, Sharon, Jussi, Kari, Marko, and… Juha, Juha, Juha and Juha again.
Any negative lesson? I feel a recurrent issue about critical mass in Europe. Any country, any region, any city in Europe is trying to promote innovation and they must do it. But are we taking the risk of diluting the effort by not taking strong decisions on a few hot spots, as we do it by the way for education, research or even sports or arts? I do not have any good answer and we all know we have to try and try again. But the USA have one SV only even if they have other clusters in Boston, Triangle Park, Seattle, or Austin. But we do not have our Silicon Valley in Europe. So how much are all these efforts efficient is a tough question?