At Kaira Clan, we believe collaboration is the way forward in every industry. Without our network of public organizations, research labs, and an endless pool of brilliant tech companies in the innovation clusters in Finland, we couldn’t offer our clients all that we do.
By collaborating with external partners, companies can improve how their team works together and solve problems. This leads to more innovation, efficient processes, increased success, and improved communication. In addition, we can help each other reach our goals by listening to and learning from others.
Collaboration is key to Finland’s technology success. From healthcare to gaming, Finland offers like-minded individuals innovation clusters to collaborate on new ideas and solutions through open innovation. But what makes these clusters successful, and why do companies want to join and collaborate with them?
I sat with the manager of the Oulu Automotive Cluster, Eija Hämäläinen, to discuss what is it about Finland, the automotive industry, and how the local automotive cluster is helping Finnish SMEs reach their full potential.
Interview with Eija Hämäläinen
Carrie: Hi, Eija. Thank you so much for meeting with me! Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background with the Oulu Automotive Cluster?
Eija: Hi Carrie. So a bit about myself. I have worked in the international business for 20+ years in the ICT sector. This has primarily been in B2B sales. I was an entrepreneur for two years, helping companies succeed in trade shows. I did everything from preparation and on-site help.
Business Oulu was one of my clients, and in 2020 when Covid struck, I decided to accept a job offer from them to facilitate the Automotive Cluster here in Oulu, which consists of 120 companies, 65 of them from Oulu and the rest of the members are from all over Finland.
Carrie: Let’s talk about the automotive cluster a bit. Could you tell me a bit about the cluster and its role within the automotive industry here in Finland and abroad?
Eija: My first task was to benchmark other clusters when I started. I wanted to see how they were organized and worked. I looked at the Oulu Health Cluster, which has been running for over ten years, and the gaming cluster, which has been running for over 17 years.
Our cluster focuses primarily on sales and business development. Many automotive clusters that you see abroad don’t usually focus on what they can do to find customers. They are focused more on R&D and finding investors. We use a similar approach but focus more on finding customers and collaboration partners for the companies.
Business Oulu manages the automotive cluster and provides public support to the SMEs for free. We attend tradeshows with the companies to create awareness and learn about the current buzz in the automotive industry. This is especially important in regards to what trends are developing. We also provide coaching sessions on operating and becoming part of the value chain in the international automotive industry.
Also, we can be contacted by a larger company that is looking for agile solutions. First, we discuss their needs, and then we try to scout and match companies with each other to create the needed solution.
Carrie: What has been the most significant “wow factor” while working in the Oulu Automotive Cluster?
Eija: Good question! The most significant wow factor was when we introduced a company to an OEM, and within nine months, they started the first proof of concept project. Usually, in the b2b environment, it takes a long period of time to close any deal.
The whole point of clusters is to lower the barrier for the little guy and make contact with these large enterprises easier. This is why collaborations are important, for example, with you guys. It helps us to spread the reach of the Oulu Automotive Cluster.
Another wow factor for me is seeing how Business Oulu is helping the SMEs meet the automotive giants. For example, we were contacted by Geely and asked to host a “Geely Design Visions Event,” focusing on the early concepts of the vehicle interior, exterior, user experience, and mobility solutions. It was humbling that they picked Oulu for this design event, as they indeed have international collaboration partners to work with.
I am also really pleased to see how well our online events seem to do. We get excellent feedback from the participants even though we have two full years of Teams and Zooms behind us.
Carrie: What separates Finnish automotive technology from other countries, and what makes it stand out?
Eija: 1. Connectivity. Finland is famous for it. We have always been spearheading the industry. From 2G to 5G, we have been at the front. Even now, with 6G, we are doing the same, and the automotive industry knows that 6G will play an essential role in the future of autonomous driving.
2. Printed Electronics. Finns are the most advanced in this, and companies like Tactotek, for example, are revolutionizing how cars are designed and manufactured as plastic parts become much lighter and create less CO2 emissions. These lightweight materials are essential to energy efficiency in electric vehicles.
3. Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) – Finland has lots to offer! For example, if we look at the ORIGO steering wheel, it was developed by several Finnish companies in the automotive ecosystem as a collaboration between Canatu, Siili Auto, TactoTek®, Rightware, and Northern Works.
4. Health and wellbeing. This goes without saying. It is well documented that Finland leads the way in digital healthcare solutions. So it’s pretty fascinating to think how future vehicles could support our well-being, for example, through hygienic and ambient interiors or different relaxation applications and technologies.
Carrie: Are the companies in the Oulu automotive cluster fitting primarily into these categories, or is there a lot of diversity in the cluster?
Eija: I would say the companies in our cluster are very diverse, emerging, and well-established companies that usually have a background in the ICT, telecoms, or mobile phones industry. We are helping them adapt their way of working in the automotive industry.
Carrie: So there is a lot of outside-the-box thinking regarding matching solutions to the automotive industry?
Eija: Yes. There is a lot of out-of-box thinking. And the most significant challenge has been not seeing what possibilities there are because of the Covid restrictions. Not being able to be face-to-face and collaborate has been difficult. I think now that things have settled down and restrictions are easing, and we will be able to start some activities in the fall after the summer holidays.
Carrie: What kind of activities do you have in mind?
Eija: Technology hackathons, perhaps. Maybe it is something we could do together. Finnish engineers love challenges. It would be great to start getting some real-life topics that the industry giants are looking for and creating a reverse hackathon to see what the Oulu companies could come up with. Finns are great for working together and we have a tight-knit community here.
Carrie: Okay, last question. I have to ask. The general public reads a lot about autonomous driving. The good. The bad. The scary. What will it take for the public to accept autonomous driving?
Eija: I think the main thing will be that the public will need to change the mindset. Gradually it could become the norm, but now, people want to “own” their car. So there would need to be a business model change. Perhaps the first autonomous vehicles will be used in the public sector.
Another thing, and most importantly, I believe that legislation would need to be a lot letter. Currently, the way the legislation is, autonomous driving possibilities are minimal. The technology is already here or close to being here. But the legislation is still lacking.
Carrie. Okay, that is it for my questions! Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me and letting me pick your brain.
Eija: Of course! It’s always nice to talk about the Oulu Automotive Cluster and what we do.
For further information about Kaira Clan contact Carrie Schoeller
To hear more about the Oulu Automotive Cluster contact Eija Hämäläinen