Sweden’s only space rocket base is located near Kiruna in the far north, due to its northerly position and good communications.
Photo: Bengt Af Geijerstam/Scanpix
Millions of hearts around the world beat with the help of a pacemaker. Candles are lit with the help of safety matches. And innumerable lives have been saved with the help of the three-point seatbelt. These are just a few examples of Swedish innovations that have made a difference.
The Innovation Union Scoreboard 2010, an index published by the European Commission, ranks Sweden as the leading country for innovation among EU member states. Reasons for this include a historic tradition of inventors, a commitment to gender equality, and a strong belief in the individual. Close collaboration between research institutes and the private and public sectors is another key factor, setting the foundation for global Swedish companies like AstraZeneca, Ericsson, and Volvo. Innovation is closely linked to research and development. Sweden is one of Europe’s top three spenders in this area, investing 3.6 percent of GDP in R&D in 2009. Compare this with the EU-wide target of 3 percent GDP investment by 2020, and it’s clear that Sweden is ahead of the game.
Innovation Capacity Index
Each year, Harvard Business School compiles the National Innovation Capacity Index, a study of different countries’ innovation potential. In 2010, Sweden was ranked eighth among 173 countries. In terms of the number of trained engineers per capita, Sweden was ranked second, close behind Japan. The study also notes that in the past 15 years, Sweden has had the second-fastest growth rate in the number of patents per capita.
Read the study in its entirety at:
Global Innovation Index
INSEAD Business School’s Global Innovation Index 2011 ranks Sweden in second place once again. The index measures the degree to which countries have an infrastructure that enhances a creative environment and allows for innovation, as well as actual output.
Sweden has strengths in terms of both output and input. Strong output is demonstrated in many new published research and technical papers, and many registered patents. Sweden is also seen to have a good input basis, with a stable political climate and relevant, high-quality education.
The Swedish government has chosen to focus strategic investments on three key areas: medicine and bioscience, technology, and climate.
Sweden is particularly strong in biotechnology. Pharmaceuticals are a key export, and Swedish medical innovations include the asthma medicines Bricanyl and Pulmicort; the growth hormone Genotropin; and the stomach ulcer drug Losec, one of the world’s best-selling drugs.
Research is not confined to giants such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer-Pharmacia; many small biotechnology companies conduct their own research. A key area of interest is healthcare. Rapidly growing markets include medical devices such as imaging equipment, orthopedic implants, dialysis equipment, heart-lung machines, and ECG equipment, as well as laboratory studies of medicines.
Microelectronics is another growth market. Sweden is at the forefront of research into silicon-based components, high-speed electronics, organic electronics, photonics and systems design.
Lucas, the heart compression system, is a Swedish medical device.
Photo: Jolife AB
In order to encourage young people’s interest in technology and entrepreneurship, Swedish schools are working with a variety of organizations. Here are three examples:
Finn upp combines an inventing-based teaching method for schools, and Sweden’s largest inventors’ competition for young people in grades 6-9. Held every three years, the competition aims to stimulate the power of young ideas and inspire a new generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. Finn upp was founded in 1979 by the engineering interest group Ingenjörsamfundet.
The non-profit organization Ung Företagsamhet (“young entrepreneurship”) works in partnership with Swedish schools. Older students, aged 16-20, have the opportunity to run their own company during the school year as part of their high school studies. A 2010 survey shows that 8 out of 10 participants felt they learned about running a business. They also indicated that they had developed more self-confidence and a greater ability to take decisions, solve problems, and work with others.
A double straw - one of many “flashes of genius” from Snilleblixtarna.
Illustraion: Sanna Rosén
The non-profit association Snilleblixtarna (“flashes of genius”) is geared to schoolchildren from preschool to fifth grade. The goal is to encourage children’s interest in technology, the natural sciences and entrepreneurship. Snilleblixtarna provides teachers and educators with tools and a working model to stimulate children’s curiosity, desire to learn and ability to think critically.
There is an extensive network of organizations and companies, in the public and private sectors, working with academic bodies in Sweden.
• They aim to develop new products, services and processes that will make long-term contributions to sustainable growth. To name just a few:
• The Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen) aims to stimulate competitiveness by creating conditions for innovation and creativity, and by strength-ening the links between academia and industry.
• The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) is an independent organization that supports research in the natural sciences, engineering and medicine.
• The Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova) focuses on innovations linked to research and development; particularly information and communication technology (ICT), biotechnology, working life, materials, transportation and bringing products to production.
• The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) is a government body that aims to foster greater enterprise growth and sustainable, competitive business and industry throughout Sweden.
Nils Bohlin’s three-point seatbelt is estimated to have saved a life every six minutes since its launch in 1959. It is acknowledged as one of the most important car safety innovations of all time.
Photo: Johan Willner/Johnér
More Swedish innovations
Solar safe water system
A child dies every 15 seconds as a result of contaminated water. Solvatten is a household water-treatment unit that cleans organically contaminated water with the help of the sun. The portable 10-liter container is a patented and scientifically proven Swedish invention. Put Solvatten in a sunny place, give it 2-6 hours, and the water will be drinkable. An indicator shows when it is safe to drink the water. Solvatten can also be used as a solar water heater, providing hot water for cooking and hygiene.
The Ocean Search project links advanced sensor technology with social media, and is aimed at the sailing community. The idea is to create a fleet of boats equipped with sensors that measure water quality. Together, participants create a better picture of the state of our oceans by collecting data such as carbon dioxide levels and pH values. The first prototype for private boats was mounted on the boat Journeyman in summer 2011.
Global standard in travel
Global Positioning & Communication is a system that uses satellite navigation and radio communication to transmit the GPS position, speed and direction of aircraft and ships in relation to one another. It was invented by Håkan Lans, who also invented the graphic processor for color computer graphics, and the predecessor to today’s computer mouse.
Safe solution for sanitation
More than 2.6 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, lack access to basic sanitation. Peepoople AB was created to develop, produce and distribute the Peepoo (patent pending) sanitation solution. Peepoople’s mission is to improve the health and quality of life of poor people by providing them with a hygienic, safe and dignified sanitation solution.
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