Talks on innovation

In Insights, Uncategorized

16 July, 2008

I am back at the office after some very interesting and different days of work. I attended a unique event held annually in Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. The event is known as Almedal Week and attracts many of Sweden’s principal decision makers and opinion formers. Prominent political figures and leading personalities, both from civil society, industrial organisations and the business sector, all attend during this week of discussion and debate on various issues, both big and small, at formal seminars, informal lunch arrangements and networking events.

What makes Almedal Week unique and different from other political forums such as Davos and Tällberg is that this forum is open to all. If you are lucky, your seminar may be one of those where a minister makes an unannounced appearance or you may suddenly find yourself in a discussion with the US ambassador at a networking event.

I was there on behalf of Awapatent to host a seminar entitled: ”How can we make Swedish innovation the best in the world?”. Awapatent invited to a panel discussion with the Senior Vice President of AB Volvo, the general director of the Swedish governmental innovation agency Vinnova and other prominent persons.

While Awapatent has grown to become one of Europe’s leading agencies within its sector, we remain very much rooted in Sweden and we consider it important to stimulate discussion and debate on how innovation can be turned into commercially viable business ventures in Sweden.

Or, as Vinnova’s director general Per Eriksson put it in his introductory speech: ”Research has to do with money for knowledge and competence, but innovation has to do with knowledge and competence for money.”

The discussion focused primarily on cooperation between Sweden’s trade and industry sector, the state and Swedish academies. Jan-Eric Sundgren of Volvo, mentioned the importance of major research initiatives based on cooperation between Sweden’s four leading vehicle production companies, their subcontractors and the universities. Jan-Eric Sundgren also emphasised the importance for Volvo to invest in small, interesting companies outside Volvo’s main field of activity, as one of many ways to ensure to not just follow the old rut.

Lena Heldén Filipsson is responsible for innovation issues at Teknikföretagen, the employers’ organisation for Sweden’s leading companies. Lena calls for greater flexibility between Swedish academies, the trade and industry sector. I felt that Jan-Eric Sundgren illustrated the challenge very well when he gave account of his struggle in appointing a chief designer for the Öresund Bridge linking Sweden and Denmark as an adjunct professor. The person in question had not been academically published and his merit, which lay in the fact that he had constructed one of the biggest and more complicated structures in the Nordic region, counted for little in the academic world.

In Sweden we have a very irksome culture with a virtual watertight dividing wall between the business sector and public institutions, according to Peter Larsson, socio-political director of the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers, who highlighted the medical sector as a golden exception where clinical academic services form a cooperation bridgehead.

Michael Oredsson, CEO of biotech company Probi AB, raised another issue concerning Swedish culture: that we need to be more willing to risk failing and view such failure as a learning process rather than a catastrophe. Per Eriksson suggested that California serves as a good example. Tom Berggren, managing director of the Swedish Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, touched on a closely related issue – venturing to believe in and committing to start-up companies and applauding their efforts.

Sweden is clearly a strongly innovative country – consider, for instance, that despite a population of only nine million, we are the tenth most prolific patent application nation in the world, topping countries such as Italy, Canada and Australia. Furthermore, Sweden spends the highest percentage of GDP on research and development in the world next to Israel.

But if there is anything at all to be learned from working with innovation, it is that those who cease to develop will go under. And those who choose to take a blinkered, tunnel-vision approach can easily end up hitting a wall.

I earnestly hope that you, too, will join the discussion. Not only is it enjoyable – it is also useful.

Magnus Hallin, CEO, Awapatent

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