THE INNOVATORS
20 Nordic innovators that shape our future, part 2
We give you 10 Nordic innovations, and their founders, that are surfing the tsunami of change.
Words ERIK SEDIN & ALICIA NILSSON

Scandinavians have been amongst the busiest inventors since the Age of Enlightenment. Centuries-old inventions such as dynamite and the gas turbine have irreversibly impacted mankind, but often at great cost to our planet. Contemporary innovators are still world-leading, but also world-saving. 

This is the second half of the full list, read the first part here.

Mehrdad Mahdjoubi — Orbital Shower

The innovation Swedish-owned company Orbital Systems use a revolutionary water cleaning system that cleans the dirty water while you shower. The orbital shower uses 90 % less water and 80 % less energy. A 15-minute shower only uses around five litres of water in the orbital shower thanks to its smart recirculating system.

The innovator Back in 2012, the then 22-year-old Swede Mehrdad Mahdjoubi had an internship at NASA where he worked on the Mars Mission project. Water is hard to come by in space, so he wondered if there might be a way to reuse the water they already had. 

— I got in contact with NASA via Lund University. They have a longtime academic collaboration with the design faculty at LU. NASA is continuously seeking outside designers who can provide creative solutions to the challenges with colonising Mars. It’s when you are faced with extreme challenges and environments that you need to push yourself harder to come up with revolutionary solutions.  

Why now? Even though water is one of our most valuable natural resources, it’s not treated accordingly. Traditional showers use up to ten litres of water per minute, which means that a ten-minute shower could use 100 litres of water. 

— For every year, since I founded the company (in 2012), global awareness around climate change has increased. For us, it’s more important to focus on delivering a real solution, than talking about the problem. With that said, the more people that are aware of the problem, the more relevant we become.

Leo Wezelius — VOLTA GREENTECH

The innovation If cattle were a country, Cow-landia would rank as the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world  — only China and the USA are bigger environmental villains. The agriculture sector is far from sustainable, and it may come as a surprise to many that transport or maintenance of beef and dairy isn’t the biggest problem, it’s actually the cows’ own gas problems that exacerbate our greenhouse gas problems. The solution? Giving kettle red seaweed to munch on.

— Today over 5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions is generated by enteric methane production from cows (farts and burps), that is more than twice as many emissions as all the aeroplanes in the world. Our mission at Volta is to reduce these emissions, says Leo Wezelius, co-founder of Volta Greentech.

The innovator Wezelius founded ­Volta together with Fredrik Åkerman and ­Angelo Demeter, who met at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Fredrik was casually surfing on Reddit when he stumbled upon research about how red seaweed could reduce methane gas in cows, and when the group realised that it was a scantily researched area, they dropped out of school to expedite the field.

— The challenge now lies in commercialising this research by one, innovating a way of producing the seaweed at scale at low cost, and two, to find a sustainable business model that creates incentives for farmers to actually implement the seaweed on farms to enable the impact of the ­solution, he adds.

Why now? From an environmental standpoint, our planet would benefit tremendously if we put an end to our beef and dairy products consumption. But completely halting our unfriendly environmental habits is easier said than done. We choose our vices, and most people are reluctant to forgo a good chunk of ­Parmigiano Reggiano on top of their ragu pasta. Thanks to Volta, we might be able to sprinkle some good conscience on our meals soon.

Ramtin Massoumzadeh — LABTRINO

The innovation Swedish tech startup ­Labtrino has come up with a single, patented, non-invasive sensor that anyone can mount on the outside of their water pipes in their home. The small machine diagnoses an entire home’s water and hot water energy usage with the help of ultrasound, and also warns homeowners and tenants if there is a leak. All through the connected app that talks to the compact meter. 

— You can decrease your water usage by 40 % on average, and see an energy usage reduction of 8–16 %. And anyone can install our system! It takes around two minutes and you don’t need a licensed plumber to install an outdated, complicated, and expensive water meter, CEO Ramtin Massoumzadeh says. 

The innovator Massoumzadeh studied Vehicle Engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology and has also worked as an engineering consultant for various tech companies. He and his co-founder Thibault Helle really wanted to make a difference, and perhaps digitise something analogue.

Why now? — The existing water usage behaviour in Sweden is very similar to eating at a buffet. You pay a predetermined amount and then consume as much as you want. This sends out the wrong signals from a sustainability viewpoint, says Massoumzadeh.

Mads Andersen — ZYMOSCOPE

The innovation Danish startup Zymoscope got its name from the actual science that it is trying to master and simplify. Zymurgy is an applied science that studies the biochemical process of fermentation, or as us mere mortals call it; brewing and winemaking. Zymoscope is creating a cheap, reliable, and easy measuring instrument that checks the quality of beer in its fermentation process. With the help of two sensor instruments, one applied on the brewing tank and one inside of it, brewers can follow CO2 content, specific gravity (ratio of density) and alcohol content, and it’s a tool that small breweries can afford.

The innovator Mads Andersen originally founded Zymoscope (then called BIRanalyzer) with his friend Petros Venetopoulos, whom he met at Copenhagen University. Mads’ friends ran a microbrewery and he’d heard about the difficulties of measuring fermentation parameters, so he introduced the idea of a simple measuring instrument to Petros.

”Our dream is to be the first business to democratise quality control in the food industry.”

— Our dream is to be the first business to democratise quality control in the food industry. By that, I mean that we want to make high-end quality control instruments available to both large and small companies. This will help smaller companies, in particular, to achieve the highest quality products while minimising waste, Andersen told the Danish department of Food Science.

Why now? Established breweries can afford the high-end measuring instruments to check their beer’s quality, but smaller breweries and home brewers will hesitate to pay the € 10,000–15,000 price tag. Zymoscope says that they can reduce that price by 80–90 %, allowing approximately 10,000 European breweries a great tool to reduce their beer waste.

Lloyd Sundstøl — CRUSHER

The innovation Contradictory to its rather baneful name, the Crusher is actually friendly — especially from an environmental viewpoint. Normally when asphalt workers tear up roads, the old asphalt is driven to a landfill to be crushed, then driven to an asphalt plant for recycling, and then transported out to be laid as new asphalt. Crusher, on the other hand, tears up old roads on site and turns it to raw materials for road construction. This leads to significantly less transportation, which saves money, and our planet. 

The innovator Lloyd Sundstøl has developed both the method and the machines himself, and even though the Crusher machines mostly operate in ­Norway where the business is based, Sundstøl hopes that his machines reach an international customer base soon. 

— I should have reached out to scientists in the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and different universities earlier than I did, to gain more legitimacy earlier. I think we can expand throughout Scandinavia and in America as well in the near future, he told Dagens Næringsliv. 

Why now? Crusher’s method is fast and cost-effective — it can cut the total project time by up to 75 %. It also means substantial cuts in costs and greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding transportation of new raw materials to road sites. 

Signe Ungermand & Maria Herholdt Engermann — MANND

The innovation MANND is a Cinematic Virtual Reality company that seeks to rethink, develop, and challenge the use of immersive media. Fast-paced technological progress in virtual and augmented reality, also called VR and AR, is helping us to merge reality and fiction in astonishing ways, with MANND as Scandinavian frontrunners. 

The innovator Founders Maria and Signe met at via University in Aarhus, studying film and transmedia. Since her childhood, Maria had always been intrigued by being a part of immersed realities. She loved theme parks, where she could surround herself with the stories and characters that she had got to know in books and movies. When she got introduced to virtual reality at VIA, she saw her chance.

Why now? Storytelling in movies, advertising, and fashion is changing at an immensely fast pace. The idea of going to physical movie theatres, fashion shows, and showrooms is outdated, and with the possibility of recurrent pandemics in the future, storytelling is vital to their survival. 

Feature  VR. AR. MR. XR — as if the physical reality wasn’t confusing enough. Many traditional physical experiences of work, travelling, working out, shopping, going to concerts and the cinema, will sooner or later be scrapped for digital experiences, if they haven’t been already. But how would an ar concert differ from a VR concert, and what would an MR ­vacation look like?

MHE: — VR, virtual reality, is usually experienced with a head mount that covers your eyes completely. You are immersed in another reality, and surrounded by a virtual environment in 360 degrees. ar, augmented reality, is where virtual objects come into our physical world through a screen. Like an iPad, a phone or glasses. An example for ar is Pokemon Go, where the little monsters come into our world through the phone screen.

SU: — XR is an umbrella term for immersive media content. Either VR, ar, MR. You name it. It stands for extended reality. Basically what we are doing at mannd. 

Why start an extended reality agency? 

MHE: — For me, I was always very inspired by transmedia and multimedia. And when the school introduced VR, it just clicked right there! This is the answer, this is a new exciting technology and we can be at the forefront of it all. And it is still so much open land to explore and dive into. 

SU: — It was definitely a chance of being a part of a pioneering field. But I have to be honest, as optimistic as Maria was for VR, as sceptical I was. I got involuntarily dragged into a VR project with her. But it grew on me! Eventually, we made a VR bachelor project, Maria got me a little drunk and got me to sign some papers for us to go to the Cannes film festival in 2017, and the rest is history!

The bachelor project was an immersive film about being in a coma and landed Official Selection awards at the Cannes, Venice and Luxembourg film festivals. Since then, Maria and Signe have been trying to push themselves to create progressive content beyond our imagination. But they can’t push technology as fast as their ambitions. VR and ar technology is developing fast, but getting the technology to be familiar and comprehensive seems to be the biggest challenge. Locating companies in the world that are ready to integrate XR into their respective business models is tough. Conversely, the market is growing as more companies become ready for this implementation, and mannd say they can meet this demand. Just look at the latest iPad that has a built-in lidar (Light detection and ranging) sensor that enables impressive augmented reality gaming and furnishing. Impressive as it may be, not many iPad users find a use for the sensor, if they even know that it exists. 

”They freaked people out, and it takes a lot of time and adjustments for people to get used to new tech.”

MHU: — I think we’re waiting for the big players to properly invest in this technology. We’re following the whole technological development from within, and everyone is working on wearables, some kind of goggles or glasses for example. But Apple, for example, is very secretive about their stuff. But I think they are waiting it out, it has to be more normal to have high tech ar glasses on. I don’t think people are ready for it. 

SU: — Look at the Google glasses that came out like five years ago. Who is the most sceptical? The consumers! I think Google, unfortunately, skipped a lot of steps to merge them correctly into the market. They freaked people out, and it takes a lot of time and adjustments for people to get used to new tech. Google glass were unfortunately three or four steps too far ahead in that process. 

MANND still see itself as something of a mix of traditional movie makers and a faceted VR and ar company that helps any business with their storytelling. A lot of companies in VR are working in healthcare and enterprise solutions to earn their money, but mannd wants to stay creative and true to their storytelling, which has drawn them to the fashion industry. But other collaborations are popping up on the horizon. If you feel like augmenting and virtualising your inadequate physical reality, mannd is the gang to call. 

Stefan Ytterborn — CAKE

The innovation In a lot of ways, Cake embodies contemporary Scandinavian innovation and design. The playful motorbikes look like futuristic animated mockups in their minimalist approach, and the fully electrical motor underlines the woke and environmentally friendly values that so often emerge from Scandinavia. 

The innovator Founder Stefan Ytterborn comes from 30 years of entrepreneurship, most recently with protective gear company POC. But Cake is the first project with a clear environmental agenda. 

— Being able to explore without pollution, silently gliding through landscapes without being disturbed. Our world demands the collective obligation of respect, responsibility, and action for permanence. It made sense to start Cake, says Ytterborn. 

Why now? Combining responsibility with excitement is one way to inspire people towards zero-emissions and when asked about the future for his company and our world, Ytterborn is not holding back on hopeful predictions. 

— The future’s looking bright! The change is coming. In ten years there won’t be any combustion vehicles at all.

Jens Juul Krogshede — NABO FARM

The innovation Hidden underground in an old car mechanic shop in Copenhagen lies the agri-tech start-up, Nabo Farm. The dark and concrete-laden space might not look like it from the outside, but it shelters a Scandinavian baby version of the hanging gardens of Babylon. Nabo Farm is working with vertical farming; planting and farming greens, herbs and vegetables in vertical ”bunk beds” without soil, direct sunlight and pesticides. ­Vertical farming comes from hydroponics, a science that recycles natural water and is the same method that Babylon used in its hanging gardens (in case you wondered why we used that comparison)

The innovator Jens Juul Krogshede started the indoor farm in 2018 together with Sebastian Dragelykke, since both of them missed locally grown, and delicious, alternatives for a sustainable lifestyle in central Copenhagen.

— We can control the climate, nutrient content and water volume here with a precision that lets the plants grow two to three times faster, while at the same time using up to 90 % less water, Krogshede told Politiken.dk.

Why now? The use of indoor vertical farming is perfect for local and fast delivery within cities. Restaurants and stores can get a hold of sustainably harvested garlic, coriander, radishes and much more — and get it delivered by bike. When vertical farming is done right, like at Nabo Farm, you can cut growing times by half and at the same time increase nutrient and vitamin content by eight to ten times. One of mankind’s oldest inventions, farming, has entered the cities.

Erik Månsson — INNOSCENTIA

The innovation Swedish based Innoscentia has developed a sensor that is built into the packaging of various meat products. Either through digital packaging labels that feed an app instant information, or an analogue label that changes colour if the meat product is going bad. The sensors measure a gas that meat bacteria release and tell producers, retailers, and consumers when the meat has become inedible, instead of relying on inaccurate best-before dates.

The innovator CEO Erik Månsson knows that Innoscentia is a small company, he’s also fully aware that other food tech businesses are to be seen as allies rather than competitors. Not only to expand Innoscentia’s network, but mainly because our planet is suffering. The main competitor is our general view on food.

— The big competitor in the current system is our human behaviour concerning how we throw away food, and we need to work on a number of solutions together to be able to change this successfully, he explains.

Why now? The meat industry is extremely harmful, especially from an ­environmental standpoint. If you feel bad about flying, know that the meat industry does 1.5 times more harm than the aviation industry. On top of that, approximately one-fifth of edible meat never reaches consumption and 200 ­billion dollars worth of meat is thrown away ­annually.

Patrik Lundström — RENEWCELL

The innovation Clothing doesn’t have to correlate with environmental doom. Renewcell is a Swedish company that transforms textile waste into Circulose, a pristine raw material for fashion. To put it simply, it’s a way to recreate cotton pulp that is vital for creating various textiles.

— We are the first company in the world to make a 100 % recycled and biodegradable raw material at this scale. H&M was the first brand to launch a garment made from our breakthrough material in retail in March 2020, says CEO Patrik Lundström.

The innovator The invention came to life when professors at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm met with entrepreneurs Malcolm Norlin and Christopher Lindgren, who knew that demand for cellulose-based textiles was growing quickly. Together, they were convinced that this tech could be the key to recycling textiles on a massive scale and make fashion sustainable.

Why now? The swift changes in styles and the cheap prices are making for an unsustainable and degenerating shopping experience — when it comes to environmental footprint, the fashion industry spares no survivors. The fashion industry produces 10 % of all humanity’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. For some reason, the chronic fear of environmental doom doesn’t seem to apply to the majority of the youth when it comes to fashion.

What specific challenges does the industry face?

— Quality and scale. Unfortunately, upcycling textiles at a larger scale has not been possible due to lack of technology. Circular fashion has to be just as good or better and available on the same scale as the unsustainable materials in use today, Lundström concludes.

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