Cross-border collaboration in the Archipelago

Annemari Andrésen,
Project Manager of Archipelago Business Development,
Novia University of Applied Sciences,
Turku, Finland

The starting point of the EU Interreg Central Baltic-financed project Archipelago Business Development was the overall trend of a decreasing population in the Finnish and Swedish archipelagos. This trend has been attributed to an aging population, urbanization, logistical challenges, the short summer season, and lack of work opportunities in remote locations. What could be done to improve the situation and reverse the trend?

The project started in 2016 and was finalized in the fall of 2019. The aim was to create new business models through connecting SMEs in the archipelago regions of Turku, Åland Islands and Stockholm as well as supporting them with business model development. Novia University of Applied Sciences led the project with Finnish project partner Åbo Akademi University and Swedish project partners Södertörns Högskola and Drivhuset.

The goals of the project were to create 5 startups, 10 new business models and involve 60 companies in different activities. The project exceeded its goals and could in its final report count 22 new business models, 12 startups and 185 involved companies. The companies were in the beginning recruited through local entrepreneur organizations and direct contact, as well as through articles in local newspapers. As word of mouth spread, more companies requested to join the project. Among the early participants was e.g. the Kimito based start-up company Tablebed, which was recently rendered an international design prize in San Francisco for their functional combination of a bed and table. Other examples of new business models and start-ups that the project generated include setting up Flowpark in the Åland Islands and starting a travel agency in Swedish Dalarö.

A challenge inventory was carried out early in the project, based on which the companies were categorized. Some were recommended to take part in an accelerator program for companies in the starting phase or in need of a restart. The accelerator program was based on project partner Drivhuset’s loopa-method, involving several iterations of the business idea with potential customers, thereby refining the business model. The participating companies were coached by project partners and in addition received substantial support from each other, to the degree that they developed common business ideas. As one of the aims of the project was to establish partnerships between archipelago companies, this was a very positive outcome.

Other means of promoting collaboration and partnerships between companies were business clinics with different themes, which were organized in varying archipelago locations. This was done to make it possible for companies to participate without having to travel far. The themes included marketing and sales, search engine optimization, service design, pricing, and destination development. The participants appreciated meeting other entrepreneurs during these events, being able to exchange experiences, find common areas of interest, as well as develop ideas for their own businesses.

A more structured forum for finding new business partners across geographical and other borders was provided by the three matchmaking seminars, which the project arranged in Turku in 2017, Mariehamn in 2018 and Stockholm in 2019. The idea of these Archipelago Business Forums was to gather archipelago entrepreneurs from all three areas to work on common challenges, get new ideas and inspiration and to meet potential business partners. The events each gathered participants from around 50 companies to listen to inspiring speakers, take part in workshops, mingling events and a student hackathon that was arranged simultaneously. Many participants stated that they found new contacts and inspiration to take their business to the next level.

In addition to the above-mentioned activities, the project also arranged two benchmarking trips for the archipelago companies. The first one was arranged to Finnish Lapland and the second to Swedish Utö. In Lapland, local entrepreneurs provided examples of how they have managed to package experiences and attract international tourists to spend considerable sums of money in Lapland during their visit. This visit was eye-opening to several companies working in the tourism sector. The collaboration between companies both in Lapland and in Utö was also something that gave food for thought; maybe competition is not so bad, since through coopetition all parties win. As one of the participants stated:

“Alone you are not that strong, but together we can get people to discover the archipelago.”

Finally, a large and important element of the business development was the collaboration between the archipelago companies and students from the partner universities. More than 200 assignments were carried out, ranging from course assignments to theses, where students tackled the challenges of the archipelago or individual companies. A young generation met an older one, and could provide fresh ideas, especially in social media marketing but also in other fields such as branding, pricing, and destination development. The project was thus a win-win; the students learned by doing and established contacts to companies, while the companies got new ideas, marketing channels and even employees through internships. Overall, valuable contacts between the universities and the archipelago companies were established. These contacts will persist in the future even though the project has reached its end.  More information about the project activities and results can be found at, a project portal developed by Södertörns Högskola.

While 2020 has been a challenging year, every cloud has a silver lining. In the summer of 2020, the archipelago region experienced an increase in domestic visitors thanks to COVID-19 and the “staycation” trend. COVID-19 has boosted the usage of local products and services, not to mention the digital leap it has brought to many organizations and individuals. Though the archipelago has traditionally suffered from a lack of work opportunities outside the tourist season, the spring and summer of 2020 proved that it is possible to perform many types of work at a distance with today’s technology. Work is thus less bound to a certain place or time. These experiences provide an opportunity for the archipelago companies and municipalities to further develop themselves to attract even more visitors and inhabitants in the future.

Projects come to an end, but the development of the archipelago continues.


Expert article 2793

> Back to Baltic Rim Economies 3/2020