KTH Innovation has just moved into the Red Cross's college premises on the KTH Campus. Lisa Ericsson looks forward to a new meeting place for innovation. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Searching for solutions

Published Feb 21, 2020

Lisa Ericsson launched KTH Innovation almost 15 years ago. In this time she has seen new ideas take off and the Swedish innovation wonder emerge.Everything starts with a problem and the search for a solution.

When it comes to highly successful companies in the world, Sweden comes a close second behind Silicon Valley, with so-called unicorns such as Skype, Spotify, Klarna and online games company King.

“Which is absolutely amazing. Success breeds success and inspires others and can make it easier for you to find your identity. A bit like the motto ‘if they can so can I’,” says Lisa Ericsson, Head of KTH Innovation .

It clearly seems to provide real momentum and a determination to find solutions, to cultivate and then commercialise an idea. In 2019, KTH Innovation received 373 ideas from researchers, students and employees at its ecosystem for innovations where an idea and its originator are supported along the path to bringing it to market.

“This is an all-time high and shows how much interest there is in all parts of KTH,” says Ericsson. “There is a huge degree of inventiveness that spans everything from AI and biotechnology to energy, new materials, digitalisation and greater efficiency.”

Foodtech has trended in recent years - often with a sustainability perspective.

“I’ve had so much to mull over - innovations that create greater value for society by tackling a global challenge are perhaps better in my book – even though things that are cool and interesting are also needed, obviously.”

That KTH Innovation has set its level of ambition very high when it comes to sustainable development became clear when KTH ranked third in the world in relation to the ninth global sustainable development goal – innovation - in the THE rankings .

KTH Innovation stands proud when it comes to both international and national competition. The fact that 25 to 35 fully-fledged companies leave KTH Innovation each year is a good statistic, Ericsson feels.

What then is the secret behind KTH Innovation’s successes?

“There are several explanations. I personally cannot imagine a better environment in which to build support for innovation than academia and KTH in particular – which is rich in ideas and has a very high ceiling. We usually jokingly say that the weather here is so bad that when the darkness takes hold, we’d rather sit at home and ponder over things,” Ericsson says, listing things that feed and nurture a strong innovation climate.

Closeness to and cooperation with industry

  • Applied research, that delivers benefits, is part of KTH’s DNA
  • Inspiring networks
  • A track record of developing innovations
  • Conscientious alumni

When people talk about the Swedish innovation wonder, welfare, strong institutions, a willingness to invest and that the intellectual property rights of any invention belong to academic staff rather than the university, are also mentioned as explanations.

“Instead of coming directly from research findings, many ideas emerge when you accumulate knowledge from various directions. The idea behind the speaking robot Furhat came about one Friday morning, when various researchers were sitting having coffee and thinking out loud,” Ericsson explains.

Can you give an example of an idea that at first sight was a bit of an ugly duckling, but with support from your process, developed into a swan?

“No, not really, that’s not the way we think and nor do we talk about failing either. Maybe 15 percent of all the ideas result directly in an end product, while the other 85 percent provide valuable lessons along the way. Many people come back and at their second or third attempt their idea takes wing and flies out into the world,” says Ericsson.

Words: Jill Klackenberg

Small glossary

Innovation is an invention or solution that meets a need and generates value on a market.
Unicorn is a company valued at a billion dollars or more.
Startup is a newly started company that is going to test its concept and ideas on the market.
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A few statistics
Since 2007, KTH Innovation has supported 1,100 researchers, of which 300 professors and 1,800 students have been granted financing of SEK 217 million and supported 2,700 ideas.

Innovation in focus

Innovation at KTH has a long history of contributing to the development of society. This series of articles gathers some examples of how KTH researchers and students build the sustainable society of the future – through new inventions and solutions that reach the market, but also through new ways of seeing the world and addressing important challenges.

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Last changed: Feb 21, 2020