Anita Krohn Traaseth, Head of Innovation Norway, encourages Norway to develop a strategic playbook
“We invest or reduce the risk for established industries that need to transform, for example to more sustainable solutions. Some 70% of our funding goes to those adaptations, while 28% goes to grants and loans that support start-up companies under three years old,” said Mrs Traaseth.
“We provide what we like to call competent capital, such as global training arenas for both growth companies and start-ups where they can be part of a training programme. For example they can go to London and learn about smart cities, or New York and learn about pitching high-tech solutions from the very best. We have different hubs that provide training in areas where that region excels. We do this because Norwegian companies have to be out there — we are 5.2 million people, we need to export and reach new global markets.
“Norwegian companies need to learn how to scale their businesses. Innovation Norway also works on opening doors in other markets along with the embassies. This involves making connections, learning about new cultures, understanding intellectual property, tax and investment laws in other countries. All of this is building competent capital.”
The company transformation may involve shifting to a clean technology, and typically there is an initial study phase that can be very costly if the whole industry doesn’t chip in. “We have specific funds to focus on environmental technology. We help out those that are ambitious, those that have international growth potential, and those that focus on environmental sustainability,” she said.
The major focus of the organisation is to get investment to come to Norway, to attract visitors, and to get people to scale business opportunities there. “As a government vehicle, we want the value creation to get back to Norway. There are many ways to do this, and if you have competent partners and you can connect to another company that can help with research and development, that can still add value to Norway even if the company is not Norwegian-owned,” said Mrs Traaseth.
“Our offices abroad don’t invest in Norway. It’s our locally based offices that offer grants and loans to businesses based there. For example, a huge percentage of the processing industry in Norway is owned by Asians. We can offer them assistance for a R&D programme as long as it is based in Norway because that offers value creation to the country in terms of jobs, building competence and
Norway has several advantages it should remember when deciding strategic initiatives for investment. “The counrty is highly democratic with a flat organisational structure, which in a globalised, highly networked world should allow adaptability, she said. “These are competitive advantages for Norway. There is also a trust connected to being Norwegian that we can see travelling around the world. Water technology is another advantage for us, as is our health and welfare system, and we have prioritised using welfare technologies that can help deal with ageing societies. But first and foremost, we are an energy country, and we have a lot of knowledge related to oceans and ocean space.”
“You need a playbook to specialise in specific areas because you can’t be everything to everyone. This is true for every nation. We can look for inspiration to other countries, but we need to look for what is unique in our own country. This concept was introduced to me by Julie Hanna, who is the global entrepreneurship ambassador for President Obama. She said, ‘ Stop looking at Silicon Valley as a solution to everything. Silicon Valley is a mindset. You need to have your own local playbook, which involves setting vision and direction.’
“You must communicate what the strategic direction of the country’s innovation playbook is, while also understanding the needs of the countries you are visiting to see what you can offer them.
“One of the most impressive messages I heard over the past six months was from a government official in China who said ‘Our vision is to go from made in China to invented in China’. That is a strong statement on changing your direction. The key advantage for Europe the past few decades has been quality and invention, but there is no reason China cannot take over that position.
“Setting a strategic direction is more important than ever for Norway because our economy is in transition, but I recognise it is a hard sell. In a way we have been lucky to be blessed with hydropower, fish and oil and gas, all resources we could sell. We have had innovations in those industries, for instance the reason the world can eat sushi is Norwegian farmed salmon. And our position as an oil and gas leader is not going to disappear, but we have to build a much more diversified economy because it is vulnerable to rely on so few industries.
“I’m not worried whether Norway will be able to adapt because we’ve done it before. When we found oil in the late 60s, we didn’t know anything about this industry. We built up competence over time, partly from our experience in maritime, and it taught us to work with international partners. Norway should capitalise on the networks we already have going forward.
“We’ve just scratched the surface on what we can do with ocean industries. There’s a lot more fish in the Norwegian Sea than salmon. Setting an innovation playbook for investment will be a hard sell in Norway because it has been many years since the country tried it. The last time was 1971 with the 10 oil commandments. The path is not as clear as last time, but if we are really going to restructure our economy, we have to make some investments.
“For example, we need to determine how to build an industry around the health sector. This involves prioritising it politically and funding a large effort. The Norwegian people are extremely pragmatic, but we are perhaps not known as a country of visionary thinkers. We are good at solving problems, but capitalising on the solution we created is not our best asset.
“Norway is behind other European countries in reported R&D spending. A lot of innovation is happening in Norway, but it is not reported as R&D because we just look at it as problem solving. Norway has been cited as a good place to invest in start-ups, especially from American investors. We produce brilliant items but we’re not so good at the pitch.
“Part of our deficiency is you don’t get credit in Norwegian culture for having big ideas. If you ask a 12-year-old girl in Norway what she wants to do when she grows up and she says a skiing champion, this will be encouraged. But if another says she wants to be the next Elon Musk,
The six areas are: • Bioeconomy • Clean energy • The oceanspace • Health and welfare • Creative industries and tourism • Smart Societies
Mrs Traaseth furthermore delivered ten recommendations to the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian Parliament on how the public sector can collaborate with the private sector in order to develop new long-term sustainable industries in Norway. Innovation Norway suggests that Norway sets a clear direction based on the six above areas. Mrs Traaseth further challenged the state authorities and municipalities to design requirements and regulations specifically for the sake of development and implementation of sustainable solutions, and that Norway could become the best in the world on this.
In addition, Innovation Norway requests the Norwegian Government to invest in extra measures over the coming five years at a level equal to neighbouring countries, in order to boost exports. The boost is needed to replace lost export revenues and to create new jobs.
Innovation Norway also believes that Norway as a country in years to come needs to prioritise commercialisation of results of research in order to build new businesses, industrialise new industries and to create new jobs in Norway. This is especially applicable within the health sector. In other areas Innovation Norway suggests the government to focus more on research, which later can give rise to profitable companies.
This year's Innovation Speech was delivered in collaboration with Norwegian Research Council and Siva.