Last week was truly an amazing week!
The modern version of "All roads lead to Rome" is undoubtedly ”All roads lead to Silicon Valley”. And last week it was time for the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel to check out the startup-scene here in the Bay Area.
I will never forget that phone call from the Royal Court in early December. I was in a store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, browsing for Christmas presents, and I discreetly moved into a hidden corner for privacy. A few minutes later, I had agreed to design and organize a three day program to take place the third week in January. "Of course we can do it," I remember saying. No problems. A bit short of time, for sure, but, hey! This is Silicon Valley! My original plan to get the trip postponed six months or so had seriously failed…
Fast forward a month, and the last preparations were quickly falling into place - thanks to many others who by then had gotten engaged, not least the Swedish Consulate General in San Francisco (GK-SF) headed by our ever so amazing Honorary Consul Barbro Osher. The extremely constructive and fast feed-back from the Royal Court was a crucial factor as well, and worked flawlessly throughout the holiday season. I also want to acknowledge Magnus Aronsson of ESBRI for assisting with parts of the program.
One of the more entrepreneurial stories is probably how something, originally planned as a small, informal roundtable discussion, morphed into the large Nordic event at the Computer History Museum last Monday. With exactly two weeks to go, I approached Yvonne at The Nordic Innovation House and made her project manager, gave her a sheet of paper with a rough outline, told her I had booked the Computer History Museum, and that was the start of an intense demonstration of truly great team work. Thank you Kristina Bünger from GK, Ann-Sofie Safa and her team from Business Sweden, Yvonne and all others that volunteered to make this such a success. The party continued much longer than planned, and the Royals seemed insatiable in their interest in the startups that had showed up to demo their products. What a night!
So what did the Royal Couple get to see during their visit? My ambition was to expose them to the different pieces of the puzzle that make out the richness of the ecosystem here in the Valley. This meant allowing them to have informal, but more in depth discussions with people representing these various parts. It was also important that they got a good sense of the culture here: pay-it-forward, fail fast, the energy and the openness, to name a few characteristics.
Therefore, I had them meet with numerous startups in different stages and their founders, including those that are on a really fast curve upwards - like Stripe in SF. We visited incubators (Runway) and Accelerators (Y Combinator- luckily timed with their prototype day!); we met with several people from the investment community, including a very memorable afternoon in the lovely Atherton home of legendary Bill Draper together with his wife and his son - the equally amazing Tim Draper.
We furthermore looked at some of the more disruptive industries in the area -Teslamotors - and followed up with a roundtable discussion on CleanTech co-organized by Steve Westly (Westly Group) and hosted by Prof Stacey Bent at the Stanford TomKat Center.
The role of the University is also an important topic, which was explored through a full day at Stanford, including discussions with President Hennessy, Prof Arthur Bienenstock of the Wallenberg Research Link, d.school founder David Kelley, STVP’s amazing Tina Seelig, and last but not least BioX and Biodesign and their director Gordon Saul and co-workers. And of course many discussions with students!
A visit to the Valley seems never to be quite complete without also checking out the latest at Google and Facebook, and this was no exception. Two amazing companies, so completely devoted to innovation. Always great to meet local Swedes in important roles, like for instance Google Glass designer Isabelle Olsson. And also interesting to get confirmation from top management at Facebook how innovative and important their investment in the data center in Luleå is to them.
And last but not least, we had a really nice lunch on Wednesday at the Nordic Innovation House, to convey the importance and dynamics of our hub to service Nordic Startups coming to Silicon Valley. The pictures posted here and elsewhere speak for themselves.
As their tour of the valley unravelled, I was more and more impressed by our Royal Couple - Crown Princess Victoria by her extremely professional, yet warm, to-the-point comments and remarks during the visits, and Prince Daniel with his knowledge and genuine engagement with regards to promoting entrepreneurship. I could not have felt prouder.
A few words about myself:
My name is Anne Lidgard, and I am the Director of the Silicon Valley Office of VINNOVA, The Swedish Innovation Agency. I opened up our office here in August 2012, and I am also a visiting scholar at Stanford, connected to the Wallenberg Research Link.
VINNOVA’s mission is to increase Sweden’s innovation capacity for sustainable growth and for the benefit of society. We operate mainly through grants and report to the Ministry of Enterprise.
Our role here in the Valley in is threefold: to pick up on trends and to see what the policy consequences might be for VINNOVA in particular, and for Sweden in general; to add value in addition to the funding we provide back in Sweden, in particular for startups and universities, by developing a valuable network that they may access; and last, to try to increase the awareness of how innovative Sweden is and what we can offer in terms of business and investment opportunities.
To work together with the other Nordics within the scope of the Nordic Innovation House makes all the sense in the world for all three of these roles, and I am currently the chairperson of its board.