Day 3 Finland – Nokia & Design Factory

2009 October 29
by Ismail Dhorat

Yesterday on our knowledge exchange visit, we visited a small little company that was founded here in Finland called Nokia, the company was founded in 1865 as Finnish rubber works, and they have done many different things from forestry to mining boots. Today they are currently a mobile device manufacturer and Nokia is in the process of another transformation from just manufacturing of devices to providing solutions and services as well.


They currently employ over 125,000 people around the world, with an R & D presence in 16 countries. What struck me however is their how they deal with emerging markets. They have a strong focus in developing technologies that are relevant to people on the ground and have R & D centre in Nairobi.


Roope Takala from Nokia R & D gave us an overview of the department and some of the work they do. Interestingly about 30% of employee’s are in R&D and they spend about 11% of net sales on it. They partner with universities around the world such as MIT, Stanford, HIIT, Cambridge etc. However the number of African universities seem to be low? Hopefully that will change soon.


Some of the innovations that came out of Nokia R & D

  • In built antenna
  • Camera, Video, Audi codecs
  • Speaking clock, for blind people
  • Graphic interfaces
  • First accelerometer in a mobile phone in 2002
  • Ambient & Environmental sensing / Sensorplanet.org
  • Visual Radio
  • Mobile TV
  • Braille Reader (Converts an SMS to Braille)



Some of the inventions that came about from R & D related to emerging economies

  • Prepaid tracker, which shows your prepaid balance on the screen while making a call. Useful when people share phones or when someone sells minutes to people.
  • Flashlight & Non Slippery Surface
  • Shoot to Translate, take a picture of text and it can be converted to your home language
  • Talking phrasebook and sentance translator


old nokiaWe also visited the Nokia VIP lounge, which is kind of a demo area with all the new phones (Like the new 9000, it runs Linux!!), and also all the classic phones. We also got to play with some Vertu Phones, they only cost between $2,000 and 30,000. I even saw one of my old phones in the ‘history’ wall and a few bricks.


We got an overview of Nokia Life tools, which provides Market, Pricing information and weather to farmers in India allowing them to get the best pricing for their produce.


In the afternoon, we got an overview of Nokia Money, and how it works, as you would expect it provides Person to person transactions, accepting of mobile payments, and depositing of cash as well as utility payments via mobile. The service has been launched in India together with obopay.


The day ended at Nokia with discussions on usability, in particular usability on mobile applications.


IMG_0354From Nokia, we headed to the Design Factory a co-creation space created for designers, researchers, industry and startups. Some of the startups based there are quite interesting such as Powerkiss who are developing a wireless charging solution. The event was organised by the AAlto Entrepreneurship Society a student organisation that is part of the Aaalto university. They seem to be really active in promoting entrepreneurship amongst students.  They organise regular events, trips to sillicon valley etc. There have also been talks about setting up a Finnish incubator modeled on Y-Combinator.


Some of the students presented the projects that they were working on, and what struck me was how different the projects in the Finnish universities are compared to South African ones. For example, the typical final year project for in South Africa would be something like ‘You have been contacted by Company X, they currently have the following problems… xyz, how would you resolve their problems’. The students then go off, follow the waterfall approach do months of requirements planning and a ton of documentation and develop it.


Where as here, the focus seems to be “We want you to build a startup, as quick as possible”.


In other words, in South Africa we are grooming students to “Sell Hours” where as in Finland they groom the students to be entrepreneurs.


I also found the Design factory environment extremely unique and interesting, a space dedicated to design, And not just design in the sense of graphics but industrial design, product design etc. I think in South Africa we need to think carefully if massive science parks with huge costs are the way to go, or maybe this way of working is better. Small micro-clusters dedicated to a specific type of function.

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