Silicon Valley more relevant than ever – and the Nordics have an important role to play

The last couple of months we have experienced how COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of our daily life. We are living bigger parts of our life online. From one week to the other we find ourselves home schooling our kids and working...

The last couple of months we have experienced how COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of our daily life. We are living bigger parts of our life online. From one week to the other we find ourselves home schooling our kids and working remotely from home.

The technical leapfrog facilitates infection detection, enable faster test results and possibility to track the virus rampaging over the world. In India, the corona-tracing app has nearly 100 million users [1]. In order to find data to track population movements, the government collaborate with telecommunication services [2]. In Poland people take selfies in order to prove that they are sticking to their quarantine [3]. Until recently, regulations of these tech-platforms have been a top priority among politicians, but we now see more cooperation and understanding between these companies and the federal level as we collectively grow more and more dependent on them. This is a true challenge from a privacy and democracy point of view. Tech and society are getting more and more interlaced, and we must not forget to defend integrity, trust, transparency and ethics. Values that are typical for the Nordic countries and reflected in the European GDPR. As an example of a result, Wallenberg Foundations has launched a new programme called WASP-HS (The Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program – Humanities and Society). The programme will certainly focus on potential ethical, economic, labor market, social and legal aspects of the technological shift.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the activities of the tech-platforms have shown a surprising strength. The dominance of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Netflix and now Zoom grow as they are acquiring more customers, data and insights. These companies have a strong modern infrastructure for research and innovation in several areas with resources for research and innovation like middle sized countries. For example, Google’s research budget 2019 is estimated to 26 billion USD. The influence of the tech-platforms make their innovations in many areas – de facto standards of great importance for many businesses. In addition, their development in markets, such as transportation, logistics and health, changes the competitive landscape and challenges Swedish businesses. For Sweden, as a small country, we should be aware of that these important platforms for innovation are not just assessable, but actually very interested to collaborate with companies and organizations from the Nordic countries. Companies such as Ericsson, Volvo Cars and Volvo Group are established in Silicon Valley. Their physical presence nurture cooperation, as they have become part of the eco-system of research and innovation and thereby have access to world leading collaboration and competence. Further, the long-term and well-respected collaboration between the Wallenberg Foundations and Stanford University is an example of a unique set up providing researchers from Sweden access to world class research environments.

Stanford University. Photo by : Henric Johnson

Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency is active at Nordic Innovation House and supports organizations to connect to the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem. 160 plus start-ups are members in Nordic Innovation House and during 2020 the membership basis has broadened through members like Swedish Energy Agency, The Scandinavian Association for the Suppliers to the automotive industry, Drive Sweden and University of Linköping.

People and organizations are reflecting on what will come, what will the new normal look like and many voices ask for a more sustainable way of living. This is an area where the Nordics can bring innovation, values and experiences. Radical innovations such as making steel without coal or implementing 5G to mines to reduce risks for the work force are examples of Swedish innovations that reduces negative climate impact and increases security for people. 

Focusing on social benefits and economic recovery, Vinnova is now running a program open for applications. The offering is aimed at initiatives in all business areas, which are based on the current situation, and mobilize for innovation for a sustainable future. The focus is on social benefits and economic recovery. Read more here and here.

From a Nordic perspective, it may these days seem far away to make decisions about a future with presence and cooperation in Bay Area. But we would like to communicate;

  • Both the pace and energy within the area of innovation in Silicon Valley seems, in many areas, to have increased during COVID-19.
  • The Silicon Valley innovation system is surprisingly open for cooperation with Nordic actors who are serious about bringing value into the system.
  • Sweden and the Nordics have an important role to play regarding values such as trust and transparency, as well as cutting edge innovations enabling a more sustainable world.
  • With the network around Nordic Innovation House we are positioned for cooperation with world leading actors in Silicon Valley.

Inger Gustafsson Head of Vinnova Silicon Valley, visiting Scholar Wallenberg Research Link, Stanford and Karolina Winbo Country Manager U.S. Vinnova