Anita Krohn Traaseth Talks to Technoport

Anita Krohn Traaseth, new CEO of Innovation Norway, talks to Technoport about the challenges facing Norway.

A few eyebrows were raised when Innovation Norway announced their new choice of CEO earlier this year. Rather than opt for a “safe” choice from within, the board appointed Anita Krohn Traaseth, head of Hewlett Packard Norway and outspoken blogger on Tinteguri. After her first few months, she was kind enough to take time to tell me her thoughts on the organisation and the future of innovation in Norway.

How were your first few months at Innovation Norway?

Anita Krohn Traaseth

I’ve had 100 “speed dates”, taking 10 minutes with my colleagues, customers and other partners. The more meetings I have, the clearer the competences and need for Innovation Norway becomes in my mind. A lot of people in Norway have opinions about the organisation, who we are what we do, and there is a gap between the facts and myths.

We got clear feedback form our owners that even though our budget was raised for 2015, we are being asked to work differently. I’m impressed by the knowledge of our people and their willingness to change.

So it’s so far, so good. I’m an intrapreneur and this is a dream job for me.

What can you bring from the private sector?

It’s important to understand that Innovation Norway is a hybrid, somewhere between public and private sector. We have some established myths about both sectors because its easy to generalise but there are huge differences inside each. understanding the role of IN is key and not losing sight of history. we are not ten years old, we are 162 years old. The history of Norway investing in specific programs to enhance innovation is long.

We have a huge responsibility for tax money so we need to do things right. If we do things wrong, we are on the cover of the newspapers. Trying to balance the demand for quality in everything we do, while being innovative ourselves and taking risks is something we need to improve on. We need a larger focus on making decisions ahead of delivering documents, using lean methodologies.

Can you tell us about the Innovation Index?

We are part of the EU Commission’s Innovation Index that comes out every year. Currently Norway is ranked as average, as we have been for years, and journalists write articles about how bad we are and we must invest more in R&D. I think this is wrong. It’s time to start asking what is behind the data? Is it based on the old way of innovating? We are not the first ones asking questions. The UK took their own responsibility in 2009 to define their own innovation indicators relevant for them.

The poblem with the figures for Norway is our economy is dominated by natural resources. Statoil is defined as a low-tech company because their investment in R&D is internal and not measured by the criteria.

Different countries give their input to the index and divide questions about innovation and about R&D, but in Norway we combine it. SSB surveyed Norwegian companies about their key innovation areas and top of the list was they are doing it internally. Less than 5% involved research institutes.

When it comes to protecting innovations, the most important thing for us is to implement them and get the market advantage. Elon Musk gave away patents and was celebrated for it here in Norway, but our own DNV has been doing the same thing for over 100 years.

It’s time to ask some questions about these indicators. We should be part of benchmarking, but why can’t we define our own innovation criteria?

What is the future for the Norwegian startup “industry”?

One of the biggest things preventing Norway having a startup culture is the lack of self-esteem. Saul Singer was in Oslo two weeks ago and he told us the first word he was introduced to by Norwegians was janteloven. What kind of a message is janteloven for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

At the same time we need to build breadth. I am for keeping that, because this is the only way we can build similar to sports, a culture across the country. We are the sum of all our parts and we need to celebrate success on a national level. For example, so many Norwegians have never heard of the small startups in Sogn go Fjordane with worldwide success. We need to build a culture of being proud. We need to cheer for failures. The road to success is failure, not janteloven.

With high salaries and some of the best working conditions in the world, why would any Norwegian risk it all to become an entrepreneur?

It’s a very good question. As in most countries, entrepreneurs are not driven by necessity, they are driven by passion and the ability to make a difference. Social security reduces many of the risks associated with innovation. It may seem like a paradox but the fact is a comprehensive welfare system makes it easier. We have the system to allow entrepreneurs to fail. but the question is why aren’t they doing it? It comes back to what you say, we don’t have a culture of individuals, we have a culture of team sports and making a difference in peace, conversations, thats where we have our national pride. I think we need to combine this in the future with solving big issues like india.

Economists say in 2050 India will be the largest economy. We cannot compete with the millions of people in India. They are our future competition so this is the time to cooperate and help them solve their basic problems like energy and waste, areas that we have expertise in.

Should Innovation Norway money be sent directly to startups or used to fund the ecosystem?

We definitely have to do both and we’ve had this dual approach in Norway for many years. Trying to structure innovation by saying “this is the successful way, this is how we will structure incubators”, I just don’t believe in it. I believe in triggering innovation. we have to give the opportunities to home-grown entrepreneurs as we do to the research institutes.

I agree with the advice from Saul Singer. We need to not have so many conversations about how to structure incubators and focus more on the companies we are supporting. Push them, show them the way, and then support them further. You get more creative the less money you have.

DN published interesting new research about the factors behind successful entrepreneurs. Firstly, they have bigger dreams, worldwide dreams. Secondly, they wake up early in the morning and get on with it. Thirdly, they are not stopped by a lack of capital and they work through failures.

Is innovation possible outside a capitalist economy like the USA, especially given Norway’s high cost of living?

Obviously the market has become global and people will move to areas where they get the best chance. Our research institutes are world leading and have no recruitment problem, because people want to be where the action is.

But Norway is a capitalist system, we are more productive than the American economy, and their Government has  been stimulating innovation more than Norway. We need to be more clear on what Norway has to offer, such as a high quality of life. Startup Extreme is a great example of something unique we can do to attract people, that’s not based on politics or tax.

Should Norway cooperate or compete with our Nordic neighbours?

We have great potential of clustering ourselves as a Nordic region. Cities are fighting each other to be the technology capital but this is useless. Within Oslo the argument was whether to build the technology hub at Nydalen or Fornebu. This was a waste of time. Visiting Americans asked why we were spending time discussing this, when to them Norway itself is just a campus of the Scandinavian or Nordic market, and thats the market that’s interesting to them. This regional cluster has huge potential in the world, but first of all we need to work things out in Norway at a regional level. The new-look Innovation House in Palo Alto is a great example of Nordic cooperation, so we are starting the process.

We are two keen bloggers, I can’t resist asking you about what blogging does for you?

As a blogger and bestselling author, it was a brave choice of the board of to hire me. I am visible, have opinions and want to change things, but there is a balance between leading a Government-owned company and being visible. It can be handled in a very healthy way

I think there was a desire to bring in a high-profile figure to make Innovation Norway more visible. I’ve long been active in debates about commercialising technology, so what I can do with this profile is speak up more about what we need, what we do, make it more visible. For example, we don’t disucss whether to be a social company, we have to be a social company. If we are not there and available, if we don’t understand innovation dialogue, then we don’t understand the real time consequences. i want to be part of the discussion.

Leaders don’t have to blog. I drain myself mentally by writing, as I need to put a demanding life into perspective. i have chosen to continue blogging while in this job because I want to encourage young people into entrepreneurship but show the vulnerable side. When i share my thoughts, I make new connections and find opportunities for me and my colleagues. It is a risk, but someone has to do it!

Photo credit: Jo Michael

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