PRESS RELEASE 3.3.2021
The EU Interreg Secretariat has selected NIHAK’s measures to promote the internationalization of SMEs as a best practice across Europe.
The goal of NIHAK’s SME internationalization model is to lower the threshold for companies to internationalize through a peer-to-peer network and joint marketing. The business services organization acts as an intermediary and builds a neutral platform for companies to explore common opportunities and prepare for cooperation without advanced commitments. Building a low-threshold collaboration platform is based on identifying company-specific needs and building trust. With the help of the perspective of a partner who travel alongside you, the readiness of companies for internationalization can be found out and support can be offered to them at the right stage, e.g. utilization of the national Business Finland development instruments.
Rural areas are often further away from international networks and infrastructures. Supporting business cooperation compensates for the distance to international markets. There are a considerable number of growth companies in the Nivala-Haapajärvi area, in whose export success the internationalization model of companies developed by NIHAK has played a significant role. Companies that are developing their internationalization capabilities will start to grow, prosper, and attract other companies in the region to international markets.
Mart Valiste, the SME Competitiveness Expert for the Interreg Europe Program Secretariat, says of NIHAK’s model:
“Despite the success of SMEs in Europe, there is still a gap between SMEs in urban and rural areas, leaving insufficient growth potential. Rural SMEs are often far from the business support structure or ecosystem available to urban businesses. Therefore, such practices, which are designed to support rural SMEs and remove barriers to trust, are particularly important.
NIHAK’s practice differs from the understanding that rural SMEs can be internationalized as groups of companies capable of creating a common value chain in foreign markets, ie that they can form competitive export families. This practice also emphasizes that such cooperation is not always easy to establish and therefore start by building “low-threshold cooperation” and use a neutral actor as an intermediary, able to build connections and identify opportunities for business cooperation. These two lessons are definitely valuable in other rural areas of Europe as well. “NIHAK’s internationalization model was reported as part of a multinational Interreg project called Building Regional Resilience to Industrial Structural Change (FOUNDATION). FOUNDATION will identify, co-develop and implement best practices to support the competitiveness of SMEs in European restructuring areas. The project has a strong network of partners from nine European countries and is led by Munster Technological University in Ireland. From Finland, the Kerttu Saalasti Institute of the University of Oulu is participating in the project, which has also studied the effectiveness of NIHAK’s internationalization model.