I travel a lot in China, where I often meet representatives of Finnish companies. As a VTT employee, my work in China raises a great deal of interest and I am often asked what VTT does in China. The answer to this question is clear: VTT provides research services in China. We do this globally, with the aim of increasing our number of international commercial projects. They enable us to develop our own expertise, remain a world leader in research and fund the maintenance and development of the research infrastructure and activities in Finland. These ultimately form the basis of our services for Finnish customers.
Over the years, VTT has also prepared and led multi-company projects, with the purpose of creating a network with the Chinese and helping Finnish companies to enter the Chinese markets. These projects have been related to areas such as materials technology and smart eco-cities. For example, VTT can verify technologies and their suitability for the Chinese markets, while providing smaller companies with credibility in large and competitive sectors. However, such projects need a funding instrument, from which VTT can source funds for its activities. An example of this lies in the joint funding by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology; this funding has been directly allocated to SMEs in recent years.
So what, then, does VTT do in China? We do not have our own offices or research laboratories there. Our activities in China are project-based, with the practical work being done in Finland or, possibly, in China with the help of a Chinese partner. Without a visible Chinese operation, we cannot make contact with Chinese players, attract delegations to Finland and so on. These actions ultimately generate the contacts that lead to commercial projects and create opportunities for Finnish companies.
How do the Chinese markets look? I would say that they are still very challenging, since companies’ own R&D is a carefully guarded secret. However, market entry is not impossible and some major commercial projects have been ordered directly from China. However, China is no different to countries like Finland in one regard: It is pointless to offer the Chinese basic research or work which they can do themselves. In other words, to do well in China we need to be the best at what we do.
I look forward to the day when the Chinese innovation culture matures and the markets truly open up to R&D services. We will then have access to the world’s largest R&D markets. Until then, we need to be highly visible in China, enhancing recognition of VTT as a reliable and expert research partner.
Timo J. Hakala, D.Sc.
Country Manager, China