Smart and people-centered innovations are essential for creating sustainable societies. Sweden is a major incubator for startups that in many cases have become billion dollar companies. You know about Spotify and Skype, but many others Swedish startups are on a quest to conquer the world. Think of King (creator of Candy Crush), Tictail, Instabridge and Acast. Many of these mushrooming startups are all about IoT, apps, games and other digital services. Stockholm even has a special co-working space for startups within IoT, wearables, 3D printing, medtech and smart grids (called THINGS).
What are the keys to success? How can we encourage more smart innovations that meet actual needs in society? Let’s get inspired by a few young Swedish entrepreneurs I got a few words with: Anton Håkanson, founder of a planning app for children with autism (DayCape, previously knows as SnailDay) and winner of the award Swedish Youth Entrepreneur in 2014, and Sofie Allert, CEO of Swedish Algae Factory and winner of the Future Price (Framtidspriset) in 2014. Let’s start off with 5 concrete tips:
- Be passionate about your idea. I bet you are really excited about this new innovation of yours. Well – don’t hide your excitement! “If you don’t show that you really believe in your idea, it’s hard to make others believe in it”, says Sofie.
- Step out of your comfort zone and be prepared for setbacks. Having your idea, or a part of your idea going down the drain can actually be a good thing. Sofie emphasises that “setbacks and frustration help develop a company and are necessary ingredients in the process of creating something new and innovative”.
- Be prepared to change your idea. Of course, it feels tough to get criticized for what you thought was a perfect idea, even when it’s meant to be constructive. But, as Anton says, “it’s important to be open for re-thinking and changing your innovation. Even if you have a great idea it’s often not perfect from the start. Be open for feedback and re-think when necessary”.
- Involve target groups from the start. This is one of the keys for Sofie’s success with the Swedish Algae Factory: “Contact potential customers early and involve them in your product development to make sure that the business idea is relevant both in an early stage, but also continuously when moving forward”.
- Target relevant sectors. Anton sees opportunities within education and health care. “I see that education is a sector that will soon go through major changes and will be more open for new innovations. So if you have innovative ideas related to education, now is the time to go for them”. According to Sofie, there’s a need for innovation within tech-heavy sectors and “within cleantech the need for new innovations and entrepreneurs is particularly critical”.
In complex and rapidly changing environments, supporting entrepreneurship and innovation is key. Both Anton and Sofie agree that youth have many exciting solutions for meeting needs in society, the stumbling block is knowing HOW to put these ideas into reality.
What needs to be done to overcome this obstacle then?
“Society needs to give young people the opportunity to be creative and encourage them to believe in themselves and their ability to develop new ideas which solves problems in society”, says Sofie. “There are places and networks for social entrepreneurship that needs to be more visible”, says Anton. On this topic, I got some comments from Agneta Jacobson, the founder and owner of Teyi which helps startups go global. In one of her assignments, Agneta works as an IoT Business Developer Accelerator at EIT Digital via STING, a Stockholm-based incubator for startups.
“It’s often difficult for companies to succeed with their innovations and to productize those innovative solutions on their own, so I believe that Sweden has a lot to gain from fostering meeting places between entrepreneurs and companies. It’s valuable for entrepreneurs who can make sure that their ideas are rooted in actual needs, and for the companies who can get help to find new creative solutions which they might never have thought of themselves”, says Agneta.
What else can be done to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation? According to Agneta, entrepreneurship should be brought into schools at an early stage. One way of doing this can be through inspirational movies that stimulate curiosity and intriguing questions, followed by workshops, exercises and group discussions: “Success stories are excellent for motivating people. We now have many startup success stories in Sweden. These should be communicated to as many young people as possible”.
Finally, Agneta highlights the team as an important factor. Startups are – in most cases – very small, consisting of a core of just 1-5 dedicated people. Taking great care when recruiting your people to the team is essential, since “the successes of a startup rise and fall with the team”. So, summing up what we have learned so far, some of the keys to success are having an idea you’re passionate about, being open for feedback and understanding the needs of your target group. Or in the words of Agneta: “Successful entrepreneurship is about keeping focus”.
So, make sure to keep these tips and tricks in mind while getting out there and making your ideas reality!