North Karelia

North Karelia, with a population of 163,000 inhabitants, is the easternmost region of continental Europe and shares a 300km border with Russia. The strongest industrial sectors are construction, metal industries and the wood, cellulose and carboard industry. North Karelia is home to important forest machinery companies and their strong photonics sector delivers many products and services to the forestry sector. The region is also rich in top wood processing companies and there is activity within the bioenergy market.

89% of the sparsely populated land area is forest, it is therefore no wonder that biomass from forests represents almost all available biomass for North Karelian entrepreneurs. There is about 20,8 tonnes of biomass available for every North Karelian citizen. This available biomass could substitute almost two-thirds (64%) of the materials consumed in North Karelia.

The forest bioeconomy is a vital part of the North Karelian Smart Specialisation Strategy and is characterised by a strongly collaborative environment. North Karelia has a strong innovation profile and a very active forest bioeconomy start-up ecosystem, relative to its population size. Most start-ups function in the wood processing and wood construction sectors.

A vision on the bioeconomy

Forest bioeconomy is the cornerstone of the region’s business and industry sector. North Karelia has strong research and expertise in the forest bioeconomy sector with many contributing actors. Educational organisations, such as the University of Applied Sciences and University of Eastern Finland, research institutes, such as the European Forest Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and Finnish Environment institute, companies and other actors all contribute to North Karelian forest bioeconomy knowledge.

The forest bioeconomy plays a key role in the region’s roadmap towards becoming a climate resilient and low carbon region. Presently, the carbon footprint of North Karelians is 36% smaller than that of an average Finn and renewable energy accounts for 64% of the total energy consumption. In 2030, North Karelia wants to be 100% free of fossil oils, have a high as possible share of renewable energy in the total consumption and achieve a net reduction of greenhouse gasses of 80%. They also want their bioeconomy to reach a turnover of €2.7 billion (currently €2 billion).

Within the bioeconomy, North Karelia aims to be a forerunner in wood construction, produce a wide range of value-added bioproducts, create jobs, ensure ecosystem services, have an efficient use of forest industry by-products, climate smart forestry, apply research to business, use digital forest data and provide education at all levels.

Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3)

The North Karelian Smart Specialisation Strategy consists of two essential parts: 1) New solutions for the forest bioeconomy; 2) Technologies and materials as enablers of growth. Within both parts, six areas of expertise are defined.

Forest bioeconomy is the sector with the strongest research and expertise in North Karelia. As expressed in their Smart Specialisation Strategy, they want to use this opportunity to further develop the forest bioeconomy. The forest bioeconomy sector is characterised by a strongly collaborative environment. The main challenges of the forest bioeconomy sector are the transfer and application of research knowledge to the needs of businesses and the incorporation of an entrepreneurial angle to the sector’s development work. The sector should aim at producing products and services with higher added value. The RIS3 strategy states that “the mobility and transfer of experts from research institutes and educational organisations to companies should be increased and used to create a spill over effect for the entire industry”. Bioregions Facility membership provides North Karelia with additional support to increase entrepreneurship in the forest bioeconomy sector.

Several of North Karelia’s areas of expertise within technologies and materials also have potential in the forest bioeconomy, e.g. photonics, ICT applications and chemistry-related materials expertise.

North Karelia Ecosystem

The North Karelia forest bioeconomy ecosystem can be grouped into ten different categories.

Industrial clusters

North Karelia has a variety of clusters for the forestry and wood sector. All the identified clusters are linked to regional research centres and/or universities.

Leading companies

North Karelia plays an important role in the in the machinery sector. There are several leading companies manufacturing machines for the forestry sector. The region is also rich in top wood processing companies. Two identified leading companies function in the pulp & paper industry. There are also leading companies identified in both market segments Bioenergy and Forestry 4.0.

Research centres and technological centres

Two national research centres, Luke and SYKE, have an office in Joensuu, the regional capital. There are also higher education institutions that provide studies on forestry and they have important research groups related to forest bioeconomy. The European Forest Institute has its headquarters in Joensuu.

Bioeconomy education and training

North Karelia is a relevant place to enjoy forest bioeconomy training. Two universities provide studies related to forest bioeconomy.

Public agencies supporting forest bioeconomy

Public agencies that support forest bioeconomy in North Karelia are: The Regional Council of North Karelia (a Bioregions member); the Finnish Forest Centre; Business Joensuu (a Bioregions member); and Luotsi.

Accelerators and incubators

Accelerator programmes are not manifold in the sparsely populated area of North Karelia. The most important accelerator is Business Joensuu. They are a Bioregions member and provide a wide array of services to companies, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.

Investors and venture capitalists

Two of the identified investors focus specifically on Joensuu and North Karelia. Those investors preferably invest in digitalisation, technology and forest bioeconomy start-ups. Three investors that operate nationally do not have a specific thematic focus.

Start-ups and tech SMEs

North Karelia has a very active forest bioeconomy start-up ecosystem compared to its population size. Several North Karelian start-ups and SMEs function in the wood processing market segment. Additionally, there are several wood construction, forestry services and non-wood forest product start-ups and SMEs


North Karelia holds several important bioeconomy and entrepreneurship events. Photonics Finland is a matchmaking event for industry, research and technology providers, and a platform for meeting relevant start-ups in the photonics sector. Karelia Symposium is an annual conference on wood material science, wood industry and wood construction organised by University of Eastern Finland

Forest- or innovation-related information sourcest

Useful information sources for North Karelian entrepreneurs and the forestry and wood sector are provided by: Joensuu Entrepreneurship Society; Business Joensuu; Finnish Forest Centre; and Metsähallitus.