Growth Forum 08Finnish software cluster needs growth. That much was evident as the first seminar of Growth Forum 08 (in Finnish, Kasvufoorumi08) kicked off last week. The forum is an initiative lead by Microsoft Finland and Association of Software Entrepreneurs. The software industry has more than doubled its share of Finland‘s GDP over the last ten years. Yet there are few Finnish software (or strongly software-related) companies that have grown beyond 100 M€ in annual revenues.

 

The organizing parties had been able to gather influential backers from governmental level as well. Matti Vanhanen, prime minister of Finland, delivered the keynote speech. He had recently been to United States and had met top executives from Cisco, Google and Microsoft. Mr. Vanhanen said that Finnish government is taking steps to create a fertile environment for software businesses. For example, we can expect possible tax benefits on VC investments to growth companies. In addition, the whole public funding sector needs simplifying. Many panelists agreed that public funding should be concentrated on growth companies, not on entrepreneurs who are reluctant or incapable to grow.

 

Key problems of the Finnish software industry are: lack of mid-sized internationally competitive software companies and growth difficulties of companies that employ 50 to 100 people. Those companies find themselves in a very competitive global landscape while the domestic market in Finland no longer supports their growth. In addition, according to panelists too many companies still believe that “our product sells itself”. When going international many companies would need a so-called “Finnsoftbroker”, which would basically be a bridge between the local markets and Finnish companies. According to general opinion no organization yet fills that role.

 

Ok, so the software industry grows, but not fast enough. What to do? Panelists strongly believed that off-shoring is a strong opportunity, not a threat, to Finland. Finnish economy can never compete with Asian countries on sheer production force. Rather all Finnish software companies planning to go global or international should practice off-shoring from the start. Finland also has relatively few business angels, but currently there are increasingly more people with strong international expertise. These experts should be much more active in aiding startups and other growth companies by investing not money, but sweat equity. Naturally entrepreneurs themselves must aggressively seek out this kind of help and form at least an advisory board shortly after establishing their companies.

 

Furthermore, forum participants emphasized the need for patents, especially in the US. Mergers and acquisitions is a difficult way to grow and few Finnish companies have yet mastered it. Perhaps too many Finnish software companies get acquired. To build “new F-Secures” they should rather grow organically or do acquisitions themselves.

 

The forum continues throughout the year 2008. The next seminar is scheduled on June. In the meantime three theme groups (internalization, growth paths and financing) gather and try to come up with recommendations for the future of Finnish software. I participate in the “growth” group and I will be reporting its progress later on.

 

What do think, where is Finnish software cluster heading to? What needs to be done? Please share your views.

 

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