Sweden is not waiting for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress next month to devise its strategy for building a strong startup ecosystem. While “number of patents” is only one metric to measure innovation, Sweden thinks it is one of the most important. The 2011 edition of the Global Innovation Index (GII)—developed by the INSEAD eLab which takes into account dimensions such as creativity and efficiency—ranks Sweden second of 125 economies. For the Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012, Sweden came in third position. And, in Thomson Reuters’ “Global Innovators” list, Sweden is the headquarters location of 6 percent of the list’s companies.
But Sweden is looking for more than a hot spot in those rankings. According to my conversations with staff from the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, DC, it is aggressively pushing for a new wave of young innovators to keep its economy vibrant and innovation-driven. This Friday, the Embassy, in collaboration with the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, will comb for lessons learned from various initiatives and policies from Sweden and the United States designed to help innovators (ages 18 years and older) develop and market their ideas. Annie Lööf, Sweden’s Minister of Enterprise, will be there along with representatives from U.S. Department of Commerce.
Focusing on helping young people move their innovations into the marketplace is smart. Sure, Sweden was one of only two countries (Finland was the other) thatreached the 3% target for research intensity set by the EU last year. Plus, Sweden does retain the best reputation amongst its global rivals as a home of high-quality engineering and science. But without dynamic entrepreneurs, too many ideas do not see the light of day. As I have commented on below, the question always arises as to what is the role of government in this regard.
Last month, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) gave the Entrepreneurship and New Business Programme (ENP)—developed at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at Linköping University—high marks for its efforts to help individuals start new technology-based or knowledge-intensive businesses. The study concluded that it has encouraged more individuals to take the step to start and increased their self-confidence and mentorship to launch their ideas. But as we have noted before, such top-down efforts are only a small part of a robust and successful community of nascent entrepreneurs and startups. It is the messy and informal grassroots activity organized around town and cities that is really driving the birth of new ideas around the world.
A further challenge for Sweden is that of scaling entrepreneurial startups. Despite its vast territory, a small population of around 10 million limits the market for innovation. Swedish companies have to think of national boundaries as an artificial grid from the beginning, and policymakers have to figure out how to keep Swedish entrepreneurs located in the country with smart tax policies and incentives in the ever-intensifying race to the top to attract startups and entrepreneurial talent.
Innovation can only drive a competitive national economy and job creation if there are entrepreneurs ready to start new business or even new industries. Sweden has fertile ground for science-based entrepreneurship, but its potential can be further exploited. If you are interested in joining Annie Lööf, Swedish Minister of Enterprise, and me for a live discussion on the topic this Friday, March 2, at theSwedish Embassy, you can still sign up to reserve a spot.
I hope to see you there.