2/2014

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Why Oulu?: Let’s hear the companies!

Let’s pause for a moment and think back to the early 1950s. The city of Oulu has mostly been spared from the war, and the new hydro plant has been providing electricity since 1948, feeding industry and the brand new chemical plant. The city has a whopping 40,000 inhabitants, but it’s mostly known for its tar and salmon exports of the previous century. Fast forward to today: Oulu is a vibrant city of 200,000 people, known as one of Europe’s Living Labs, with globally renowned IT, ICT and wellness industries.

What happened in that 60 years? The answer is really quite simple, as explained by Principal innovator Seppo Yrjölä from Nokia Solutions and Networks: “When the University of Oulu started and they had to decide what they would focus on in the electronics department, most universities taught electric power plant technologies – the mechanics and technologies behind making energy. But the University of Oulu decided to focus on transistors, paving the way for microprocessors. From that point onwards, Oulu has been in the vanguard of electronic technology, from transistors to semiconductors and beyond.”

Culture of “do”

Of course, we are all familiar with where that got us: for 15 years, Oulu was one of the key locations for the mobile phone giant Nokia. But now things are different. Nokia’s device unit sale to Microsoft was only the last step in a transition that has forced us to think differently. Now, there is no one particular company spearheading growth in the area; there are hundreds. “The desire to invest in technology is still going strong”, says Aulis Koivisto from Ericsson, who thinks that the do-culture has been here long since before the tech heyday. “Innovation has been part of the work culture forever, now there are just more tools for that. We’ve always thought things over informally with our friends, and that’s where innovation begins.” This echoes over and over again with all the interviewees of this issue of Oulu New Tech: a culture of doing things, trying things, improving things.

“The world isn’t done yet. This is what learning is all about in a company, because you have to change with the world. Sometimes, it’s the company that changes the world. That’s the idea of innovation: either improving existing things or making something totally new that is then improved itself, bit by bit. It doesn’t just end”, says Ville Ylläsjärvi from Haltian.

The road ahead

Innovation as a word carries far, even though it has a tendency to be overused. “In the animation business, innovation means ideas, storylines, content – but also improving the workflow, exploiting technological advances, new methods of making the finished product even better. Cross-media, business models and brand awareness bring the business side to the innovation circle”, says Tero Takalo from Studio Outo.

But just as the world isn’t ready and done, neither is Oulu, and it never will be. There’s always room to improve, to help new businesses emerge and bloom, and to create an infrastructure that’s innovative in itself. We’ve already travelled a long way, with a healthy start-up ecosystem, high-level educational network, business incubators and teams of experts, and most importantly, the desire to see more success stories from the North.