South African tech entrepreneurs may be missing out on opportunities to partner in the happiest country in the world, and get a foothold in the EU to boot. This is the word from 20Fifty co-founder and CEO Catherine Lückhoff.

Lückhoff has just returned from a three-month stint in Finland, working with organisations around the globe as part of the#90DayFinn programme. The programme brings together 15 entrepreneurs, investors and executives from across the world to live in Helsinki while discovering business opportunities and more, for three months.

South Africa has leapfrogged Finland when it comes to the implementation of cloud technology, she says. “Very few organisations in Finland have embraced the scalability and cost effectiveness of serverless cloud architectures. It’s an interesting opportunity for businesses that specialise in these areas.”

Additionally, South African tech skills are in high demand globally, which presents further opportunities for local players.

“Finland is a great country to live and work in and, should they choose to do so, companies would have tremendous support from local entities such as Helsinki Partners and Business Finland to launch a business or subsidiary there. Those businesses would immediately be a part of the EU with close proximity to the Nordics. Strategically it would be a solid move for remote companies like ours and many others, with globally recognised skills.”

“We have a lot to learn from how the Finns approach business, innovation, open data, the circular economy, carbon neutrality, education and more,” Lückhoff says. “However my general impression is that where Finland has solutions waiting for problems, the reality for South Africa is the inverse.

“Forging a closer relationship with countries such as Finland and partnering on projects, technology and proven methodology is where the real opportunity lies. The Finns actively support their talent and start-ups to succeed, while our approach of looking beyond the obvious and defying convention, no matter the odds, means we affect and effect real change.”

Finland is well known for being the Happiest Country on Earth, rated number 1 for five consecutive years by the World Happiness Report, and according to the Special Eurobarometer 471, 80-90% of Finns believe that, generally speaking, most people in their country can be trusted. Furthermore, Finland emerges as the eighth most innovative country in the world according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index.

“The 90 Day Finn programme was born in the middle of the pandemic as a pilot to try something new,” comments Johanna Huurre, Director, Strategic Initiatives at Helsinki Partners. “Thanks to our participants, it has grown to be much more. The programme provides a possibility for us to see Helsinki through the eyes of international entrepreneurs, investors and executives and learn from the best. We are extremely excited to have professionals with such wide expertise and networks, like Catherine, as part of the 90 Day Finn programme.”

“From ecosystem introductions, virtual and augmented reality, to next level medical and smart city technology, to edtech, cloud innovation and even quantum computing – the organising team considered all the relevant industries and went above and beyond to arrange presentations and meet-and-greets that add significant value,” Lückhoff concludes.