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Pekka Soini, Director General of Tekes
Government Funding Encourages Companies to Take Risks

A self-described risk taker whose philosophy rests on encouraging imagination through play might seem more like PIXAR or Tesla than a government agency. But Tekes, Finland’s state funding agency, is different.

Photos: CW

Finland is the world’s most innovation-focused country. Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, with a staff of 400, plays a central role in circulating the blood of innovation through every capillary of the industrial ecosphere.

As recounted in the book 100 Social Innovations from Finland, Tekes is the crystallization of business and government leaders’ recognition of the vital importance of public-private sector cooperation to formulate research and development approaches. With this in mind, the Finnish government established Tekes in 1983 to act as an intermediary between research and development agencies, enterprises and universities to help synchronize the pace of innovation.

Finns are especially proud of Tekes’ instrumental role in the 1980s and 90s in getting universities and research institutes on board in digital and telecommunications technology development. These efforts were key to establishing the impressive technological and human resource foundation behind the rise of Finnish company Nokia.

At present Tekes has made supporting new startup companies its chief mission. The institution’s 2015 annual report relates that it currently helps fund nearly 2,000 projects with an annual budget of around 575 million euros.

Nine of Finland’s 10 fastest-growing high-tech companies have benefited from Tekes funding or loans. The institution proudly claims to have funded 65 percent of Finland’s innovation.

Tekes functions similarly to a large venture capital firm, drawing members from private enterprise, many boasting extensive professional experience. Among them, Tekes Director General Pekka Soini, a Nokia veteran, was personally recruited in 2012 by the then Finnish Minister of Economy and Employment to take the helm of Finland’s “heart of innovation.”

Following is our exclusive interview with Mr. Soini, edited for clarity and brevity.

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