A lot of hope for the future success of Finland has been placed on bioeconomy. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), as a national research organization, becomes naturally an important player in this industrial revolution. However, the global market is needed in this success. With the opportunity of being in Japan as the visiting scholar in the University of Tokyo, I put forward some my observations and thoughts on how this all looks from Japanese perspective.
In Asia, and especially in Japan, when people talk about Finland, the most mentioned words are ‘Santa Clause’, ‘nature’ and ‘aurora’ (northern lights). There is hardly no negative image of Finland in Japanese mind and all appreciate the natural products from Finland. However, when I tried to find Finnish natural products or even nature-related products from trade companies or shops, I was very surprised with the limited offering. One can find dried berries, frozen berries, peat and gefilus yogurt, but not much more. The major reason may be the strict import rules for food and health promoting products.
On the other hand, the diversity of competing products in Japanese market, for example, health promoting products, is very high. You can easily find tens and tens of similar products produced by the different companies. In Japanese business the marketing cost is very high, and striking through a new product requires huge marketing investments. One way to handle this is that the Japanese companies tend to launch similar products at the same time on market, thus sharing the marketing costs with competitors. This seems to have become a self-feeding way of doing business, because Japanese consumers do not seem to trust a new kind of product, if it is offered for sale only by one company. One must create a bigger market trend and no company can do it alone. This is the challenge for Finnish companies to enter in Japanese market: one needs to provide Finnish nature ingredients to several companies to create a market trend for Finnish nature products.
There is a huge amount of opportunities for Finland in Japan. One way is to establish direct cooperation with Japanese academic organizations, and in this way to expand our know-how on research fields and get integrated in Japanese society. I believe this approach might serve well for Finnish bioeconomy to find its way in big way to Japan – and to the other Asian markets.
A bridge between academic research and industry is needed
When industrial reforming is hoped to happen in any country, huge investments are required on exploring new innovations and new products. It is challenging, but also important, to have majority of funding to hit on the right fields at the right moment. The University of Tokyo, where there are more than 4000 researchers working in a wide range of fields, is also struggling with balancing funding with the received results. In the early 2000s, they established an office of University Corporate Relations that became in 2012 Division of University Corporate Relations – DUCR.
The Innovation Promotion Department of DUCR has two major missions: one is through joint research by industry-university cooperation, with the aim of bringing the research results to industry and society, and to support the companies which require a collaborative research across multiple departments. The other is to support the entrepreneurship-university ventures. In 2004 University of Tokyo Edge Capital was established as an own venture capital fund management company. Today Edge Capital has over 50 corporate investors, of which 50% are from biotechnology or green technology related companies. Edge Capital supports venture companies on the aspects of financial and human resources with over 200 established new ventures since 2004. This department also puts more emphasis on entrepreneurship education. This kind bridge organization reviews the research activities, searches for the optimal research partner, and speeds up the new industry–university cooperation greatly. With supports by DUCR, Edge Capital handles yearly near 2500 joint and commissioned research activities with fast and low bureaucracy process. These researches through collaboration with the private sector are rapidly contributing to the society. Such a support organization speeds up the initiating cooperation research, and also speeds up the transfer of the academic results to society.
Further, the young researchers have an opportunity to receive research scholarship from the cooperation partner, and even end up to work with the cooperated partners. The projects are also open for international companies – in practice who have business in Japan.
The Intellectual Property Department in DUCR is a close collaboration with the University of Tokyo and Production Technology Research Foundation, and it is responsible for joint research promotion from the point of view of the rights of and protection of intellectual property. The activities are conducted in partnership with law firms. Law firms handle the actual contracts and support legal issues on intellectual property matters. Such detail support ensures a smooth cooperation and all parties can open minded to target a big breakthrough.