Saeid Esmaeilzadeh is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Serendipity Group, which has founded over 15 companies in medical technology products, biotechnology, advanced materials, clean technology, and information technology. He’s now the CEO of Esmaeilzadeh Holding — co-founded with his sister, Dr. Mouna Esmaeilzadeh — and together with Nima Sanandaji at ECEPR (European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform), they’re the authors of the new study The Nordic Innovation Triangle.
— We’ve studied the leading innovation companies, founded in the last five years, for all the 26 larger regions, also known as NUTS-2 regions, that make up the five Nordic nations, Esmaeilzadeh explains. The report systematically analyzes what sectors the innovation companies are in, how much funding they have, and what key innovation activities they have. We can see in the report which regions are focused on digital innovations — which is all the Nordic capital regions — and industrial innovations as well as service innovations. This mapping of innovation is unique, and one conclusion we reached is that there are companies across the Nordics that are launching innovations related to reducing greenhouse emissions, for example creating steel without carbon, manufacturing electrical aeroplanes, and using the byproducts of the forestry industry for manufacturing bioactive substances.
The study finds that five new Nordic companies founded in the past five years have already reached a valuation of over one hundred million dollars. Two of them are Norwegian: the industrial AI and software developer Cognite, based in Lysaker, also developing an internet for things platform, and Oslo-based Adevinta, offering online marketplaces in many different countries. Two of the new Swedish successful companies are VOI Technology, which owns and leases electric scooters, and H2 Green Steel, which develops fossil-free production of steel. In Finnish Espoo, IQM develops hardware for quantum computers.
We’ve seen great international interest in Nordic innovations. What’s the reason behind this, you think?
— Nordic countries, in particular Sweden, have long been ranked amongst the most innovative countries in the world, and this relates to how much of the total economic output goes to research and development. There are many areas in which Nordic innovation is world-leading, not least the shift towards environmentally sustainable economic production, says Esmaeilzadeh.
Outside of the triangle, which includes four of the five Nordic capital regions, the region is characterized by the fact that innovative companies also exist in various places.
While the capitals are mainly focused on digital innovations, companies developing the next generation of sustainable technology mostly reside in other locations. Several new Nordic innovation companies are focused on radical green innovations. One example from Denmark is Blue World Technologies, focusing on methanol fuel cells as a renewable fuel source. From Sweden, Altris develops a renewable and cost-effective alternative to lithium-ion batteries and Heart Aerospace manufactures regional electric aeroplanes. In remotely located Mo I Rana, north Norway, FREYR has attracted 4 million euros in external public financing for developing a lithium battery facility and onshore wind park. Montinutra in remote northern Finland has attracted one million euros for producing bioactive products from forest industry side streams.
— The Nordic region is developing technical solutions, which are needed in the transition to a sustainable economy. Many of the innovation companies that work with environmentally friendly technology are located in the less densely populated regions in the Nordic region, says Dr. Nima Sanandaji.
— The Nordic countries have long been world leaders in technology, but we also need to be equipped for the new technological leaps of the future. A lesson for other countries, is that the Nordics success is based on having innovation activity spread out, and not only focused on the capital regions, says Mouna Esmaeilzadeh.
What’s the difference between the five different countries when it comes to innovations?
— Overall, the study finds that Finland is the industrial innovation powerhouse of the Nordics. Norway has a mixed approach with strengths in manufacturing but also digital and service innovation. In Denmark and Sweden, most regions are focused on digital innovations, but there are also regions with a focus on industrial and service innovations, Saeid Esmaeilzadeh concludes.
The full study is available here