Innovation in the Nordic Silicon Valley

By Anastasia Nedayvoda
As a Wallenberg Fellow I had a chance to spend last summer working for Ericsson and gaining hands-on experience in strategy, intrapreneurship, and Smart City solutions while learning about the Nordic innovation system. In this post I want to share with you some of my observations on Sweden’s Silicon Valley and challenges of being an intrapreneur.
Ericsson is headquartered in Kista Science City, also known as the Nordic Silicon Valley, – the largest Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) cluster in Europe and the birthplace of many wireless communication technologies.
The development of an ICT cluster in Kista was largely influenced by a substantial supporting infrastructure for innovation in the region: universities (internationally recognized KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University have departments there), local and international technology providers (Ericsson, IBM, Tele2, Tieto, Cisco, and Intel to name a few), and Ericsson’s major R&D facilities quickly put Kista on the map.
In the early 90s the cluster was known for its ‘rebellious’ spirit – soon after re-location to Kista talented engineers had become ‘cowboy’ researchers – they followed a hunch and proceeded with their research rarely waiting for an official request from the headquarters. Those researchers were the moving force behind Kista’s breakthrough innovations in wireless ICT. As the sector matured, Kista has developed into a space of considerable R&D activities with a focus on business services, passing its “rebel” title to Stockholm City Center with its vibrant startup scene.
Ericsson played a central role in shaping the cluster and it keeps setting the tone for its development now as 17,000 of the company’s employees and much of its R&D facilities are based in Kista. Ericsson of today is reinventing itself as a system integrator in order to not simply survive but thrive in the new open communications ecosystem.
I joined Chief Technology Officer’s Office as a Business Analyst and was assigned to a small team that worked on creating new revenue streams for the company by monetizing existing network assets. ‘New’ in this context means that the team should be innovative while ‘existing’ served as a reminder to align with the corporate agenda. In other words, my team was tasked to act as intrapreneurs – innovate from within. Owing to the Wallenberg Program, I leapfrogged several career stages for that summer and was given the responsibility to pioneer innovation in corporate settings – a role that is usually reserved for company’s senior management.
Starting with ‘cowboy researchers’, Ericsson truly embraces the culture of intrapreneurship – its highly-ranked internal innovation program is worth a separate post – and I want to add to this by sharing the lessons I learned while pioneering an innovation solution within a multinational corporation that, I believe, are applicable to any intrapreneur.
Expertise does not lead the way. When advocating for an innovative solution, an ability to give a precise acronym-free pitch is as important as an ability to ask for one. While expertise is an asset, it is not a determinative of success in pioneering an innovation in corporate settings. Your competency is what lets you get your foot in the door, but your communication skills are what let you be heard and eventually supported by others.
Persistence does not open more doors. Innovation within a corporate system is rarely about being persistent. Persistence, while essential for entrepreneurs, might lead an intrapreneur to a dead end. Benchmark – often and rigorously – and then adjust the proposed solution accordingly.
Bring the product to the market. Bring the product to the market, do not bring your product to the market. While ego can serve as a motivation for some of entrepreneurs, it will surely sabotage the career of any intrapreneur. It is likely that innovation, as implemented, will be tested and modified in line with your original proposal later on, but to have this probability this innovation needs to first reach the market.