Nordic Innovation Summit 2019

On May 16th, innovation leaders from the Nordic region and Pacific Northwest came together for this year’s Nordic Innovation Summit. It was a sold-out event where nearly 300 attendees had the opportunity to dig deeper into global challenges that the world is facing today, share valuable insights and explore opportunities for collaboration to solve these critical issues. This year’s summit focused on a wide range of topics, including blue technology (maritime), green/clean technology, smart cities, educational technology, financial innovation, and the Internet of Things. The Nordics and the greater Seattle area are global leaders in innovation, making the Nordic Museum in Seattle a perfect place to host the Nordic Innovation Summit 2019.

The Nordic Museum in Seattle hosted this year’s Nordic Innovation Summit. Picture: nordicmuseum.org

The Nordic Region is the 11th largest economy in the world and home to 26 million people. The region tops many international rankings in transparency, trust, environment, gender equality and happiness, and has one of the most highly educated populations in the world. Washington state came in third in Bloomberg’s ranking of the most innovative states in America 2019, beaten only by the veterans California (1st) and Massachusetts (2nd) that are home to some of the world’s leading innovation clusters – Silicon Valley for tech and Boston-Cambridge for life sciences. The Seattle area’s tech scene is anchored by tech giants Amazon and Microsoft, and innovation is also driven by the University of Washington – home of one of the top computer science departments. To ensure its position as a leader in innovation, the state recently passed a bill to higher the state business and occupation taxes in order to fund more degrees in STEM subjects. The Seattle Times calls it “this year’s big push in higher education”, and it’s hitting companies such as Microsoft with a 67 percent business tax increase. But the company is more than happy to pay the price in order to secure an educated future workforce.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans in 2016. Picture: Kevin Lisota / GeekWire

The Nordic Innovation Summit consisted of a full day with keynote speakers, discussion panels and networking events. The panelists coming together for the summit represented both business, government and society, and they were all leaders in their respective fields. Among the panelists was Elaine Weidman Grunewald, co-founder of the Swedish initiative AI Sustainability Center, speaking on a panel together with representatives from Microsoft and Alf Karlsson (former Deputy Minister for Housing and Digital in Sweden) about the promises, risks, and opportunities that are associated with AI technology, and how it is to be leveraged in order to reach SDG:s. Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, was also represented at the summit by Inger Gustafsson, head of their Silicon Valley office, who spoke on a panel on the subject of “Cities of the Future – smart, livable, both, or neither?” that was moderated by Pamela Tiller, Senior Advisor at Nordic City Solutions.

Vahé Torossian (left), Corporate Vice President at Microsoft; Elaine Weidman Grunewald (center), co-founder of AI Sustainability Center; and Alf Karlsson (right) . Picture: nordicmuseum.org

The UN Agenda 2030 recognizes the crucial role of cities in driving sustainable development, as highlighted in Sustainable Development Goal 11 on the importance of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, as 66 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban conurbations by 2050 according to Nordic Innovation. This makes the topic of sustainable societies crucial, and it’s something that both the Seattle area and the Nordic region put high on their respective agenda (let’s not forget that Smart Societies is this year’s theme at House of Sweden in Washington DC!).

We know that the creation of a sustainable society will always be a complex process. There is no single solution but rather thousands of small steps that need to be taken.”

– Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden

The Nordic region can offer high quality urban solutions based on Nordic strengths such as good governance, public-private partnerships, design tradition, environmental and social consciousness as well as robust technological solutions. Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business and Lecturer at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, further emphasized the Nordic expertise in sustainability during his keynotes titled “Sustainable Vikings – Nordic ways of life and work”. As a matter of fact, Scandinavian based firms are 3x more likely selected to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and 19x more likely selected to the Corporate Knights Global 100 sustainability leading companies compared to U.S. based firms.

Petra Hilleberg (center), Swedish Honorary Consul; and Cecilia Lif (right), counselor at the Embassy of Sweden, engaging in a conversation at the Nordic Innovation Summit. Picture: nordicmuseum.org

The success of the Nordic Innovation Summit has resulted in strengthened relationships between business, government and non-profit leaders from the Puget sound region and the Nordics alike. A big thank you to the Nordic Museum and its sponsors for making this great event happen – we are excited to see what new collaborations and projects that have been initiated across the borders at next year’s summit!

Author: Hanna Isacsson, intern at the Office of Science and Innovation in Washington DC