The rise of innovative thinking
Ott Pärna 12.06.2009
I am jotting down a few observations I have made at conferences and daily work in the course of the past months. At last, it was elaborately said in the parliament that innovation is not really an economic term, rather it is a matter of culture. This has to be nurtured from kindergarten: children have to be taught to think creatively, all the more, they need to be encouraged to learn from mistakes.
Regrettably, the whole of Europe has difficulties with such an upbringing. The paradox of the Old World lies in the fact that there are two things that are really loathed: failure and big success. And we are not in a much better situation. In this regard, the media has a big role to play in developing values. If we want to catch up with Old Europe and promote innovativeness, we will have to try to think more in the American way. In the land of opportunities, failure is looked upon as a learning possibility, and it is actually a person's third business that is considered successful.
In spite of the surrounding crisis we in the Development Fund's investment division see positive tendencies: the quality of business plans and investment proposals has increased. There are still too few ambitious and globally oriented projects in Estonia, but those that do exist are more carefully thought out. However, the things persistently in short supply are international sales and marketing competences, which often have to be sought across the ocean. If most potential customers are in North America, only people who have lived on that continent, who have contacts and breakthrough experience can organise sales to these clients. Hence, in order to achieve an international breakthrough, we have to contemplate how to cross-breed Estonian ideas and technologies with international sales and management competencies. Mutual co-operation and strategic partnership with agents should also be considered when reaching out to foreign markets. For example, for each dollar that Microsoft makes, its partners are said to make eight.
In the past months we have received a project or two a week. All in all, during slightly more than 18 months we have examined some 160 projects. In reality, just about half of the projects possibly have an international growth potential and of these 50 per cent are more mature, elaborate and realistic. In a month, we get some three co-investment requests from angel investors, affluent individuals and foreign investment companies.
By and large, considering the future opportunities of the Estonian economy, I tend to believe more in growth areas than in specific sectors. For example, we talk about environmental and sustainable energy products and services, which are on the rise in the world also during the crisis and offer opportunities to companies in many different sectors. The same is true for health and welfare products and services. This sector, too, is growing owing to the aging population in rich countries and the budgetary pressures. This area also holds opportunities for many companies in the private as well as (surprise, surprise!) the public sector. Health care services will be promoted more actively across borders and health care technologies and telemedicine equipment will be sold along with health capsules and tubs, ergonomic furniture, artificial joints, health promotion services, rehabilitation, eye surgery, dental care, smart clothing, e-health solutions, etc.
Should the government contribute more and encourage entrepreneurs to look more actively for unconventional ways of making money? Yes, absolutely. The astuteness to find a profitable section in a production or service chain is of key importance to each and every company. The government, too, has to be smart and figure out those big buttons it has to press so that the society and the entrepreneurs would be naturally innovative and capable of spotting breakthrough opportunities. Meanwhile, the impact is bigger the earlier one "presses the button". We have to be decisive in making our higher educational system international. We have to see to it that a business student, a technocrat and a designer would already write course papers together at school. Also, the first priority in basic education should be maintaining and developing children's creativity and problem-solving.