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Joint Finnish-Swedish project develops businesses in the archipelago
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Joint Finnish-Swedish project develops businesses in the archipelago

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: Camilla Ekman

The three year long project starts in October. It will develop small businesses in the Finnish and Swedish archipelago, across borders and disciplines. The aim is to create new businesses, new knowledge and new clusters of cooperation, where digital opportunities play an important role.

“We hope to find synergies between the Finnish and Swedish archipelagos by working across the borders,” says Maria Westerlund, head of education at the Swedish-language Novia University of Applied Sciences, with campuses in Vaasa, Turku, Jakobstad and Raseborg.

The Central Baltic Programme gave the project 'Archipelago – strategic partnerships for business development' its go-ahead this summer, and it is now waiting for the final formal decision which will give them 1.6 million euro over three years. The Central Baltic Programme is financed by the European Regional Development Fund, and one of the terms for getting a grant is cross-border cooperation. 

The Novia University of Applied Sciences is the project leader, and will work together with the Åbo Akademi University, Södertörn University in Stockholm and the Swedish Drivhuset, which helps new entrepreneurs start and run companies. The aim with ‘Archipelago Partnerships’ is to create new business models, companies and cooperation in the archipelagos of Turunmaa (Åboland in Swedish), Åland and Stockholm.

Tough conditions

The archipelago between the Finnish and Swedish coasts today hosts small companies which often operate under tough conditions. Many companies are seasonal, and local populations are dwindling, which leads to a lack of young people ready to take over when the older generation retires. This development can now hopefully be turned around with the help of researchers and students in cooperation with municipalities and businesses. 

“The aim is to create as many clusters of cooperation as possible so that smaller businesses can share resources while also learning from each other,” says Maria Westerlund.  

The project will start by mapping how business in the archipelago operate today – what works and what are their needs? Data will be collected and structured in order to be available digitally. Little by little digital platforms will be developed experience sharing, recruitment, marketing and more. The idea is that different kinds of meetings will generate new ways of corporate thinking, and that ideas will be born across generations and types of skills. 

Older business owners in the archipelago will share their knowledge and experiences, and young students who know about business economy, tourism, media technology and marketing will share their areas of expertise. In order to make ideas market ready and to develop new business models, they will use the so-called LOOPA model, developed by Drivhuset. In short, it means developing an idea while continuously testing it out in the marketplace.

“We offer fresh heads”

“We want students and business owners in the archipelago to meet face to face. Together they will map the businesses’ needs, for instance for digital solutions, logistics, economic models and more. We still don’t know exactly what the businesses’ needs are, of course, but our aim is to help them formulate those needs,” says Camilla Ekman, senior lecturer of business economy and marketing at Novia.

“It is crucial that we find key players who want to do this. Sometimes companies in the archipelago don’t have enough time, and there can also be a degree of project fatigue, a feeling of ‘Someone else who wants to do something for us’, since there are many current development projects in the archipelago,” she says. 

The students will play an important role. They will take courses, exams and also spend their internships in archipelago businesses.

So why should archipelago businesses with project fatigue want to work with you?

“We offer free development work, and companies that take part get help and knowledge directly from the University. We offer fresh, new heads who will look at things in a new way, and who perhaps can help create new business opportunities. But this requires commitment from the businesses,” says Camilla Ekman.

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The LOOPA method

The teachers and teamcoaches Micaela Strömborg, Anna-Karin Abrahamsson, Heli Nyberg and Maria Westerlund (picture above) familiarizes themselves with the LOOPA -method. In short, it means developing an idea while continuously testing it out in the marketplace.

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