Building the innovation environment

Besides innovations themselves, the local environment is a subject of continuous, long-term development in order to maintain its conduciveness to innovativeness and effective commercialization of outcomes. The past decades have seen the construction of basic innovation infrastructure, such as universities and their mechanisms for technology transfer, science parks, programs of centres of expertise and clustering, and so forth.

Collaboration between the universities and the business sector has for a long time been both intensive and a natural part of daily activities (Smart Europe Assessment, Tampere Project 2013): “There is a unique co-creative and collaborative atmosphere between universities and businesses”. Without delving into the lengthy list of actors, it is worthwhile to characterize some of the key actors that form the backbone of the local innovation environment.

University of Tampere, focuses on society and health. Its leading fields of research include e.g. information, information technology and knowledge; cities, the environment and the regions; journalism and media; changes of society; the individual and the health of the population. Centers of Excellence in Research status has been conferred by the Academy of Finland on Research on Mitochondrial Disease and Ageing and The Finnish Centre of Excellence in Historical Research. It is the top university nationally in terms of external funding from foreign private companies. The university is very popular among potential students but the most difficult to get into; only one in ten applicants is approved annually.

Tampere University of Technology, has a reputation as an industrial university due to its long-lasting close collaboration with industrial companies. Leading fields of research are especially signal processing, optics and photonics, intelligent machines, biomodelling and the built environment. The Academy of Finland has appointed the Signal Processing Algorithm Research Group (SPAG) and Generic Intelligent Machines (GIM), together with Helsinki University of Technology, as Centers of Excellence in Research.

In addition, Tampere University of Applied Sciences supplements this knowledge infrastructure with its versatile supply of graduates in, for example, Computer science, Media and Graphics, Digital gaming, and many other fields. The large R&D facilities of the Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT (more than 300 experts) provide the companies with an R&D partner especially in those three areas of competence that are at the core of strong local clusters.

Tampere has been the forerunner of large, locally initiated public–private partnership-based innovation programs. These have generated cumulative competences and the confidence to conduct large-scale innovation policy operations with high impacts (see e.g. the final evaluation of the National Centre of Expertise Program).

There has been an intense learning process and evolutionary path related to the local innovation policy. The latter part of the 1990s saw the emergence of a cluster-based innovation policy that bore fruit first as an enabler of rapid growth in the ICT cluster and then, on both sides of the millennium, as large innovation programs (eTampere, BioNext, Creative Tampere) and their impacts on local entrepreneurialism and many innovative outcomes. Nevertheless, the programs back then were characterized to some extent by a supply-driven logic.

Somewhere between 2005 and 2008 it was realized, both in Tampere and nationally, that a more demand-driven approach should be taken. This is to, for example, exploit the potential hidden in a large public sector (innovative procurement), in a highly educated population (democratization of innovation) and in more active IPR management (open innovation) of companies and higher education institutions, for example.