Swedish Startup Space

Singularity University and the Stockholm Connection

Written by on October 10, 2014

This article was produced by Kendra Williams-Valentine.

Educationalist Ken Robinson once said, “human communities depend upon a diversity of talent not a singular conception of ability”. In the sun-kissed Silicon Valley of sunny California there is a different kind of school called Singularity University, which is one of two definitive examples of this diversity. Founded by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, and sponsored by Google and NASA, its mission is ‘to assemble, educate, and inspire leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially-advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

Students, or ‘fellows‘ from around the globe convene at SU’s campus at the NASA Research Park, where they work together in a summer-long ‘Graduate Studies Program’ (GSP), tackling global challenges and striving to find ways to improve the lives of one billion people over the next ten years, in the so-called ‘10^9 challenge.’

Halfway across the world, another academic institution sees much in common with Singularity University’s focus on talent diversity, interdisciplinary teamwork and innovation— the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES). It’s no surprise that the prestigious Graduate Studies Program attracts SSES students and alumni applicants, but is it a coincidence that the first three Singularity fellows in all of Sweden were all SSES alumni?

Stockholm is no stranger to innovation. Sweden has been consistently ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the world’s most competitive economies, and was ranked 3rd in the Global Innovation Index. But why are SSES alumni such perfect candidates for Singularity University’s GSP? Hannes Sjöblad, Ambassador for Singularity University in Sweden, put it bluntly, “SSES is known for being an environment that fosters a world-class entrepreneurial ethos and attracts really smart and ambitious individuals, so I am not surprised that a lot of candidates have a background in SSES.”

What’s more impressive is that Sweden is not only represented through participants in the programs, but also has SSES alumni who have advanced from being a participant to an adjunct faculty position, teaching about the global opportunities. Claudia Olsson attended the program in 2010, continued her engagement at the university as an advisor and became an Adjunct Faculty member in 2014.

Gustav Borgefalk, one of the three alumni who attended the GSP, says, “having met a great deal of people through the years, I can confidently say that SSES alumni are among the most innovative and driven people, not only in Sweden, but in the world. The intersection between disciplines is where the magic happens and SU, just like SSES, is all about applying interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving, to create strong organizations; empowering people with ideas. Extraordinary people tend to gravitate towards the same opportunities and SSES is clearly the place in Sweden to hang out if you want the tools and network to realize your world-changing idea.”

The selection process for the GSP is no smooth ride, as Hannes describes. The winners are chosen via “an innovation competition, where a jury chooses a candidate based on a combination of a personal profile and history combined with a passion for tackling the worlds’ greatest challenges. The Global Impact Competition for 2015 will be launched in January 2015 and I encourage all students to apply!” The Global Impact Competition is the annual competition that acts as a “platform to identify outstanding entrepreneurs, leaders, scientists and engineers with the most innovative ideas for positively impacting millions of lives locally and globally within the next 3-5 years.”

How did it feel to represent Sweden at Singularity University for the duration of the summer? For Gustav, “it was a wonderful experience and privilege to represent Sweden in the program. Among the 80 participants from all over the world, I contributed with my Scandinavian perspective on innovation to the eclectic mix of nationalities and cultures that make up Silicon Valley. I also brought Swedish meatballs, fikabröd and chocolate to further strengthen our reputation in the Valley.”

Entrepreneurship is synonymous with applied innovation, and it’s this applied innovation, together with meatballs and fikabröd, that will propel Stockholm forward in solving the challenges of the future. Whether from a desk in Stockholm or at the Singularity campus at NASA, tomorrow begins today.

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