When Integration Meets Innovation

Marie Wall—Deputy Director of Startup at Sweden’s Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation since Match 2016—talks about the challenges and rewards of supporting the startup scene, and why Sweden is so incredibly innovative.

As a bridge between startups and the Swedish government, Marie Wall—Deputy Director of Startup at the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation—is a renowned expert of growth in startups, social entrepreneurships and innovation. Needless to say, her knowledge stretches from the smallest needs of the start-up community, to the biggest steps Sweden must take to maintain its status as an innovation leader.

Following an interesting panel discussion at SACCNY’s Innovate46 conference in 2017 on the topic of scaling up, Wall later also spoke about social entrepreneurship, with Anna Ryott as a part of this year’s Executive Women’s Luncheon (eWc). SACCNY is excited to sit down with Wall, as she shares more of her latest insight on the issues of collaboration, innovation, and beyond.

As a link between politicians and startups, what do you consider essential for boosting the startup scene?
Understanding—not only in terms of the startups’ creative capacities—but also their growing pains. For a long time, traditional industries have been working closely with politicians and civil servants, which naturally builds a comfortable rapport and mutual understanding of important needs. This is something we must develop for startups as well. Obviously, this will require constructive dialogue about joint priorities, plus more time and dedication to learning each other’s challenges, limitations and perspectives.

What are the startups’ most important needs?
Startups need capital, competent human resources and customers. Our goal at the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation is to make Sweden conducive to all this, so startups can become global scaleups in the long run. The aim goes beyond helping them fulfill their potentials, drive economic growth, create more jobs, and increase productivity, but, also championing them to become change agents for a better world.

How then, can we secure more capital, competent human resource and customers?
When it comes to capital, startups need access to different sources including private savings, loans, grants, business angels and venture capital. Given the importance of startups, it is worth noting that Sweden has one of the strongest angel investor networks in Europe and the most active stock market for young innovative companies. Human resource wise, Sweden boasts high quality professionals in ICT and creative industries, as well as research and international management—but we need more people. As companies continue to grow, the country must broaden its search for talent around the world. Therefore, it is critical to boost Sweden’s global appeal. As for customers, the situation in Sweden is quite different from that in the U.S. Swedish companies rely more heavily on export, so many companies are effectively global from day one. While the general consensus is to encourage more companies to venture abroad, we also want companies to grow in Sweden. Therefore, it is imperative to help companies find customers and strategic partners within the country as well.

What drove Sweden to become such an innovative country?
Swedish innovation can be attributed to our structure as an integrated society. In light of our ability to see the bigger picture, we place higher value on the synergies between different sectors and institutions. This high level of collaboration between the academic, private and public sectors is ultimately what keeps our country so innovative and competitive. By the same token, this integrated social structure also effects a robust social security system, which gives entrepreneurs in Sweden a stronger buffer to take the leap and innovate.

Why is innovation so important?
Considering how the world is inundated with concerns such as climate change, ageing populations, digitalization and urbanization, innovation is necessary. Innovative startup and scaleup companies are key to growth and sustainability, as they both inspire people’s trust in the future and tackle pertinent issues of our time. This is why innovation must be celebrated and nurtured. If we want more startups and entrepreneurs to use their creativity to contribute to solve the challenges we face, society has to step up as a customer and a partner. Contrary to popular perception, many entrepreneurs I have met did not found their companies for money. Rather, they wanted to make a difference in the world or within their own communities. So instead of only measuring success through money, we need to celebrate and reward the positive social contributions companies make. The start-up community itself has actually introduced a new term for companies that have made a positive impact on at least 1B people—“the impact unicorn”.

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