FDI is an endurance sport
Ari Huczkowski of Espoo Innovation Garden explains why FDI is an endurance sport not a sprint
I believe we all admire Usain Bolt for his explosive speed on 100 metres of tarmac. The entire stadium becomes silent. Ready. Set. Go. Everyone cheers. For the first 20 metres, the field is even. 40 metres, 60 metres – Bolt gets ahead of the pack, accelerates and finishes 5 metres ahead of the field. This takes less than 10 seconds from start to finish.
Some may think attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) is a 100 metre race. Easy to do. Just run fast, you’ll get results in no time.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s an endurance sport – not really a marathon, but even more – something like a triathlon, really. It takes years to develop the skills and capabilities, you need many different types of special resources, you need extensive networks.
Otaniemi Microclusters project
Let’s take an example. In 2008 we started a project called Otaniemi Microclusters. The idea was to create small, technology-focused local clusters centered around the campus of the Helsinki University of Technology, Otaniemi campus. The area has a concentration of over five thousand researchers, tens of research labs and R&D units and more than a thousand companies including several global HQs of big, international Finnish companies. The area creates more than one fundable startup every week. So the idea was to create small tech clusters that would be attractive to global technology players.
In 2009 we identified 30 to 40 different large corporations we’d love to have in Otaniemi, and we created profiles of them. On basis of the profiles we started creating strategies as to how to approach these companies, and when communicating with them, what would our message be. One of those companies was a large, multinational technology corporation from a major Asian country. They didn’t have any knowledge intensive activities in Finland, only a sales office. We met them for the first time at the end of 2009.
Between 2010 and 2013 we had numerous meetings with the corporation. Some of the meetings were in London, some in Barcelona. We met them in Asia at their HQ. Finally there was the decisive meeting in 2012 in Otaniemi. After a long day of meetings with startups and researchers, we headed out to Helsinki to have a dinner at an Asian restaurant they liked very much. In the taxi to the restaurant the VP of the corporation asked me “So Ari, tell me why we should establish an R&D unit in Finland?” My reply was quite simple: “You are one of the largest technology corporations in the world. You have innovation activities in all of the top 10 most innovative countries in the world, except for one top 3 ranked country – Finland. Just imagine what you’re missing out on!” Later that evening during dinner, the decision was made to propose to the CEO of the corporation the establishment of their R&D unit in Finland.
Then it took 14 more months before the opening ceremony of the new R&D center was held in Otaniemi hitech hub.
So if someone approaches me, and says they want to see greenfield FDI results in a couple of months – I know they don’t know what they’re talking about:-)