Expert Voices Expert Voices – Tommi Pajala
We have spoken to over 30 experts on the topic of applying for European funding as HEI-SME consortia and created a blog series of expert voices out of it. One of the experts we have interviewed during the research phase of the project to assess the status-quo, is Tommi Pajala. You can find all the blogs in this series here.
Tommi Pajala is a serial entrepreneur. He helps companies get funded and grow. Mr. Pajala has established more than 20 companies and raised millions in funding from entities such as Business Finland, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, EU and Horizon 2020 / SME instrument, Finnvera, banks, private investors, business angels and venture capital firms for over 400 companies.
UBC – motivations and challenges
According to Mr. Pajala the most important driver and prerequisite for any kind of collaboration, whether it is university-business-collaboration (UBC), joint projects or internationalisation, is social capital, meaning existing interpersonal relationships, mutual understanding and shared goals. Being the main trigger, social capital and lack of it is often also the biggest obstacle to collaboration as a typical SME and university staff member tend to interact only sparsely and therefore lack UBC experience in general. Moreover, SMEs can view both domestic and international UBC joint projects as a speed bump that slows down doing the actual business.
Bulding supporting mechanisms and awareness
Mr. Pajala suggests UBC and funding application process to be supported by providing an access to grant or other financial motivation, meaning that while joining a project with universities, companies should receive compensation for the activities they provide. Also, joint project should enable SMEs to use a ”validated by research” or ”created together with university” label for their solution or technology, supporting credibility of the company at international as well as domestic market. Furthermore, joint projects offer extensive peer-to-peer learning, therefore they should be positioned and promoted as enablers for further collaboration.
In Mr. Pajala’s opinion most SMEs are not aware they could be compensated for collaborating with universities. Therefore, general knowledge and consciousness about project opportunities should be increased. He further pinpoints necessity to actively develop interpersonal contacts and networks as a vital capability for collaboration between university and SMEs.
Opportunities of Horizon2020 program
Continuing on Horizon2020 program specific issues, Mr. Pajala points out that most SMEs lack resources and capacity to bring together a European consortium and prepare a project plan on their own. He appeals to universities and other intermediaries to take this role. Also, funding agency representatives – such as Business Finland experts – who are aware of various funding opportunities and programs should do active matchmaking and connect their client companies to emerging consortiums. For any international cooperation to start, there needs to be someone who initiates cooperation by using their own social capital for someone else to benefit from.
For Finnish SMEs – especially those coming from heavy industry, automotive industry or medical tech – international projects offer credibility and opportunity to commercialise their solution with leading European corporations that SMEs in question otherwise would not have an access to. In general, any kind of collaboration always leads to indirect benefits and building valuable social capital and networks that can be beneficial later on, Mr. Pajala concludes.
Authors: Toni Pienonen, Katerina Salmi