Sweden As A Whirlwind Of Entrepreneurial Activity
I’ve spent the last ten days in Sweden and have participated in so many types of events that I joked with my host (Magnus Aronsson of ESBRI (http://www.esbri.se/) that he was testing me to see if I could present entrepreneurship to every kind of audience imaginable. It was a fun challenge. In this time I’ve spoken to doctoral students, entrepreneurship faculty, private equity investors, angels, bankers, venture capitalists, politicians, policy designers and implementers, and many, many entrepreneurs. The topics were mostly on entrepreneurship education (always set up so I can include my new favorite topic, serious games), women’s entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial ecosystems.
We started off in Sigtuna (http://www.sigtunaturism.se), said to be the oldest town in Sweden and we stayed at a charming conference center where we even met the entrepreneurs who owned it (http://www.hotellkristina.se/). This event was the “From Research to Business” program developed by ESBRI and VINNOVA (http://tiny.cc/U7t3o). R to B is a course for doctoral students, mostly in areas of science and engineering, to learn about entrepreneurship and commercialization. My assigned time slot was right before Saturday night dinner (always a tough spot) and my assigned topic was the next generation of customers. We were building off the fact that most technologists focus more on their product or service and need to become more customer centric.
Our next excursion was to the Yasuragi Hotel (http://www.yasuragi.se) for the educators workshop. This program, also sponsored by ESBRI, has been given for more than ten years, providing a place for Nordic entrepreneurship educators to come together to learn from each other. It was a pleasure for me to be able to participate in the entire program, learning from everyone else as well. My primary assignment was again to talk about the future, this time more focused on the next generation of students and the growing role of serious games. I decided to test a presentation method I hadn’t used before and gave my first Pecha Kucha. I segued into an IdeaLab for focusing on the future and ended with a modified 6 Thinking Hats exercise for the debrief. The Pecha Kucha went fine for a first try although Magnus A. said it stressed him out to see if I’d finish each slide in the allotted twenty seconds.
Onward then into Stockholm for the Private Equity Congress held at the fabulous Grand Hotel. It was quite interesting to see the audience vote on whether or not the market was on the rebound. Most were on the optimistic side, although I’d describe the atmosphere as cautiously optimistic. Since I first listened to all the economists present their projections, I decided to go a bit different and suggested that we need bigger conversations on how we might change the models for building businesses, communities, societies and economies. But then, that is my mantra.
Hold on, only three more events to go. If it’s Thursday it must be the day for the ESBRI roundtable with the U.S. Ambassador, Matthew Barzun http://stockholm.usembassy.gov/. This was one of my favorite spots of the week. Ambassador Barzun and Magnus Aronsson co-hosted a group of a dozen or so entrepreneurship experts and asked me to speak about the U.S. SBA program – the Small Business Development Centers (http://tiny.cc/Wk4P1). Since I am a huge fan of this program (and in full disclosure, on their national advisory board), it was really a pleasure to take the group through the strategy, structure, and outcomes of the program. The outcome that struck them the most – the $3.6b in capital infusions raised for small businesses with SBDC help in 2008. That number should get everyone’s attention.
The rest of Thursday was spent at the International Regulatory Reform conference. For this one I was able to just relax, listen, and think. The question of regulatory impact on small business is quite critical and deserves several blogs alone. And then that night – dinner in the City Hall, the annual site of the Nobel Award program. That is a site to behold. My favorite part was the ice cream parade. All the waiters started at the top of the grand stairs and descended together holding up our ice cream cakes topped with sprinklers. Impressive to say the least.
My final assignment was on Monday, the ESTRAD lecture, (http://tiny.cc/00CRl). One of the many things I love about ESBRI’s work is that they can announce a public research lecture and the room will be packed. Our panel included a policy person, Gunilla Thorstensson, an entrepreneur, Kristina Theander and myself as the researcher. I focused on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that functions effectively for both women and men. However, given that our topic was women’s entrepreneurship, I did concentrate more on what we’ve seen to be different and what that can mean for outcomes. In 2007 Sweden launched an ambassador program for women’s entrepreneurship with 880 ambassadors speaking to schools, companies, and, I think, who ever will listen. We talked about the importance of starting the discussion young, and this program will help with that.
It’s been a bit of blur while still an absolutely pleasure. I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to work with ESBRI and the rest of the Swedish entrepreneurial community.
Patricia Greene, Professor of Entrepreneurship