Non-invasive screening tests for preventive healthcare

Building Indo-Finnish Partnerships

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I remember the moment landing to Bangalore for the first time 2,5 years ago with the purpose to activate collaboration with our research partners and search for new ones around our oral cancer screening project and start finalising the development work so that we could bring our solution to the market. Arriving to India was an experience itself: the airport was more than busy, the traffic felt chaotic, walking in the streets required extra caution with holes on the ground and electricity wires hanging everywhere and moreover we had not too many firmly confirmed meetings agreed at the time we landed. That is not exactly what I have been used to. However, the people I was in contact with were welcoming and warm – and even after months of silence our research partners organised to work with us with a short notice, connected us to other important stakeholders and were genuinely interested in joining our mission to productising our solution for affordable early stage cancer screening. I felt energized and excited.

But how can a 5-person team from Finland develop a couple of meetings and a prototype product into meaningful partnerships and established presence in India? First everything looked to be progressing with giant steps every time we met with our partners, but then there were moments of frustration: long periods when nothing seemed to happen and everything was unnecessarily bureaucratic for pragmatic Finns. However, with right partners, we have always been able to make critical steps happen: like setting up an Indian subsidiary in just 6 weeks, finalising needed agreements on time, and we have been privileged to meet world-class experts and top professionals willing to work with us.

So, what has been the key in getting forward in this Indo-Finnish collaboration?The way I see it, both looking back and forward it came down to a couple very simple guidelines which actually do not apply only to Indo-Finnish, but all partnerships and business relations:

  1. Work with partners who share your values and ways of working. Neither of you will be truly successful if you are not aligned from the very fundamentals of why your organisation exists or why and how you personally work in it. With our most important
    collaboration partner, the Public Health Foundation of India, this forms the backbone of our very seamless and fruitful collaboration.
  2. Set clear, mutually beneficial goals. You cannot expect to have a working long-term relationships if it’s not beneficial for everyone – or if you do not dare to simplify the goals so that it’s crystal clear in all levels of all parties’ organisations where you want to go
    together. This seems self-evident, but it’s alarming how often you can see it has been forgotten in business relationships.
  3. Be present and be genuine. My business partner from another venture, Peter Vesterbacka, often refers to a chinese saying “good friends should visit each other often”. And how right he is. Spending time with your colleagues and partners is the only way to get to know them and to create meaningful connections. Be yourself, open and embrace the human warmth in different encounters. In addition to progressing your business, it also makes life more enjoyable.
  4. Deliver. In many cases, if nothing seems to be happening, you need to look in the mirror and do your own job – no one will do it for you, not in India or anywhere else.
  5. Trust. This might be the hardest part, especially if you have faced setbacks because of trusting too much. It does not mean that you should not be cautious or trust everyone blindly, but accept the fact that in general and most of the time, people are good and want to do their job well or help you succeed in your endeavours.

Following these guidelines will not overrule the importance of systematic execution (which you should always have as your backbone already as a startup, regardless of the market where you’re operating) but keeping a couple simple things like them in mind when establishing
partnerships will make your journey easier and more rewarding.

But isn’t India still a very difficult market, especially for Finns? Of course it is, and so is Finland for Indians – but this does not reduce the need for everyone to think globally outside their home markets. Furthermore, for example the cultural differences – like many Indians being much more flexible compared to us Finns thinking as engineers and planning our calendars two months ahead – do not always make things easier, but certainly enrichen your life both on professional and personal level. In search of meaningful collaboration opportunities I strongly recommend Finns not to have a biased view of India as a “difficult market” – it’s not more difficult than any other if you do your homework. Indo-Finnish partnerships can bring great opportunities for companies from both countries, and even for the countries themselves.