ICT Clinic (Punch Newspaper)

Learning from the Swedish Innovation Ecosystem [ICT Clinic]

Honestly speaking, I am not one of those that get excited about the fact that Nigeria has a huge population. My position is that our population can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether we invest appropriately or not, in the development of our massive human capital.

This belief gets reinforced each time I get to visit smaller countries in size, but huge in innovation, like countries aspiring to be in charge of the future. I was fortunate to be invited, alongside others, across the globe for a five-day working visit by the Swedish Institute.

Five people got nominated from Nigeria namely: Members Services Coordinator, AfriLabs, Kenechukwu Osakwe; a former, Vice-chancellor, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Prof. Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba; Senior Special Adviser to the President on ICT, Osibona Olanrewaju; National Programme Manager, Wennovation Hub, Enogieru Osasenaga; and yours truly.

It was a delight to be given a tour of an ecosystem that has given birth to a great deal of unicorns outside Silicon Valley. We have no choice but to learn from countries that have leveraged technology and innovation to develop their economies. Our country badly needs to ‘get stuff done’, in an era, where technology is threatening its primary means of income, oil, plus rapidly re-writing the rules of communication, commerce and trade.

This piece is not intended to compare Sweden with Nigeria at all. My intention is to point out some of the things that Sweden has done and what we can learn from a small country of roughly 10 million people that is today regarded as one of the most innovative countries in the world.

Sweden, although developed, still treats its start-up ecosystem seriously with the establishment of 12 innovation offices that are designed to support the further development of new start-ups and ensure that there is an on-going collaboration among the academia, government and businesses.

Deputy Director, Startups, under the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, Marie Wall, stated that the level of advancement in the innovation ecosystem, has forced the government to re-think how to manage the sector, hence, the creation of the department of start-ups.

Yes, you are reading the lines correctly – a department of start-ups. Her agency focuses on start-ups and scale-ups, achieving development through collaboration with hubs, innovation spaces, funding, provision of resources and much more.

Sweden operates a lean model that enables the government to go for more collaboration, rather than, trying to invest in developing programmes and resources that might not be managed properly. This is a big lesson for us in Nigeria, where government agencies, simply want to create programmes and dish out prize money to two, or, three start-ups that win.

Vinnova, the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems, headed by Regina Summer, still under the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, has an annual budget of €300m and its focus is simply, to provide grants to players in the innovation ecosystem.

The way this fund is disbursed is not through ‘man-know-man’, but through public calls for applications that are managed openly and transparently, thus, allowing only the best of ideas to be funded. India has adopted this model, edging towards ensuring that close to two percent of research work is eventually commercialised.

Sweden has innovation officers, who are what you would refer to as ‘professional civil servants’, who go out scouting for research work from the academia that can be taken to the market. This way, the research coming out of the institutions of higher learning are not just kept in shelves.

According to many of the government officials that we met, — Finish Reading on the Punch