Finland’s buzzing tech sector holds solutions to many of SA’s problems
Finland’s trade minister says SA could be a springboard for Finnish companies into the rest of Africa
Finnish companies see SA as a springboard into the rest of Africa for their innovative technology products.
Many Finland-based companies have developed new products they are testing at home before bringing them to the rest of the world.
Numerous start-ups interviewed at the Slush 2017 conference, which is Europe’s largest tech start-up event, said they had designed mobile applications, services, software and other technology that would be well-suited to larger markets than their own.
SA was on their radar, especially with respect to medical, transport, education and safety-related technology.
Slush, which was held in Helsinki last week, is a nonprofit event organised by a community of 2,500 students.
Each year, it brings together corporate powerhouses including US groups Google and Apple, Finnish cellphone stalwart Nokia and Chinese conglomerate Tencent, of which JSE-listed Naspers owns a third. Tencent itself owns a majority stake in Supercell, a Finnish game developer famous for making the popular mobile game Clash of Clans.
At the 2017 conference, Slush notably had African attendees from Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Some of these companies, as well as some Finnish attendees, said they saw SA as a potential market for their tech.
"Finland has loads of engineers but it needs better marketers. We hope that each year, we can use Slush to market ourselves better," says Janne Sykkö, principal consultant for Manketti, which consults for timber and paper industry companies, including JSE-listed Mondi and Sappi. It has operations in Finland, Denmark and Zimbabwe.
Finland’s Foreign Trade and Development Minister, Kai Mykkänen, says SA could be a springboard for Finnish companies into the rest of Africa. It also offers opportunities itself.
"Finland is a relatively small country in European terms. It has a population of only about 5.5-million people. We have created a culture of developing products and services which can be used in the rest of Europe and, hopefully, the world," he says.
After Nokia, which was the world’s largest mobile phone maker in the 1990s and 2000s and a major employer of Finns, slipped behind the likes of Apple, Samsung and Huawei, the country had to select new industries in which it could compete globally.
One of these is automation.
Digital design and engineering firm Reaktor, which was interviewed at Slush by Business Day, says it is planning to pilot the first driverless ferries in Finland.
The company wants to pilot the technology and then implement it across the world.
"Making ferries autonomous opens up a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative for city planners," says Juha-Matti Liukkonen, the director of space and new technologies at Reaktor.
"Big cities are struggling with traffic and running out of space; there are only so many bridges, tunnels and railways that can be built to urban areas," Liukkonen says.
"By replacing some big infrastructure projects, water transit could save cities a lot of money, time and disruption for residents and businesses. Waterways have gone largely unchanged for decades and are ripe for a digital takeover."
Meanwhile, Peter Vesterbacka, one of the founders of popular mobile game Angry Birds, is developing mobile video games for school learning at his new company, Lightneer.
These will enhance Finland’s recently updated education system, he says.
The idea is to implement this system, which is focused on collaborative learning and technology or aspects thereof, in other countries including SA.
"We are able to accelerate learning using technology and a less rigid approach to education. We no longer have set school hours at our pilot schools for primary school children. We offer a lot of recess and take children under the age of 10 on tours to expose them to aspects of the world such as senior living estates," he says.
Another Finnish company has developed new software designed to help doctors deal with orthopaedic injuries, which could support SA’s understaffed hospitals.
At least two companies have created neighbourhood social network applications designed to improve safety for women and children. These include panic button functions and geo-tracking technologies.
December 6 is the commemoration of 100 years of Finnish independence. They left Russian rule in 1917.
• Alistair Anderson was a guest of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.