Finland regions

Photonics in Finland: the creation of a technological cluster

The Finnish photonics industry is currently worth around 1.2 billion euros per year and employs 4,200 people. Of the 260 companies working in photonics, 60 (30%) have been created since 2016 and our key skills in photonics are optical sensing and imaging, micro- and nano-photonics, lasers and fiber optics and VR, AR, MR & XR. Since 2014, Photonics Finland has helped boost photonics in Finland by operating as an industry-focused multidisciplinary technology cluster, with the aim of facilitating new openings in photonics research, supporting new product launches in the market, to create new activities and improve visibility. photonics in Finland and abroad.

Carlos Lee, Managing Director of EPIC, had the opportunity to speak with Juha Purmonen, Managing Director of Photonics Finland, to learn more about the launch of the technology cluster and how it is boosting the photonics industry. in Finland.

In what context did you become executive director of Photonics Finland?

In 2002, I graduated with a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Eastern Finland. At that time, because of Nokia’s influence, everyone was studying signal processing, and I did my master’s thesis in cryptography. This involved an internship as a software engineer at PT-Controlnet, where I developed different types of cryptography solutions for insecure Bluetooth connections. Then, in 2003, I started a PhD in spectral color and photonics research, focusing on spectral video compression and the development of spectral imaging, color science, and machine vision techniques for industrial applications.

My research involved a 6-month internship at the National Institute of Communication Technology of Japan and three years as a researcher at the InFotonics Center Joensuu, Finland, where I developed commercial applications for spectral video compression.

In 2005, I decided to use my research experience to co-found my own company, SoftColor Oy Ltd, with my partner, Petri Piirainen. Both having backgrounds in digital signal processing, computer graphics and physics, our goal was to focus on developing automatic image processing based on our own patented automatic color correction technology.

Although the company grew quite well, in 2010 I became a development manager at Joensuu Science Park Ltd., responsible for developing photonics projects and leading their nanotechnology cluster program. In 2012, it became clear to me and others working in the field of photonics that Finland should establish its own national platform in optics and photonics, as Sweden had done in 2011. As a result, in 2012, I participated in a 2-year project, funded by Finnish regional governments, to make recommendations for the creation of a national group of photonics companies and universities to share information and promote business opportunities for photonics in Finland. The result was Photonics Finland, which was established in 2014, and since I had played a leading role in the project and had experience developing the Joensuu Science Park cluster program, I was appointed executive director.

What were the main challenges when creating Photonics Finland?

The first challenge was to convince potential members that Photonics Finland would operate as a truly national organization and not just serve the interests of big business and some of the most successful economic regions. To solve this problem, we have always been transparent and ensured that the board of directors is made up of representatives from all major cities in Finland. The second challenge was to balance the needs of universities and industry, which obviously have different interests. We had the case of Photonics Sweeden very much in mind and we knew that it was vital that academia and industry were in the same organisation. It wasn’t working and they advised us to bring representatives from industry and academia together under the same umbrella. Initially, some of the industry representatives in Finland were reluctant to join an organization whose board included academics, as they feared that most of the resources would be spent on academic research. To overcome this, we have put in place a system where the president only holds office for two years and the position alternates between someone from industry and someone from academia, and when the president is from the middle academic, his deputy is from industry and vice vera. There is the same balance in the other 6 Council members with 50% from academia and 50% from industry.

How did Photonics Finland develop?

We currently have 277 individual members and 105 corporate/society members with a 50/50 split between academia and industry. The main part of our business is organizing events and meetings all over Finland, with the subject of technology depending on what is important for each city. For example, Kuopio specializes in healthcare and medical applications while Koli has a history in forest and photonics. We try to bring photonics to as many cities as possible and for this reason our annual “Days of Optics and Photonics” event as well as our participation in the “International Day of Light” are held in one city. different every year. We also hold annual pavilions at international exhibitions such as Photonics West and Laser Word of Photonics for interested companies.

Recruitment is very important these days, so we have a “job board” for members to post their own job offers with their own text. And related to future recruitment is our promotion of the Photonics Explorer kit for schools. More than 100 kits have been distributed in Finland with the aim of educating and encouraging high school students to study STEM subjects and consider a career in photonics.

Finally, an important development is that Photonics Finland now has its own legal identity, which allows us to participate and receive funding from various European projects such as PhotonHub Europe which has allowed us to give Finnish companies access to advice on experts and advanced photonic technology platforms. Another EU project is Photonics4Industry, which was set up to strengthen cluster management and create exchange opportunities with other photonics clusters in Europe. Additionally, together with Photonics21, we conduct surveys to collect data to compile annual reports on the photonics industry in Finland, as well as specific markets such as the food and forestry sectors.