Finpro’s Jukka Hahlanterä says the Middle East is teeming with possibilities of success for Finnish companies.
Text and photo: Laura Kaapro
For a hard core businessman Jukka Hahlanterä speaks surprisingly lot about a specific Finnish pastry. That rye crust, rice porridge filled pastry is an essential part of his summer holidays in Carelia, an area in Eastern Finland. That’s where his summer cottage is situated.
The end of summer always makes Hahlanterä melancholic: he has to leave the cottage behind, along with a forest full of mushrooms and berries. Especially those wonderful wild blueberries, that – he likes to remind – contain four times more antioxidants than grown blueberries.
"I’ll admit it! I'm a true patriot," Hahlanterä laughs. "And I really want to help great Finnish products and services to succeed."
Hahlanterä started working for Finpro eight years ago. Since the beginning of last year he has been in charge of Finpro’s Middle East market area in Dubai.
Finpro is an organization funded by the government of Finland. Its task is to help Finnish companies to expand to foreign markets, as well as look for financiers to invest in Finnish firms.
For Jukka Hahlanterä these big words mean lots of tea.
"This work requires a wide network, and contacts are of the essence here in the Middle East. It takes time to build good relations", explains Hahlanterä. "One must be willing to drink tea with new acquaintances as long as it takes to convince them that you’re all right."
When a foreign company seeks to enter the UAE market, it has to find a local business partner. It also needs good relations with investors, service providers and various experts.
Finpro representatives act as a link between Finnish companies and the local partners. Finpro’s service is mostly used by small and medium-sized Finnish companies, and it is free of charge for them.
"We provide market studies and consultants, for example, to help construct a distribution network for products," says Hahlanterä.
A new company needs to build a strong entry strategy. It has a lot of matters to get familiarized with, such as halal rules and custom regulations.
"If you want to do business here, you have to also be present. This is not a society where things are handled via email", Hahlanterä stresses.
What kind of Finnish products and services does the Middle East need? Hahlanterä believes that many success stories are to be written.
He mentions digitalizing, various mobile value-added services, clean technology, renewable energy, and water and sanitation sectors as Finnish fortes.
"All the countries in the region want to significantly reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. The focus is on renewable energy sources, but also on nuclear power."
Middle East countries have shown interest towards Finnish school system, too. Exporting the educational expertise is already well under way.
"Arabian countries are working hard to modernize their school systems: the basic education as well as vocational and higher education."
Hahlanterä also speaks proudly of Finnish medical, health care, and healthy food knowhow.
"Diabetes is a huge problem here in the Middle East. Functional food products are on high demand."
To Hahlanterä, chasing business opportunities in the UAE and the Middle East resembles playing Pokémon Go.
"Here’s one, and there’s another! Pokémons run from behind every corner here", he laughs.
However, easy money is no longer available in the Middle East, Hahlanterä recalls. The market is highly competitive.
"Finns have expertise, but so do many others. It’s a good thing. Competition keeps the wheels rolling”, Hahlanterä says.
For those interested in business activity in the Middle East, Hahlanterä offers a simple piece of advice: come to stay for a good while. See how the Pokémons appear.
"This part of the world can seem distant and exotic, and entering the market may take time," says Hahlanterä. "But once you get in, you’ll start growing strong."