Learning innovation from Sweden!

Today’s blog post is excerpts from Dr Premnath Venugopalan’s acccount of his reflections from Sweden. He recently visited Sweden as a part of the Incubators’ delegation led by BIRAC and supported by VINNOVA.

The India Incubators delegation.

Sweden ranks very high in innovation and entrepreneurship globally. Sweden (and its capital Stockholm) is amongst the top innovation hotspots of the Europe and the World. In some global rankings, Stockholm is next only to Silicon Valley. Sweden leads innovation in EU. Stockholm, London, Berlin, Munich, Paris are probably the top 5 venturing hubs of Europe.

1. Innovation thrives when there is trust and mutual respect. Swedish people have excelled in building a lot of trust into their system. There is considerable trust between academia, innovation management groups, incubators, science parks, industry and government. There is a lot of clarity in roles of institutions with minimum overlap. For example, between University (research and tech development), technology management support groups (only tech commercialisation support), incubation centers (only mentoring and POC funding), investment agencies (loans and late stage funding), science parks (only real estate), startups (commercial development of an innovation) and large industry. Government institutes do not do any basic research — only tech advancement and deployment and operate test beds. Government seems to appreciate the importance of industry a lot more and suspicion of intentions is lower. People are willing to trust the government with a lot of health care data, biobanks and records. Government seems to have rolled out multi-decade strategies which people seem to buying into and cooperating. (ex: Sweden has systematically moved away from fossil fuels for energy. Now almost its entire electricity needs come from hydropower, nuclear and wind). When there is trust, there is also collaboration. The Swedish people tell you about how important collaboration is to their culture.

So what makes the Swedes different?

2. In Sweden, the local Government seems to be playing an important role in innovation systems and entities. The local government gets a bulk of the income tax paid by the citizens and is thus quite powerful. The local government (“regional government”) is a stakeholder in most technology commercialisation support entities, incubators/ innovation centers, science parks etc. Thus, local economic development is powered by local resources and catalysed by central government (“state’). This keeps the Universities, Innovation Management Groups, Incubators and Investors rooted in the community and aligned to the interests of the community.

The India Incubators delegation.

3. The support from the Government, foundations and local institutions to innovation management groups and incubators is generous and forward looking, and seen as an investment in translating more innovations and strengthening the local economy. None of the incubators I met had self-sustenance as one of their KRAs. They are expected to show Return on Investment in terms of economic returns. One key metric was taxes paid by companies as a ratio of investments in building those companies.

4. Swedish innovators and entrepreneurs are very clear on the following — they need to build products and services for a global marketplace (since their domestic markets are small) and they need to go international as early as possible. This aspiration is a perfect match with venture investors looking for rapidly scalable business. This aspiration is complemented by a domestic market that is willing to try out new ideas (of course, that is lot easier when you have resources, an economy that sees a lot of global products and generally open minded and early adopter attitude.) 5. Finally, the special place that the Swedish people have for scholars and the scholarly professions is also an ingredient in promoting science -led innovation and entrepreneurship. In Swedish universities, all Intellectual Property is owned by the Professors and not the university (called “Professor’s Privilege”). In many ways, this seems logical — if a Professor’s physical property (land, building) is his, then why not intellectual property? The consequence of this is that the system works to support, nurture and almost “molly coddle Professor’s to lay the golden egg”!

See original post from Dr Premnath Venugopalan here.