Don't hesitate: Go Global , A Nordic-Baltic Innovation seminar: 'Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship' on May 8 in Tallinn, the Museum of Estonian Architecture.

Friday, 01 October 2010

Think global, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but immediately when you start off your business - that is, if you really want to succeed in business in Estonia.

This is one of the main messages delivered by Nordic as well as Estonian speakers to participants in a Nordic-Baltic Innovation Seminar in Tallinn on May 8th. The fully booked seminar gathered more than one hundred participants in the Museum of Estonian Architecture by the passenger harbour.

The key: locally rooted venture capital

It has come to sound like a cliché, but people involved in the innovation business seem to think that the message should be repeated, over and over again: think global - act local! The profound presentation by Poul Ernst Rasmussen from Danish NOVI Innovation focused on new and old tools for success.

In order to get venture capital it is a must for any enterprise to have global ambitions and a clear global strategy, Rasmussen underscores. Local investment funds, i.e. risk capital, should be used when starting up the business. The local investors should be ready to help developing the company in close cooperation, as mentors on a daily basis. Control of locally rooted venture capital is the key to success, says Rasmussen, with reference to the Danish case presented, the NOVI A/S. International funding and investors enter the stage when you are ready for the next step, but they will not act as mentors. Specializing and finding a niche of ones own is, however, essential in the Baltic countries and in Scandinavia, while still competing in order to "keep the company alive". Public investment should be allocated to the maturing of ideas.

National roots, global outreach

The message that global ambitions are an absolute necessity was re-echoed in the case study presented by the CEO of Finnish design company Artek, Mirkku Kullberg. Building up her case enthusiastically and convincingly in front of those who chose to participate in a seminar in the breathtaking premises of the Museum of Estonian Architecture in central Tallinn, while local and international media focused on the ceremonies surrounding the Bronze soldier and its resurrection, Artek CEO Mirkku Kullberg states:

A product should be aimed at the global market at the very start. This was the vision of Alvar Aalto already in the 30ies, when the legendary Finnish architect started designing furniture now marketed and sold by Artek. And this is true more than ever today. Kullberg, with a background in branding, has a reputation of company revitalization in her native country. The exports of Artek have grown by twenty percent in the two years she has led it. Artek was from the very beginning about innovative production technology combined with skills of communicating a message of an integrated view of how life can harmonise with the physical environment.

But, Kullberg points out, Aalto furniture is still produced in Finland, where we think it belongs and where it all started, that much we have managed to convince our new owners, the Swedish venture capital group Proventus. Most of the business partners and the production team, headed by British designer Tom Dixon, are international, but the head quarters is situated in Helsinki. One should be able to trace the products back to their national roots, if it is important for the image. The lesson learnt is a suggestion to find national, unique roots of a product, while producing and marketing it globally.

Estonian reality

Few Estonian enterprises, however, can lean back on ready made or ready branded products or legacies when trying to pave their way to the markets inside and outside the country. Keeping the audience grounded by taking people back to their own realities in Estonia the director of the Estonian Future Studies Institute Erik Terk focused on different innovation strategies in the Baltic Sea Region. Should we unite and do more or less the same and according to similar principles or should we perhaps find diverging solutions, consciously?

Besides Luxemburg, Estonia is the only EU country with a more innovative service sector than productive sector, Terk reminded. Not all sectors, however, are prone to innovation and not all innovative solutions are successful innovations, argues Ingo Põder from Nordea Banking in Estonia, giving an overview of the recent development in the banking sector.

Public sector measures again are of great importance for the innovation process to succeed, but they may not be used efficiently or the typical measures taken may not be effective enough, Ilmar Kink from the Estonian Nanotechnology Competence Centre says, pointing at the massive bureaucracy involved in public sector activities as the major negative factor.

Small enterprises create new jobs

It is not the big companies that create new jobs, says Lennart Nilsson with reference to Sweden. Big companies more often prosecute rationalisation to increase the productivity, often leading to reduction of the number of employees. It is the small enterprises that bring about the new jobs and the economical growth, paving way for a national economical growth. The Swedish Innovation Policy has focused on questions like "How to organise the support to the small and growing enterprises as well as to those who are working for this growth". Foreign, big company investment can, of course, give a short-term economical growth and work in sub-contractor companies, but it can also lead to a huge back-lash when these companies move their operations to countries with lower salaries.

A well-organised support system for inventors and SME: s has been of major importance in Sweden, says Nilsson. He mentions the difference between inventor and innovator: an inventor is a person who has found a technical solution to something. The inventor can be anyone - a scientist, an entrepreneur, businessman or woman or a worker. An innovator is a person who has the knowledge required to make the invention and lead it to the market.

Estonia - a future SPA- Heaven?

SPA could be the eagerly awaited solution for Estonia looking for its Nokia. The Finnish researcher Sam Inkinen argues that people in the neighbouring countries, getting older and in need of rehabilitation and recreation, are looking for a well functioning service sector to keep them well and kicking. A focus on wellness and well-being, a niche already detected by entrepreneurs and companies in the Estonian archipelago as well as in Tallinn with surroundings, could be an alternative to consider developing even further, Inkinen suggests.

InnoTown in Norway

The Norwegian speaker was taken ill and could not participate. However, Norway has plans for an innovation event in Tallinn in the framework of InnTown. The aim of InnoTown is to move people's minds, both rationally and emotionally; to inspire and enhance creativity and innovation, to help motivate people to think new thoughts and dare to fail - to succeed. This years conference takes place in Aalesund 21-22.5.2007.


Enterprises need creative people. Business people as such are not necessarily creative. Consequently, companies will need to employ and engage people with a variety of backgrounds as to education, skills and learning.

An MBA is a standard product. Enterprises employing and engaging people with exclusively business study backgrounds will not succeed in their efforts in the field of innovation. Creative people with other educational backgrounds will have to be involved in the business, Poul Ernst Rasmussen emphasizes. Likewise, entrepreneurship should be a part of any higher education.

In her opening speech Ene Ergma, the speaker of the Estonian Parliament, also pointed at the self-evident, but often forgotten fact that creativity and creating an innovative surrounding and atmosphere are crucial issues for innovation.

Nordic Cooperation

The Nordic Innovation Centre advisor Petra Nilsson presented Innovation and Clusters in the Baltic Sea Region within the framework of BRS- Innonet. The Nordic region is handled as a single market and a borderless region. The focus areas are creative industries, food, micro- and nanotechnology, innovative construction as well as environmental technology.

Clusters are popular again, because trends in policy promote the importance of local actors effectively working together. The goal is greater regional and global competitiveness and increased innovation, says Nilsson.

On behalf of the chairmanship in the Nordic Council of Ministers this year, the Ambassador of Finland to Estonia Jaakko Kalela in his opening speech also stressed the importance of joint efforts. The global competition gets harder and it is a vital question for especially small countries like ours up in the North to develop forms of cooperation and create new networks, said Kalela.

The Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Halldór Asgrimsson, a former Icelandic prime- and foreign minister emphasized the importance of continued strong partnership between the Nordic countries and Estonia.

The Innovation Seminar Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship, was organized by the Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Estonia and the four Nordic Embassies in Tallinn, the Embassies of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The best innovation seminar organized in Estonia so far, says Meelis Sirendi, the Estonian Research Fund, and Baltic observer to NordForsk, the Nordic research body based in Oslo.

The seminar was moderated by Ott Pärna, the Chairman of the Board of the Estonian Development Fund.

The Innovation seminar was one of a series of Nordic Forum-events, presented by NCM Estonia:

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