Successful R&D calls for a combination of the right type of funding at the right time, excellent ideas, and global networking, according to Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. Tekes promotes innovative and risk-intensive R&D projects in virtually every major area of modern technology, and provides a valuable gateway for international partners to Finland's key technology players.
Finland is regularly ranked as one the world's most competitive economies in international studies. One of the key factors behind this success has been, and continues to be, Finland's dynamic innovation environment, which leverages cooperation between industry and the academic community highly effectively. Tekes plays an important part here, fostering networking, both nationally and internationally, through its technology programmes, which are aimed at bringing together the best players in specific fields of endeavour.
Technology programmes account for half of all Tekes funding today. There are more than 20 programmes under way at the moment, involving 2,000 companies and over 500 research units. The most recent of these have seen Tekes extend its financing into innovations in the service area and developing business know-how. This is very much in line with Tekes' new mission statement, which highlights the importance of the service sector and innovation alongside technological development and industry.
Laying the ground for future strategies
Anticipating future trends is as important for those involved in promoting and encouraging new technologies that could come to fruition years from now as it is for salesmen who need to decide which products to market most heavily over the next quarter.
With this in mind, Tekes and the Academy of Finland launched an extensive foresight process, known as FinnSight 2015, in 2005 to look at the change factors that are likely to impact Finnish business, industry, and society in the 2010s, and identify future innovation and research challenges linked to society's well-being and competitiveness.
The project involved 120 leading Finnish experts, covering everything from basic research to high-level business management, organised into 10 expert panels. These focused on themes such as learning and the learning society, services and service innovations, well-being and health, environment and energy, infrastructure and security, bio-expertise and bio-society, information and communications, understanding and human interaction, materials, and the global economy.
The results from FinnSight 2015, together with other work on future development trends, will provide Tekes with an important foundation for formulating the strategy and planning of Finland's Strategic Centres of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation. These are to be established in key fields with an eye to the type of future competencies needed in business and society generally.
The first centres are planned in the following areas: energy and the environment, metal products and mechanical engineering, health and well-being, the forest cluster, and the information and communication industry and related services.
Research input as a % of GDP in various OECD countries. Sources: OECD, Main Science and Technology Indicators and Statistics Finland.
Networking world-class technology
Almost 40% of Tekes projects involve international networking, and Tekes has developed networks in Europe, North America, and Asia with partners in a wide range of world-class technology companies, universities, and research institutes.
Tekes works closely with leading universities and others funding cutting-edge research, including the University of California, Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford University in the US, the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) in Japan, and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore.
The Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry, Finpro, and Tekes launched FinChi – the Finland-China Innovation Centre, in Shanghai in spring 2005 to foster links between Finnish and Chinese experts. A similar innovation centre in Silicon Valley in California is due to follow soon.
Together with the Academy of Finland, Tekes has also launched a new funding programme to bring top foreign researchers to Finland. Known as the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme (FiDiPro), this will make it possible for universities and research institutes to invite foreign researchers to work in Finland on new projects, and will bring a valuable new international dimension to Finnish research.
The programme has generated a lot of interest, and the first round of researchers has already been approved and will begin work in 2007. Plans are already under way on launching a second round of applications for 2008.