Photo: Mikael Ahlfors
Since the summer of 2017, Business Finland has been building up a program that helps Finnish tech companies enter the Japanese market. Next up: Slush Tokyo with the City of Helsinki.
“The Japanese certainly are early adopters,” says Marko Salonen, Senior Advisor at Business Finland, referring to the country’s long tradition of embracing new technologies.
Salonen leads Business Finland’s Japan-Finland Gateway for Open Innovation program. The program has a simple rationale: helping Finnish high-tech companies to start collaboration with Japanese companies and pave the way for market entry to Japan.
Next up: Slush Tokyo
The aforementioned simple rationale, however, calls for a sizeable amount of work.
The program organizes a range of market entry actions from hackathons to workshops and events in order to give Finnish companies the leg-up. The program’s next larger effort is just around the corner.
In March 2018, Business Finland will be joined by the City of Helsinki, when they head to the Japanese edition of Finnish tech event Slush. Accompanying them will be a delegation of Finnish companies.
“Helsinki is the coolest tech hub in Europe,” says Nita Pilkama, Project Director at the City of Helsinki. “The Nordic countries have Europe’s fastest developing startup scene. The capital of Finland, Helsinki, is one of Europe’s most rapidly growing regions with an upward trend of entrepreneurship and an abundance of tech talent and creative professionals.”
The latest breed of the startups will be on full display at Slush Tokyo. The main theme of the booth is AR/VR, with a special focus on traveltech. Meanwhile, edtech startup accelerator xEdu is also bringing edtech companies to the event.
“The event is a logical continuum for our AR/VR companies, which have started the market entry process already last fall,” says Marko Salonen. “Back then, we had the Moomin theme park hackathon, which was enthusiastically embraced by the participants.”
Salonen knows perfectly well how difficult it is to gain entry to a completely new market.
“You have to always think about the company viewpoint,” he says. “Slush Tokyo combines a familiar tech environment and international vibes with a new market. It’s an optimal starting point.”
Japan & tech – it’s a match
Even though Slush Tokyo will be mainly about AR/VR, the Japan Gateway program’s overall focus is wider.
“It is open innovation and tech,” Salonen sums ups. “The program has a background in the strategic partnership between Finland and Japan, which originally saw daylight in early 2016. At that time, the President of the Republic, Sauli Niinistö, was visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.”
The two heads of state issued a joint statement regarding strategic cooperation in the areas of economy, science and technology. In this context, they shared the view that it was important to stimulate mutual trade and investment based on cooperative relationship.
Sometime later, the former Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs, Olli Rehn, pushed the initiative forward in the fields of digitalization and open innovation.
“And now, here we are,” Salonen says with a grin.
Japan is known for its dedication to new technologies. Nevertheless, the country is also known for its size and a highly competitive market.
During market entry, gaining the first reference is crucial. According to Salonen, the business processes in Japan can move at a slower pace than what other cultures are used to. For some companies, it might come as a surprise how much patience they actually need.
“Our idea is to speed up this process,” he says.
Salonen has a strong faith in the companies he guides.
“Sometimes we overlook how many great, innovative and ambitious tech companies we have in Finland,” he underlines. “They are hungry for global growth. My task is to help these exceptional companies with their market entry to Japan. The road to success is not always easy and requires a lot of work and right actions. However, if your solution is good enough for Japan, it’s definitely good enough for the rest of the world as well.”