Expert Article by Dr. Premnath: Why Sweden is acing the innovation game?

Did you know that Sweden is the leading innovation hotspot in Europe? As per some global rankings, Stocholm ranks next only to Silicon Valley! In May this year, courtesy BIRAC and Vinnova, Dr. Premnath along with a team of other leading bio-incubators had the opportunity to visit Sweden, and learn more about the thriving startup scene in Sweden. In this article, Dr. Premnath shares a few learnings and observations from his visit on what makes Sweden a springboard for new ideas, technologies and products that reach a global marketplace.

Well defined roles: There exists great trust between academia, innovation management groups, incubators, science parks, industry and government. The system expects everybody to do their job well enough, thereby minimizing overlap or efforts to build contingency plans. There is a lot of clarity in the roles of institutions with minimum overlap. For example, the following list highlights the role of each stakeholder in the Swedish innovation ecosystem:

  • University – research and tech development
  • Technology management support groups – only tech commercialization 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

Good alignment with interests of the community: The local government receives bulk of the income tax paid by the citizens, and plays an important role in the innovation ecosystem in Sweden. The local 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 catalyzed by the central government. This keeps the Universities, Innovation Management Groups, Incubators and Investors rooted in the community and aligned to the interests of the community.

Conducive environment and right attitude: 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. Swedish innovators and entrepreneurs are usually focused on building 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.

The Swedish people also have immense regard for scholars and the scholarly profession, and are very open minded when it comes to trying out new ideas. This attitude helps promote 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 incentivize Professor’s to take risks and innovate!

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