I have been thinking about the Finnish public tender system and come to a conclusion that the system, as it is setup right now, does pretty much nothing to help out local start-ups in Finland. Unfortunately.
When it comes to for example healthcare products, the public sector is often the biggest buyer.
Supplies such as glucose meters for people with diabetes are being reimbursed, purchased and distributed by the public sector every year for some 40 million €.
Private sector (mainly private pharmacies and some online retailers) also acts as a channel but it is a relatively small one as most of the volumes (over 90%) go through the public sector.
If a start-up, with a product that is being purchased through the public tender system (e.g. Mendor), is trying to get home market acceptance & reference before going abroad (references are crucially important for any new businesses), then there are probably some serious challenges ahead.
In my experience, though it seems weird, the public sector buyers seems to have a relatively ignorant attitude towards new local products & services. Often even so that answering calls or emails seems to be impossible...
I'm happy if someone else has different kinds of experiences but this is the reality that I've faced with Mendor.
Our Mendor Discreet™ glucose meter, a Finnish design & usability innovation with numerous national & international awards (Innosuomi, Red Herring, Tie50 etc.), has been available for two years in Finland but almost only through a private sector pharmacy chain (Yliopiston Apteekki). Couple of cities (city of Vaasa & smaller cities in that area) have been positive exceptions but otherwise the public sector has totally ignored our existence and the fact that we employ local people who pay taxes in Finland.
Mendor Discreet has gotten some great feedback and seems to serve a segment of people with diabetes well. Nevertheless, the public sector has not been able to find ways to make our product available for these people in local cities & municipalities.
I've heard comments such that the tender legislation and procedures are slow and difficult to change etc… but in this situation we are now facing as a nation (Finland's export has been pretty much in decline since 2008 - export counts for some 39% of our whole GDP), I think we should seriously consider doing something about it.
Many local start-ups would hugely benefit from having the public sector as a first major buyer and reference for getting further deals abroad.
It is a fact that when you go out there, potential customers tend to ask how you are doing in your home market…
Well, luckily Mendor has managed to find some good answers despite of our poor home market situation and is now getting more than 99% of revenues from abroad. Mendor invoiced more than 1MEUR in Q1 / 2013.
The Swedes (in addition to some other European countries) have been more proactive and innovative than our public sector in Finland.
As an example, Mendor ended up winning a public tender in Västra Götaland (Gotherburg region) in Sweden in 2012.
There the Mendor Discreet meter was selected as the primary integrated glucose meter product to be provided for the local people with diabetes.
The Swedes wanted to try out something new and cool from their beloved neighbors. Good for us.
People with diabetes in that region had been very curious to get to try out new and innovative glucose meters that would help in their daily management of diabetes. The Gothenburg region tender committee decided to arrange a hearing and invited Mendor folks to present our product. They were satisfied in what they saw and after some time Mendor won a deal through their tender. We've heard great feedback ever since from the local people with diabetes.
But seriously, is this the only way? Why always Sweden first?
Could we not start being a bit more proactive in Finland, in helping each other out and supporting our local innovations?
After all, Finland needs new export engines and these new export engines need home market references!