Practical ways of boosting Finland’s competitiveness to offset the shrinking share from Russia were raised when business leaders met with Minister Foreign Trade Lenita Toivakka.

Championing the transatlantic trade partnership, leveraging the startup, education, ICT and life science sectors, were among the talking points at the meeting, hosted by the international business hub Amcham Finland.

The minister briefed the C.E.O.s on the current state-of-affairs, including Russian sanctions and the comprehensive trade negotiations between Europe and the U.S. TTIP is a “win win” for jobs, trade and investment, and those that are “particularly close to my heart: SME’s,” Minister Toivakka said, referring to her background in business.

Cultivating the entrepreneurial community

The growing number of Finnish startups reflects an emerging entrepreneurial culture, which, could benefit from more government support, the minister heard. The business leaders made a number of suggestion, including piloting customized labor laws, a focus on patents, and investing in growth companies to help them go global. They also suggested creating a new platform for startups and big business to meet.

At the center of the New North

Finland has all the pieces to become an international innovation hub, the challenge is putting them in place. Internationally, Finland has developed a reputation for education, ICT and life sciences. Leveraging this needs a more collaborative approach between business, government and academia.

With five major university cities, Finland punches above its weight in higher education, particularly in the life sciences. Despite this, the institutions continue to work in silos. Together, they would present a stronger voice to attract more global interest, and investments. The discussions also turned to the field of ICT, where the Nordic countries with Estonia, is one of six internationally recognized global innovation hubs. The question was put: how can we build the ‘Nordic Hub’ and position Finland at the center?

In terms of size, and geographical location as the gateway between Europe, Asia and the West, Finland could replicate the Singapore’s ‘innovation hub’ model. The business leaders it will take bold leadership, collaboration, and a world-class international marketing strategy. Minister Toivakka welcomed the approach, and working more closely with the international business community to make concrete steps to help realize the shared vision.

Lenita Toivakka was recently promoted to the European Affairs and Foreign Trade portfolio in Prime Minister Alexander Stubb’s cabinet. Prior to joining teh parliament in 2007, she worked as a flight attendant for Finnair, and managed a K-Citymarket in her home town Mikkeli.