Finland Plays Up Start-ups to Strengthen Exports

THE FINNISH LINE: The counsel general of Finland in New York, Jarmo Sareva, and his wife, Jaana, welcomed a dozen or so members of the media Thursday night to their Fifth Avenue residence for a primer about Finnish start-ups.

A country consisting of many engineers, Finland is trying to build more innovative consumer brands. “That’s because frankly, we lag behind, particularly are Western neighbor Sweden, which has Ikea, H&M and many others,” he said, adding that the three sustainable skin care companies — Cosmethics, Luonkos and MoiForest are among those striving for greater market share.

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Representatives for those companies touched upon the benefits of forest bathing, a well-engrained pastime in Finland, and how post-pandemic, over-scrubbing skin can be detrimental to personal hygiene and disrupt the microbiome.

The U.S. is Finland’s second largest export market, just slightly behind Sweden, and Sareva said this year’s exports to the U.S. are growing steadily and may surpass Sweden this year or next. Finland’s exports are evenly divided between goods and services. Last year, Finland’s exports rose nearly 20 percent to $116.47 billion compared to the previous year.

Finland’s export of services to the U.S. comprises about 20 percent of its exported services. While the business-to-business exports continue to grow, Finland is keen to strengthen its exports to consumers, which unlike large machinery — traditionally popular exports — are more scalable and are often sourced from Finnish nature.

Sustainability and responsibility, be it social, environmental or economic is very much in our DNA,” Sareva said.

While Finnish fashion brands face a good deal of competition in the crowded American market, those with strong heritage stories like Hálo from the North, a Helsinki-based brand that is made in Lapland, are at an advantage. Citing the potential of Finnish beauty products made from natural products, Sareva noted how many of them are meant to bolster users’ immune systems.

“There are a lot of Finnish fashion brands that are marked by the same values — namely sustainability, environmental, social and economic ones. For them, it’s not a matter of ‘values-washing,’” he said.

Sareva said Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin “embodies through her personal fashion choices exactly the responsibility and sustainability,” adding that the current government has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2035. If achieved, that would make Finland the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality.

Sareva, who served as Finland’s first ambassador of innovation from 2018 to 2021, took up his current post in September. He noted how “Finns, most of the time, stand behind what they promise. We are a country marked by a lack of corruption, high levels of trust among people and from this Finnish companies also draw their strength. You can trust our work and we always deliver. I’m not saying this to compare Finland to the U.S. or to any other country. But there is a high level of trust, resilience, responsibility and sustainability mark the entire Nordic region.”

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