Boosting Nordic startups in the Merck Accelerator way


Boosting Nordic startups in the Merck Accelerator way

Nordic counties have always been at the forefront of technological progress and design. In order to ensure that this region continues to be a leader in innovation and high-tech ivestment, Silicon Vikings recommends you to have a look into the Merck Accelerator Program.


What is it?

The Merck Accelerator Program is a three-month program held at Merck’s headquarters in Darmstadt. During that time, chosen applicants accelerate their business with the objective of partnering up with Merck to co-create new solutions and forge sustainable business relationships. For this year’s program, they are looking for startups in the fields of Liquid Biopsy, Bio Sensing & Interfaces, Clean Meat, as well as other core areas such as Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials.

What to expect

All Accelerator participants will, from the very first moment, get connected with different Merck areas to make collaboration happen. The Accelerator team will help them from the very beginning to find their perfect match! Among the many program benefits and features are:


·        Business partnership opportunities: Merck wants to partner with promising startups to build sustainable, strong and successful business relationships.

·        Access to Merck´s internal resources and networks: Connect with a global network of over 50k experts and profit from their expertise and knowledge.

·        Mentoring and Training: Tailored coaching sessions, workshops and mentoring by senior management as well as internal and external experts.

·        Funding: Kick off your collaboration project with up to €50k non-equity-based funding.

·         Prototyping: Use high-tech prototyping tools at the Makerspace of the futuristic Merck Innovation Center.

·        Community: Build lifelong relationships with startups and internal teams.

·        Access to the Chinese market: Selected startups will also have the chance to extend their stay in Merck´s China Innovation Hub.


90% of the startups that graduated in April from the last intake of the Merck Accelerator, are either collaborating or in negotiations to partner up with Merck. Therefore, let´s say that the program that takes place at the Innovation Center at Merck´s headquarters in Germany, is much more than an accelerator but a “collaboration-maker” for startups that are looking to reach their first deals.


Apply now and accelerate your business in the Merck Accelerator. For more information, click here


Exploring Silicon Valley’s Unique History with Leslie Berlin and Adam Fisher


Exploring Silicon Valley’s Unique History with Leslie Berlin and Adam Fisher

Guest Post by Brock Hinzmann, Chairman, Silicon Valley Node, The Millennium Project

The Silicon Valley ecosystem for innovation, new company startup, and investment is the envy of the world and the subject of frequent analysis and attempts to duplicate its success. Two recent authors, Leslie Berlin, a historian with Stanford University (Troublemakers: Silicon Valley Coming of Age) and Adam Fisher, a well-travelled writer, who grew up in Silicon Valley (Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley), have taken slightly different, but equally in-depth looks at the people and circumstances underlying Silicon Valley’s history and often overlooked by previous authors. Two Silicon Vikings board members, Richard Horning and Eilif Trondsen interviewed the authors and moderated questions and discussions around the past, present, and possible futures for Silicon Valley.

Berlin, who manages Stanford’s Silicon Valley archives, conducted her research there and interviewed almost a hundred people over an 6-year period to write Troublemakers. Fisher, who wrote for Wired Magazine during the dot-com boom and bust, likewise took 4-to-5 years to collect interviews with a wide range of Silicon Valley’s inhabitants. Horning started the questions by asking, what distinguished the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Area from the many other centers of research and defense department spending in the United States, including nearby Berkeley. Fisher answered that he thinks it was the counterculture of the region, including Berkeley, and the “Think Different” attitude that Apple expressed years later in its advertising. The hippie culture and the ‘back to the land’ notion that writers like Stewart Brand were able to capture encourage people to make their own ‘tools’ and to ‘do it themselves.’ Berlin agreed, but added that the academic computer culture, where computers were made available to people at night, made wearing jeans instead of suits, for instance, come naturally, rather than being ‘counterculture.’ William Shockley found the fruit orchards of the Santa Clara Valley a perfect environment for an educated workforce, already working at companies like aerospace company Lockheed and electronics maker Hewlett-Packard, and for connecting with people from around the world. There was no legacy of a New York, East Coast culture to clear away, literally or figuratively, in order to introduce something new. Real estate was cheap and new businesses could create their own, “bespoke” culture. Fisher added that Stanford also promoted an unusual combination of an academic culture that actually encouraged and worked with business. Trondsen agreed, pointing out that academic and business cultures in Scandinavia (and in other European countries) are still not that close, even today. He noted that Stanford University, in particular, has long been very open and inviting to outside/community participation, and that seminars at Stanford very often have one-third or more of the seminar participants from the local community (including, especially, large and small companies).

Fisher points out that, although Stanford has gotten most of the press for encouraging this collaborative business culture, many of the founders of Silicon Valley companies, such as Allan Alcorn and Steve Wozniak, went to UC Berkeley. Berlin agreed, saying that Shockley came to Palo Alto only because his mother already lived there. And Fred Terman gets credit for promoting the Stanford industrial park, but Stanford came to the game relatively late. Berlin says it was another kind of innovator within Stanford, Niels Reimers (founder and a former director of Stanford University's Office of Technology Licensing), who pushed Stanford to begin selling its intellectual property and investing in startup companies, which went against the grain of the academic culture, which found it distasteful to capitalize on the discoveries of other academics built up over time. As a private university, Stanford had more freedom to change the investment culture than a public university like Berkeley did.

Doug Engelbart and Neils Reimers were two of the ‘Nordics’ that had an early influence on Silicon Valley and Trondsen asked what more we should know about them. Berlin noted that Reimers did not seek attention and did not like to be in the limelight. But Reimers had a strong conviction (which he was willing to fight for, even as many at Stanford opposed his strong commercialization ideas), feeling that, as Berlin put it, “corporations were the best vector for transferring academic ideas to the broader public, and was willing to fight anyone—the university, the patent office, government officials—who disagreed with him.” Berlin also added that Mike Markkula, as the person at Apple who really knew how to build a company, and Bob Taylor, who was vital in the creation of the Internet and Xerox PARC, as other individuals who were willing to be in the background supporting others. It was Reimers who convinced Stan Cohen to file Stanford’s patents on recombinant DNA (even though the resultant academic shunning might have cost Cohen a Nobel Prize) and who convinced Stanford to invest in startup companies, which turns out to be a much bigger source of return to Stanford than licensing has been. According to Stanford president John Hennessy (President of the university during 2000-2016) the $2B Stanford has received in licensing fees is small compared to the returns on equity investment and money donated to Stanford by successful company founders.

Horning asked about the importance of networking in Silicon Valley, as reported by Annalee Saxenian (now professor and the current Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information) and other analysts. Fisher responded that New York writers mostly have a basic misunderstanding about the Silicon Valley networking effect and they have always looked for “The King” of Silicon Valley. New York is a “hub and spoke” culture, in which all roads lead to Midtown or Wall Street and to some king, like a Bob Noyce or a Steve Jobs. Silicon Valley is not even a city and the world’s biggest machine is the Internet and not a physical structure. Silicon Valley is a very competitive place, but large groups of people can move seamlessly from one place to another within a kind of one giant company. Berlin added that East Coast thinking has a prescribed way of taking an idea to a prototyping shop to market. Silicon Valley is, itself, one giant prototyping shop and, while there are specialized providers, everyone uses the same system.

Trondsen asked where Silicon Valley is heading next, especially given that established cultures tend to get rid of their ‘troublemakers?’ (Trondsen also noted that one theory of why the Nordics has long had such a cohesive culture is that the region’s ‘troublemakers’ emigrated—especially to America). Silicon Valley will survive only if it remains attractive to immigrants, says Berlin. Immigrant founders are responsible for more than half of all startups, and a high percentage of the engineers in Silicon Valley are foreign born, and 70 percent of unicorns have at least one foreign-born founder. So immigration laws will determine the future of Silicon Valley. Fisher says he is still bullish on the future of Silicon Valley. However, he points out that Silicon Valley is in a state of ‘reputation collapse’ and that the FANGs (Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google) are becoming seen as villains. At the same time, young people around the world are drawn to the idea that they can become billionaires and can do something crazy and great. Fisher expects there will be many specialized ‘valleys,’ like the one in Shenzhen around manufacturing or other valleys for AI or Blockchain (and Waterloo for “all things Quantum”). In the US, policies could end up killing the ‘goose that laid the golden egg.’

Stanford professor Burton Lee asked about the role of students and, in particular, student clubs. Entrepreneur clubs in Europe seem to be weak by comparison—but exceptions exist, especially in Finland, where Aalto University student club has been a very fertile ground for innovation, including starting Slush, one of the largest tech and startup conferences in Europe). Berlin agrees that entrepreneur clubs are important and added that a lot of people don’t realize how many of the limited partners, who are investors in venture capital funds, are institutions, including universities and pension funds. Venture capitalists had to lobby the government to change the laws to make such investments possible. Horning points out that the home of the famous Home Brew Computer Club’ was at Stanford. Berlin said one factor the clubs add is the role of play, which Steve Jobs also talked about.

Berlin noted that during the evening’s discussion, little if anything had been said about the role of government. Trondsen added that in the US government has played a significant role both as a customer for many of the products coming out of Silicon Valley, especially semiconductors (for the defense industry), but also in funding much of the basic R&D that has been crucial for much of Silicon Valley’s technology work (an R&D at UC Berkeley, Stanford and other universities in the SF Bay Area). For those interested in better understanding the role of government, Trondsen recommended the book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths (2013) by Marianne Mazzucato, professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value and the Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London. Berlin recommended reading “The Code,” by Margaret O’Meara to understand the decisions government made to not regulate or ‘paths not taken.’ For example, the Internet is not regulated as a utility, but is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, instead. In 1989, Ronald Reagan described the microchip as the “David” that destroyed the Soviet Union “Goliath.”

Rob Shelton (Executive Fellow at Miller Center & Principal at ScaleUpNation) asked about how to govern the “brilliant jerks” that have led and lead some Silicon Valley companies. Berlin agreed that we venerate and extol behaviors that that are up to and sometimes over the line. In his own book, Nike founder Phil Knight admits to dishonest behavior. Fisher added, the line between con man and entrepreneur is a thin one. VCs need to exert more due diligence oversight. Andy Grove said it is an issue for board governance, according to Berlin, and she pointed out that, in the early days of Silicon Valley VCs typically had some operating experience. Today, however, not so many VCs have operating experience and have only financial experience and actually no company experience at all. Fisher says Silicon Valley has been attracting the wrong kind of people and that a need exists to get back to the original motivations, as envisioned by pioneers like Doug Engelbart, to build tools to make the world a better place. Berlin questions whether that many of the early entrepreneurs were really all that altruistic. Horning suggested maybe if a few MBA types, who are unable to exercise self control, were sent to jail that it would send a message. And it was noted that we perhaps sent a wrong message when very few, if any, of the financial executives who played major roles in the 2007-8 financial crisis, went to jail.

John Murray (former Program Manager at SRI International) asked how many of the people in these two books are women? Berlin said that, of the 6 or 7 main stories she tells in her book, two are women, including one who founded her own company, ASK Computer Systems (Sandra Kurtzig), but also Fawn Alvarez, who started out at a support position at Rolm, but ended up as the head of staff at IBM Rolm. Berlin had to fight to get Alvarez included in the book. Even in the early days, Silicon Valley behavior was terrible. One of Kurtzig’s bankers asked her to wear a T-shirt at an event for her company on which it was printed, “ASK Me If I Go Down.” Nolan Bushnell allowed a very sexist culture at Atari. On the other hand, Berlin says, many women were angry about negative reports about sexist behavior in Silicon Valley’s early days, because where they were previously limited to jobs as secretaries and schoolteachers, they got to ‘play like the boys’ at Silicon Valley companies, including parties. Fisher also countered that Atari also supported the Equal Rights Amendment with advertising and was one of the first companies to offer secretaries and other largely female support staff stock options. Books like Girltopia and Alpha Girls tell different stories.

A question from the audience implied that Alan Greenspan has been totally wrong about governance and now there is only a skeleton crew at the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). Is governance and regulation going to just continue to go downhill? Berlin has no inside info on that. Fisher says he stayed away from that arena.


Knut Balslev—a Board member of Silicon Vikings—asked about sustainability issues, such as pollution from semiconductor manufacturing, and any other “nasty secrets.” Berlin said she saw stories and saw a few things, like rusty pipes, but no real info. Fisher said he wasn’t looking for that kind of material.

The evening passed by quickly, leaving no time to delve into many other questions and serious challenges facing Silicon Valley, including the future of traffic/transportation/transit, social gaps, quality of life and wellbeing. These will have to be addressed at future sessions.

The event web page can be found here



Future of Learning Platforms: Event Description & Audio Recording + Pictures


Future of Learning Platforms: Event Description & Audio Recording + Pictures

Silicon Vikings had an event on the Future of Learning Platforms on January 16th at K&L Gates in San Francisco. We had world-class panelists including: Phil Komarny, VP Innovation,; Sam Herring, VP & GM, Intrepid by VitalSource; Matt Hasel, Co-Founder, TriPoint Lab. Attendees included a 25-person delegation from Norway’s Open Innovation Lab and Jo Sletback, Consul General of the Royal Norwegian Consulate in San Francisco.

Today, more than ever, individuals and companies are recognizing that learning, unlearning and re-learning, are essential elements of succeeding, or even just coping, in the new VUCA-World (Volative, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) we now live in—and where you need to learn rapidly as the world changes at growing speed. And the famous UCLA Basketball coach, John Wooden, said it better than anyone, I think: “If you’re through learning, you’re through.”

In our session we explored how learning platforms in various shapes and forms, will provide better opportunities for learners at work, or as part of one’s life-long-learning journey, can access learning content and learning activities, and engaging in collaborative learning activities with anyone, regardless of location. As learning platforms improve, and more easily provide what learners demand, learners can more easily gain new skills and competencies, or just gain knowledge that will give learners more satisfying and meaningful lives.

Some of the questions and issues addressed included:

  • What should learning platforms ideally offer learners 5-10 years from now?

  • How will learning platform evolve in the next 12-24 months?

  • What technologies may be key enablers of important functionality of future platforms?

  • What key challenges will learning platform developers face in gaining platform adoption?

  • What players are today offering innovative platforms that signal what will likely be successful?

The first half of our session the panelists presented their points-of-view and addressed a range of questions and issues about how learning platforms will evolve, and what this will mean for small and large companies, entrepreneurs, and others seeking new and richer learning experiences. The second half of our session consisted of an active Q&A session between attendees and panelists.

Event Recording:

Recording notes:

  • First five minutes or so include welcoming remarks by (1) Alidad Vakili, Attorney at K&L Gates LLP, who hosted the event; (2) Andre Eidskrem, CEO and Co-Founder of Intrahouse (a Norwegian tech company) and co-leader of the Open Innovation Lab delegation; (3) Jo Sletbak, Consul General in the Norwegian Consulate in SF; and (4) Charlotte Danielsson, CEO of Silicon Vikings. Since these speakers were far from the recorder microphone, the the audio of their welcome remarks is weak

  • The last few minutes of the recording captures the thank you ceremony where the speakers get their Silicon Vikings Guru certificates, wine and wear Silicon Vikings hats and lots of pictures get taken (See picture at top of this blog post, of our panelists plus the Norwegian Consul General)

Event Topic References:

Event Panelists

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Phil Komarny. Phil is the Vice President, Innovation for Phil has held multiple leadership roles both inside of higher education as the Chief Digital Officer for The University of Texas System, as well as outside as the CEO of Robots and Pencils. He is a highly social, entrepreneurial, award winning senior executive with a 20+ year track record of delivering innovative, high value solutions by aligning existing problems with emerging technologies. For instance, Phil was the first technology leader to introduce the Apple iPad as a platform for business transformation. He is an experienced c-level executive that has leveraged entrepreneurial instincts, a broad technical skillset, and a very strong reputation for developing and motivating teams at all levels to integrate new technologies that create value for the organization. Phil is comfortable serving as the voice of the business and building a strong rapport with management, colleagues, vendors, stakeholders and technical specialists. He has won the CIO100 for his work are Seton Hill University, grew Robots and Pencils to the 34th fastest growing technology company in 2015, and is a member of Constellation’s Business Transformation 150 (BT-150), an elite list that recognizes the top global executives leading business transformation efforts in their organizations. Phil has also won multiple Apple Distinguished Program Award for the ‘iPad for Everyone’ initiative at Seton Hill University.

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Sam Herring. Sam is Vice President and General Manager of Intrepid by VitalSource. In this role, Sam leads the VitalSource business for the corporate and professional markets. VitalSource products serving this market include the Intrepid platform, which enables organizations to solve their critical business challenges through collaborative learning experiences at scale, Bookshelf, a secure content delivery platform for the extended enterprise, and Acrobatiq, an adaptive learning platform for personalized course experiences. Sam has been a leader in the corporate learning industry for nearly 20 years. Prior to joining VitalSource, he was CEO and co-founder of Intrepid Learning Solutions, an industry-leading learning consulting and outsourcing company which was acquired by Xerox in 2015, and CEO Intrepid Learning, the learning technology business acquired by VitalSource in 2017. In 2018, Intrepid was named Business of the Year by ISA, the Association of Learning Providers. Sam is past chairman of the board of directors of ATD (the Association for Talent Development), and is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Universities.

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Matt Hasel. Matt Co-Founder of TriPoint Lab, and is a serial entrepreneur, artist/technologist and platform builder who has spent the last decade working on developing advanced immersive technology solutions at eHuman, the NASA Biocomputation Center, and Stanford School of Medicine. Before TriPoint Lab, Matt worked at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and supervised development of multimedia content and interactive applications for the teaching of Anatomy to High School, undergrad and medical students. His latest company, Tripoint Lab, specializes in accelerated learning strategies using highly interactive and immersive 3D AR/VR experiences. The company is developing state of the art, next generation higher educational platform solutions designed to accelerate mastery of highly complex medical subject matter. The company’s goal is to be a relevant learning and training resource from a first-year medical student throughout their career.


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Eilif Trondsen. Eilif—a transplanted Norwegian who has spent his whole professional life in Silicon Valley—has led and participated in a number of syndicated research programs and numerous consulting projects during his 35 years at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) and Strategic Business Insights (a spin-out from SRI, located on the Menlo Park campus of SRI). Eilif has also been Adjunct Professor of Economics at a number of Bay Area universities. Most of his work has focused on eCommerce, Learning, Innovation, and Virtual Technologies, and in recent years much of his work has focused on the Nordic region, especially Finland and Norway, including projects for Tekes and the Norwegian Research Council, and three projects funded by Nordic Innovation. He was recently the project leader of a new Nordic Innovation project awarded to Silicon Vikings, which will build a Nordic EdTech Network. He has been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for the last 7 years, and have been the Chair of the Special Interest Group on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning since its beginning.


Secrets of the Serial Entrepreneur:  Interview with Mårten Mickos


Secrets of the Serial Entrepreneur: Interview with Mårten Mickos

Mårten Mickos is CEO of HackerOne, the world's most popular bug bounty platform. HackerOne helps companies connect with the best security hackers in the world to find system vulnerabilities so that these can be fixed before they are exploited by malicious actors. As a result, the companies and the internet is more secure.

Formerly SVP and GM of Hewlett-Packard's Cloud Business, CEO of Eucalyptus, EIR at Benchmark Capital and Index Ventures, SVP and GM of the Database Group of Sun Microsystems, CEO of MySQL AB. In his spare time, Mårten maintains a leadership blog called the School of Herring (

Mårten is the 2012 recipient of Silicon Vikings’ Nordic Entrepreneur of the Year Award and is the keynote speaker at our “State of Nordic Tech in the Bay: Startup Showcase 2017”

Q: What was it about HackerOne that attracted you to the company?

A: The business opportunity. And the fact that cybersecurity is the biggest challenge facing our digital society, and hacker-powered security is the best response to that.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style and what has made it so effective?

A: I believe in people. I am open, honest and direct. I believe in huge success.

Q: What is your secret to being an effective CEO in terms of building the company culture and values you need to make the company successful?

A: Lead from the front. Talk the talk and walk the walk. Be yourself, show your vulnerabilities, engage people and empower them to participate and contribute.

Q: What methods have you used to effectively encourage innovation within the companies you have led?

A: All and any methods I have ever learned about!

Q: Busy startup entrepreneurs have lots of demands on their time and are often pulled in lots of different directions, do you have any tips for effective time management and what to focus on first?

A: Nope. Meaning: I am not the expert. Expert advice is very useful. I am just not the one who has it all ready to present as clearly as the experts do.

Q: What traits do you look for when building a team?

A: Integrity, energy, and they must "get it". They must be curious, which allows them to be coachable.

Q: Any tips for effective communication between a CEO and the company board of directors and how to sell your vision for the company most effectively?

A: Communicate early, communicate often. Use all channels and methods available. Be genuine. Don't beat around the bush.

Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs on what to include (or not to include) in their pitch deck for investors?

A: First, no matter how good your investor deck is, an investment happens only when the investor and the CEO or founder see eye to eye. The investor is placing a bet on the intelligence, ability to execute, and passion of the CEO and the team. There needs to be mutual respect and a willingness to work together. If that part is missing, not even the best investor deck will bring you funding.

In terms of vital ingredients for the pitch deck, it should have information about the following 7 things:

1)    The problem your company is solving

2)    Your target customers described in great detail

3)    The customer relationship lifecycle

4)    The market and the competition

5)    Momentum and market reaction—meaning information about how customers are receiving your offering

6)    Your unique abilities

7)    Facts about the company

Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs on moving beyond a failure?

A: If it is a failure where you did all you could with the best of intentions, with the highest integrity, then actually there are no failures. There are only results. If the result is good, we call it victory. If it isn’t, we call it learning. When we learn from our mistakes, they are not repeated again. This is why it is so important to feel troubled about the failure. The human mind learns the best and the quickest under pain. When we feel the pain of failure, that’s our body’s way of making sure that we learn for the next time, and that we get over it and we can move on to more success. And of course, more learning.

Also, from a leadership perspective, it is important to note that great leaders are great listeners. Without listening it is not possible to learn and understand, nor can you identify threats and opportunities. Listening is required in order to make plans, engage people and get them to commit. When repeated failure happens it is because the leadership did not listen. Listening is vital for sustained success.

Q: When scaling a company, what do you focus on first and why? How do you determine the best timing for scaling?

A: In growth business it is a common mistake to start too soon and move too slow. As a result, first you are too early and soon you are too late.

You should not start until the time is right. If and when the time is right, you should not go slowly. You should go with force and determination.

If it anyhow turns out that you started to soon, or that you started with the wrong product or wrong strategy, then you need to pivot. Pivoting comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. You will always make small adjustments, and many times you have to make a major shift - a full pivot.

In order to scale, you need product/market fit. Your offering must fit a very concrete need of the market. And it's not enough to have product fit with the innovators - the pioneering customers in the market - because there are not enough of them. You need fit with the early adopters. They will then lead you to the early majority and from there to the late majority.

When you have product/market fit, you need to make sure you have the operational ability to scale the business. Customer service functions are often the ones bottlenecking when the business starts to scale.



Networking & Business Culture Silicon Valley Style

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Networking & Business Culture Silicon Valley Style

An understanding of the unspoken business and networking culture in Silicon Valley is the key for Nordic entrepreneurs to build the relationships needed to succeed in Silicon Valley. Everyone is speaking English but cultural differences lead to misunderstanding. This article provides insights into common misunderstandings between Nordic entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley locals and gives concrete recommendations on how to build an effective network.

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Open Innovation Journey to Digital Future: Case Study of Seco Tools (Sweden)


Open Innovation Journey to Digital Future: Case Study of Seco Tools (Sweden)

On December 11, 2018, we had a great event to hear the innovation journey to Silicon Valley of Seco Tools. This blog post provides a bit of context for the event—which we had posted as the event description before the event—so you, who missed the event—can have a bit of context for the Seco story, and then gain more detailed insights into their innovation experience from what Anders and Quentin shared, in part responding to questions that Jim and Eilif, as moderators of the session, posed to Anders and Quentin.

Context for Seco Tools Case Study

In 2016 the Swedish industrial company Seco Tools embarked on a bold experiment to plot a digital future for the traditional metal tool cutting company. Sending an R&D team to San Francisco for 6 months proved to be novel solution for Seco to act like a startup. In the recording below, you will learn about the journey and the outcome from Anders Ericsson and Quentin Hardoin from Seco Tools. Today Seco has a brand new digital division with high tech electronic products, mobile apps and cloud services. Seco mines customer data and is building a new business that sells information and insight, not cutting tools. Anders and Quentin were in San Francisco heading up this new business and shared their experiences with the Silicon Vikings community.


In 2017, Seco Tools sent three individuals from their R&D departments in Sweden for a six-month project to work at the Flex mini factory on 8th street in downtown San Francisco. Serious Fun, a Swedish open innovation consultancy and IoT engineering firm, assisted Seco in every step of the journey from planning the program to delivering the results. Today Seco has leveraged the tremendous power of open innovation in Silicon Valley to become true digital pioneer.

The Seco story is an inspiring example—for both Nordic and other companies seeking to become both more innovative and more digital—of how to transform a tradition industrial company into a digital enterprise ready to do business in the 21st century. Their success is a model to others willing to take necessary risks and face uncertain outcomes to transform an enterprise. How Seco was able to take inspiration from the Silicon Valley way of working is a blueprint for how to leverage the tricks and tools of startups for big companies. Seco Tools is a great case study for how Nordic and other companies can remain competitive and stable based in the Nordics or elsewhere while benefiting from the energy and technology of Silicon Valley.



Anders Ericsson, VP Strategy and Innovation, and VP Seco Consultancy Services-- Anders is the VP of Seco Consultancy Services as well as holding the VP position of Strategy and Innovation at Seco Tools. Anders is responsible for opening new markets and market channels through the build up of service concepts based on a mix of strong specific core competences and open innovation methodologies. Anders has collected learnings from more than 20 years in different senior business functions from R&D to implementation of large Infrastructure projects around the world. He now applies these learnings to meld vibrant startup mentality with strengths of a successful longstanding company to combat lethargy in a mature industry. Anders has a PhD in Materials Science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and a MSc in Aerospace Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology.

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Quentin Hardoin, Solution Owner - Idem -- Quentin Hardoin has worked for Seco Tools for 15 years where he has occupied a number of positions.  Beginning his employment in Seco’s Research & Development Department as a Project Manager (Milling), he then moved into Custom Tool Product Development focusing on Crankshaft, Power Transmissions and Energy applications and standard milling solutions i.e. disc milling, helical milling and ceramic milling. Quentin was an integral part of developing Seco’s SET (Sensor Equipped Tooling) operations during 2017 and is now the Solution Owner for IDEM as a part of Seco Consultancy Services.



Jim Myrick, Entrepreneur in Residence, Flex. Jim is an expert in hardware acceleration, open innovation, telecommunications and full stack agile software development having founded a number of Silicon Valley and European technology firms. Currently he is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Flex a 26 billion dollar a year global high tech manufacturing firm, he is the co-founder of Serious Fun AB a Swedish telecommunication design, build and operate engineering consultancy located in Malmo and an EiR at RocketSpace the premier global co-working accelerator. He is also a resident at the Autodesk Technology Center of the CTO at Pier 9 in San Francisco.


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Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Silicon Vikings.  Eilif—a transplanted Norwegian who has spent his whole professional life in Silicon Valley—has led and participated in a number of syndicated research programs and numerous consulting projects during his 35 years at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) and Strategic Business Insights (a spin-out from SRI, located on the Menlo Park campus of SRI). Eilif has also been Adjunct Professor of Economics at a number of Bay Area universities. Most of his work has focused on eCommerce, Learning, Innovation, and Virtual Technologies, and in recent years much of his work has focused on the Nordic region, especially Finland and Norway, including projects for Tekes and the Norwegian Research Council, and three projects funded by Nordic Innovation. He was recently the project leader of a new Nordic Innovation project awarded to Silicon Vikings, which will build a Nordic EdTech Network. He has been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for the last 7 years, and have been the Chair of the Special Interest Group on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning since its beginning.

Event Recording :


An interview with Munya Chivasa, Head of the Merck Accelerator


An interview with Munya Chivasa, Head of the Merck Accelerator

Munya Chivasa has been Head of the Merck Accelerator Program since it was founded by Merck in 2015. The program invites international startups to the Merck Innovation Center, at the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt, and supports them in the development of their businesses with the clear objective of partnering up with Merck.

Hi Munya, Silicon Vikings is very excited about partnering with Merck to make your accelerator more accessible to Nordic and Baltic startups! To start with, we’d love to hear about why Merck launched the Accelerator?

Hi, thanks for having me! The Merck Accelerator was founded with the aim of partnering up with startups and breathing some new entrepreneurial life into the 350 year-old Merck corporation. From the very beginning, the plan has been to promote sustainable partnerships with startups, which is why we offer guidance every step of the way - even after the program’s three-month duration has ended. Once startups have graduated from the Accelerator, we continue to look out for points where they can connect with Merck and the Accelerator: whether this involves Merck becoming one of the startup’s clients, or as a technology development partner or even sharing a stage at leading industry events, we at Merck are always keen to keep in touch.

We hear the Merck Accelerator is specifically looking for startups in the Nordic-Baltic area. Why is that?

Yes, we are. With such a dynamic startup scene in the Nordic-Baltic area, we know that Nordic-Baltic startups have a lot to bring to the table. Just take a look at what’s going on in places like Finland - with huge startup events like Slush - or Estonia, which is producing more startups per capital than any other country in Europe. It’s this kind of innovative spirit that makes Nordic-Baltic startups so exciting.

What kind of startups are you looking for?

We are looking for startups in the fields of Healthcare, Performance Materials, Life Science and other related fields like Clean Meat, Liquid Biopsy and Bio-Sensing & Interfaces with full-time dedication to their project. This is important to build successful collaboration and allow startups to find in Merck a partner with which they can make their first deals from the very first moment.

And what was it that attracted you to work at the Innovation Center?

Ever since its founding in 1668, Merck has been a world leader in Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials. I loved the idea of working for a company that is both 350 years old and on the cutting edge of innovation. When I saw the role at the Innovation Center advertised, I thought: “great, here’s an opportunity for me to get my hands dirty in an industry that’s innovative and forward-looking.” And I wasn’t wrong. I’ve learned a lot at a fast pace - no two days at work are the same.

You’ve mentioned Merck’s experts - what exactly does the Merck Accelerator expert-network look like?

We’re one big, happy family. But seriously, we kind of are! Merck’s network stretches across the globe, with over 50,000 experts in 66 countries. At the core of the Accelerator is a series of ideational mentoring sessions, so our network is tied in very closely with this aspect of the program. It might sound cliché, but the Merck network really does foster exchange and mutual support. We host regular events series such as the Innovators’ Club where attendees can hear keynote speeches on the latest news and trends in the innovation world, network, and swap business ideas. The location of the impressive and brand-new Innovation Center on-site at the Merck Headquarters in Darmstadt means that it has become a hub for Merck experts, Accelerator startups and alumni.

Apart from this network, could you tell us what kind of benefits you give to businesses that come into the Merck Accelerator?

As I’ve already mentioned, startups participating in our three-month program benefit from tailored mentoring sessions from our international network of experts. They can also make use of the Innovation Center’s high tech and rapid prototyping labs facilities such as the Makerspace and receive funding of up to €50,000. For the first time, we’ll also be offering next year’s intake of startups the opportunity to extend their stay in Merck’s China Innovation Hub in Shanghai. I truly believe this kind of support is vital in today’s business environment. Money-only based, short-term support from investors is no longer an option for startups looking to stay around long-term in a world full of competition and challenges.

How are startups from your previous intakes doing now?

We are proud to say that our Alumni of over 40 teams over the last 3years have continued to grow and gain traction within their respective markets. We are especially proud that at least 5 teams still have projects in development with Merck and we even decided to take equity in one of the teams

What kind of entrepreneurial experience do the Merck Accelerator mentors have?

We have a diverse group of Mentors from both within the company and outside. Our external mentors are entrepreneurs in their own right having founded a startup from various industries from IoT to biotechnology. From within the company some of the mentors are business unit heads with P & L responsibilities and some of the expert mentors have or are going through an Intrapreneurial journey of their own within the Merck Innovation Ecosystem

What’s your role within the Innovation Center, in a nutshell?

I head the Accelerator Program and along with the rest of my team am responsible for search and recruitment of promising startups to connect the innovation ecosystem within Merck.

If someone was reading this and thinking they’d like to apply for the startup accelerator, what advice would you give them?

Apply! It’s a brilliant program and applications for the upcoming program in 2019 are open until the 30th of September, so we can say we are already in the final stretch.


Silicon Vikings Partners with Merck Accelerator to Bring More Opportunities to Nordic Startups


Silicon Vikings Partners with Merck Accelerator to Bring More Opportunities to Nordic Startups

Looking for a Partner?

Merck Accelerator Helps You Achieve Your Next Big Bang

Your startup needs a boost to bring it to the next level? If you’re operating in the fields of Life science, Healthcare, Performance Materials or additional search fields like Bio-Sensing and Interfaces, partnering up with Merck might be the solution. Never heard of Merck or their Accelerator? If you’re curious, want to gain access to worldwide experts and even to the Chinese market, you’ll find all the detailed information right here.

How the Merck Accelerator Works

Startups from all over the world can apply for the three month program via the Accelerator’s website. The program, which runs once a year and takes place in Darmstadt, Germany, has a clear goal: offering startups the opportunity to partner with Merck. Merck welcomes a range of teams in its brand new Innovation Center at the Merck headquarters. The teams receive funding of up to €50,000  as well as working space, mentoring from Merck’s Senior Management, and tailored coaching sessions from a network of 50,000 experts and Merck Accelerator alumni. Next year, for the first time, selected startups will have the chance to extend their stay in the Merck Innovation Hub in China.

So far, over 40 different startups have successfully participated in the Accelerator and developed their ideas. The variety in startups is huge: from those working on technology that detects malaria, to drones that improve the medical supply chain, to printed electronics. If you’d like to see an overview of the kind of startups the Merck Accelerator has already partnered up with, click here. This year, in recognition of the growing startup scene in the Nordic-Baltic region, Merck is looking for new talents here.

Where the Accelerator Comes From

In one sentence: The Merck Accelerator is a partner who wants to shape the future with you. These may sound like big words, but there’s something behind them: Merck is one of the world’s leading companies in Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials. Merck is also the world's oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company and has been working to advance innovation ever since its founding in 1668. Around 53,000 employees work with us to develop technologies that improve and enhance life - these include anything from liquid crystals, to biopharmaceutical therapies as cancer treatments, to cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production.

As startup talents are the driving force behind innovation, the Merck Accelerator was founded in 2015 with the aim of partnering Merck up with startups. In exchange for their entrepreneurial spirit, Merck wants to share its vast experience with startup teams and build future businesses together.

Not Just Acceleration But Strong, Sustainable Partnerships

Since quick, money-only based support doesn’t help startups in the long term, the Merck Accelerator focuses on sustainable partnerships. The program’s key lies in its ideation coaching and mentoring sessions. Additionally, after the program’s three months are up, the partnership doesn’t end: Merck continues to look for connecting points to maintain its close relationship to startups. Whether it’s by becoming a client, as was the case for the alumni Ectica Technologies (read more here), or sharing a stage on leading industry events, Merck is always on the lookout for opportunities to stay in touch.

Enter the Chinese Market

In today’s world, markets are connected, and the Merck Accelerator wants to offer its participants the best international opportunities. Startups will have access to a pool of experts from 66 different countries, so regardless of the target market, there will be at least one expert that can help. Nevertheless, China is without doubt a market with huge potential for young startups operating in the tech, Healthcare, Life Science or Performance Materials industries. From our own experience, we understand the value of having a partner that’s already settled in China before even entering the market, especially since many regulations and processes are completely different. For this reason, the Merck Accelerator offers chosen participants the chance to extend their participation in the program by joining Merck’s China Innovation Hub in Shanghai.

If getting accelerated and winning a worldwide leader as a partner sound appealing to you may want to take your chance and apply for the Merck Accelerator before the application period is over.





Beyond Tech-Driven Smart Cities


Beyond Tech-Driven Smart Cities

By Eilif Trondsen, PhD, Chair of Special Interest Group on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning


A few weeks back, I got an unusual request. A Norwegian friend, who brings groups of professionals to Silicon Valley, for “educational and inspirational tours” (or perhaps what some of us, who frequently get invitations to speak to such groups, refer to as “techno tourism”) asked me to speak on the topic of “smart cities and learning.”

Over the last half a dozen years or more, I have seen lots of articles on “smart cities” as growing number of technology providers—including Cisco, IBM, Oracle and many others—as well as big data, sensors and analytics providers, and, of course, anyone doing urban design and planning, are active players in the business of “smart cities.” And since no city wants to be a “dumb city”, growing number of cities around the world are now trying to figure out how to leverage emerging tech (especially AI, machine learning, the latest sensor tech, software analytics, etc) to make cities run more smoothly and become more livable and inviting for current and future residents.

But what intrigued me about my friend’s request was not the “smart city” part but the learning part, as the intersection of learning and tech is what I have spent many years exploring and trying to understand—and still trying to figure out! The combination of smart cities and learning, in particular, got me thinking and I took this as a challenge and therefore agreed to speak to the 25-strong group of visitors from Oslo.

Next-Generation Smart Cities

Since virtually all cities want to be a smart city, and are working on some kind of smart city initiative—mostly focused on how to use the latest and coolest technologies around—the first question I asked myself when thinking about the visiting group from Oslo was: How can they differentiate themselves in this space, and how can they go beyond the tech focus, and instead focus on the PEOPLE elements of the smart city equation? And if they want to have a long-term, sustainable smart city project, doesn’t this require that the residents of the future smart city of Oslo become engaged in the project, and learn, i.e. become knowledgeable about what smart cities could bring in terms of new opportunities—and understand both benefits and costs of such a big initiative?

Based on this, I chose the following title for my presentation: Making Oslo the Learning Capital of the World: Next Generation Smart City. Since Silicon Valley is all about BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)—which Wikipedia defines as “strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible”—I thought this would provide the visitors with an appropriate visionary goal and longer term perspective on their initiative.

Next-Generation Learning

When most people hear the term “learning” they immediately think of “education” and often think back to being bored stiff during teachers’/professors’ lectures on things which they as students often see as having little relevance for what they want to do or are passionate about. I therefore spent the first part of my presentation trying to get the visitors out of the “old classroom learning mindset” and think about why learning—going far beyond just formal (“education”) type of learning to include all forms of informal learning—is so important, and indeed critical, for anyone in today’s VUCA world (a world increasingly characterized by high degree of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity).

My two slides listing competencies that will become increasingly important for future success, especially in the workplace of the future, but even for having a successful life in general, drew in part on wise words from my good friend Jay Cross—who was always very focused on informal learning. And I challenged the visitors to think of ways in which they could integrate a wide range of projects into their smart city initiative that would draw in young people, perhaps in collaboration with companies, who could then gain these types of competencies via project-based learning that would engage them much more than traditional lectures.

Projects could also challenge companies—and their employees—to explore the future of smart cities, and engage in dialog and discussion around future trends affecting smart city design and implementation. Such projects, and workshops, could become ways to involve Oslo residents in thinking about what the future of Oslo, as a smart city, could and should look like and how it could and should work.

Why couldn’t smart city initiatives include projects that would take students outside their classrooms and perhaps focus on designing BMX or skateboarding parks that many young people want but very often don’t find in urban environments? Why not challenge them to brainstorm and come up with ideas for such projects, how to design them, seek funding and assistance from local companies, and document their work using modern project management tools, etc? These are the kinds of projects I have seen in my neighborhood of Cupertino and San Jose, and if these are not the things young people in Oslo want, find out what they do want and how they can make them happen, as part of smart city design.

Technologies Enabling Next-Generation Learning

Just like smart cities will be enabled by and will incorporate a wide range of (emerging) technologies, the same is true for learning. Yes, tech is no “silver bullet” for learning, and I am a strong believer in “hybrid” or “blended” learning, where a variety of modalities, including conversation and dialog among people (mediated by technology or not), will need to play a part. But in the new world we now live in—and described very well by two friends, Jeff Saperstein and Hunter Hastings, in their forthcoming book The Interconnected Individual—technology will offer unprecedented opportunities to connect with others, regardless of distance, and increasingly at no cost, using increasingly sophisticated platforms that enable not just communication but also tools for collaboration. These “interconnected individuals” will also have unprecedented ways in which to learn, in formal and informal ways, including via massively open online courses (MOOCs) offered by world-class experts from top universities around the world, with great opportunities to connect and communicate (via chat boards, for instance) with others anywhere in the world.

New tools and platforms, including the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies (more on this in future blog posts), will open up new opportunities for more engaging and interesting ways of learning than just reading books, like what many of us were limited to when we grew up. All of this will offer opportunities for augmented connections, regardless of distance, that will enable new entrepreneurial opportunities. And combining these new kinds of learning opportunities with smart city initiatives could stimulate young people to see themselves as integral parts of the design and implementation of smart city projects and thus help ensure long terms sustainable success.


Calling All Nordic Startups: Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Nordic Competitions


Calling All Nordic Startups: Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Nordic Competitions

Silicon Vikings is partnering with Startup World Cup to bring the Silicon Vikings & Startup World Cup Regional Competitions to the Nordics. Regional competitions will be held in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland in February to April 2018. The deadline to apply for the Nordic Country Competitions is:

Norway: Feb 12th

Sweden: Feb 12th

Finland: March 19th

Denmark: March 19th


 Apply Here

One Winner from each of these country competitions will be invited to compete in the Startup World Cup 2018 Grand Finale Global Startup Competition in San Francisco on May 11th, 2018 where the Global Competition winner will receive a $1,000,000 investment prize. Startup World Cup will provide airfare and two nights hotel stay for each regional winner to compete in the Grand Finale in San Francisco.

Thousands of startups from all around the world applied to the 2017 competition and the Startup World Cup 2017 Grand Finale featured prominent figures from the entrepreneurship community, including Steve Wozniak (Co-Founder of Apple), Daymond John (Star of ABC’s Shark Tank & Founder of FUBU), Alexis Ohanian (Co-Founder of Reddit) and Guy Kawasaki (former Chief Evangelist of Apple). Winners from 15 regional events pitched their startups at the Grand Finale, and UniFa from Japan took home the trophy with the $1,000,000 investment prize, and other regional champions received $10,000 value in legal services from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Portfolio Package from Salesforce for Startups. Second place went to Open Bionics from the United Kingdom, and third place went to Ahlijasa from Indonesia. 

Silicon Vikings is a 40,000+ network headquartered in Silicon Valley (nonprofit organization founded in 1997) with nodes throughout the Nordic and Baltic region including Greater Copenhagen, Gothenburg , Helsinki, Norrland, Oslo, Reykjavik, Riga, Stockholm, Tallinn, and Vilnius. Silicon Vikings is a network of nodes with the mission of building a borderless community supporting Nordic and Baltic innovation and entrepreneurship in accordance with global best practices, with a close connection to Silicon Valley’s unique and leading innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.


If you are an organization interested in helping to market the Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Competition in the Nordics through your networks, please email our Executive Director Charlotte Danielsson at



“There Is No Free Lunch!”


“There Is No Free Lunch!”

The economic axiom stating there is “no free lunch” is typically part of any introductory economic class, as students are taught that someone always has to pay, in one way or another, for products or services consumed—either directly or indirectly. In recent days, as Norway has become a frequent topic of discussion after President Trump’s reference to Norway in the context of U.S. immigration policies, it has become clear that some late night talk show hosts and others have forgotten about the economic axiom by referring to “free education,” “free health care,” etc. in Norway.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Norwegians—and similarly in other Nordic or other countries that seem to have “free services”—are paying for them, and most often via higher (than they would otherwise be) taxes, whether in the form of personal income taxes, corporate taxes, or value-added-taxes (VAT, or known as “moms” in Norway), or other forms of taxes. VAT is currently 25% on most products in Norway—or more than three times the sales tax in California, for instance. In Norway, higher tax revenues—to pay for these “collective services”—is the main why the public sector is much larger than that of many other countries. According to statistics from the Organization of Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD), tax revenues as percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Nordics is considerably higher than in the US or in the OEDC countries on average (source, for the most recent year of available data, 2015):

  • Norway: 38.3%
  • Sweden: 43.3%
  • Denmark: 45.9%
  • Finland: 43.9%
  • US: 26.2%
  • Average OECD: 34%

Opposition to a large public sector, and thus high tax rates, is strong in the US, particularly among Republicans. This is especially true under the current Trump regime, where minimizing the size of the public sector—and especially the federal government (with the main exception of defense)—is a key policy goal.

Norwegians, and Nordics in general, tend to view the public sector—mostly with very competent staff (and very little, if any, corruption)—very differently from, and more favorably than is the case in the US, and generally are happy with the tradeoff of high taxes in return for a range of education, health care and other services they get through their tax payments. The generally high quality and accessibility of these services for most of the Norwegian (Nordic) population, including a “social safety net” that avoids the high levels of extreme poverty that exists in many parts of the US, have high degree of political agreement, again in sharp contrast to the US (where bipartisan policies are increasingly scarce).

Comparative analysis of a very large, complex and dynamic US economy with the much smaller, and generally much more homogeneous, Nordic economies should be done with extreme caution. Overly simplistic analysis that is often done (especially in the news media and in late-night talk shows), can result in superficial and mistaken conclusions. Short and shallow tweets by Trump, often reflecting lack of, or shallow understanding of, complex and difficult socio-economic or political issues, don’t encourage productive and informed dialog and discussion and instead brings more division and misunderstanding.




Silicon Valley: Challenges Ahead


Silicon Valley: Challenges Ahead

In my recent post on Silicon Valley, I took issue with Steinar Hoel Korsmo’s prediction that Silicon Valley would (relatively soon) become “irrelevant.” At least in my mind, the region—still the leading and most dynamic innovation ecosystem in the world—will not easily or quickly be toppled from its current position. But let me quickly point out that this does NOT mean that Silicon Valley will not face a increasingly fierce competition, as “the battle of innovation ecosystems” will likely intensify and we may well see the distance between Silicon Valley and its competitors shrink. How much is not clear, but LOTS of things are happening around the world, so the next decade or two will be exciting to watch.

Before I address some of the major challenges that I see Silicon Valley facing in the future—the solutions to which will determine whether, how much, and how fast the region may lose its current top ranking among innovation ecosystems—I will provide a bit more context around all of this, in part by referring to some graphics I am showing below.

The Evolution of the Valley

Many foreign observers often forget how the Valley has evolved over a number of phases which Doug Henton and John Melville—eminent regional economists and former SRI colleagues of mine (Doug is former, and John is the current, CEO of Collaborative Economics)—included in the opening of the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project (2015)—shown in Figure 1. The graphic summarizes key characteristics of each of the five phases. To me, underlying the 5 phases evolving over about 5 decades is a dynamic in which each phase drew on the best talent and resources of the previous phase, or phases, to build the companies and industries that have cumulatively resulted in an increasingly sophisticated, dynamic and resilient regional innovation ecosystem. This system has adapted very well to the changing and evolving needs of the regional, national and global economy, and, of course, a big part of this has been the tremendous talent base built by great number of highly skilled and eager workers coming in from around the US and other countries (more on this below).

Figure 1

Evolution of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Evolution_Henton.png

Source: Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project - 2015

Strong Components of the Innovation Ecosystem

It is challenging to create a graphic that includes, and does justice to, the many factors or elements that shape and characterize the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem. I have given many presentations about Silicon Valley to visiting delegations from the Nordics and elsewhere, and I often use the figure shown below, as a way to summarize and discuss some of the major factors that I think have played, and continue play, an important role in shaping the Valley. [I revise the figure when I realize I have left some things out, so please let me know if you see some things that are missing and I will add them to my next version of the figure].


Figure 2

Key Elements of the Innovation Engine of Silicon Valley

SV Ecosystem_My Fig_Revised.png

Source: Eilif Trondsen, Silicon Vikings

My graphic doesn’t, of course, show or explain the complex dynamics and interactions among the factors pointed to in the figure, but below I will address some of the changing dynamics that will likely have significant influence on how Silicon Valley will be viewed a decade or two from now.

Current and Emerging Challenges Facing Silicon Valley

For those of us who live in Silicon Valley, some of the issues addressed below enter into daily evaluation and weighting the pros and cons of being here, and trying to decide “should I stay or leave”, but in some ways this is probably true for anyone living in urban areas (around the world) that are “under stress” by challenges of housing (availability and costs), transportation/traffic, and cost of living. It is far beyond the scope of this blog post to take a deep dive into these issues, but only point to some of the developments that now threaten the long term health of our ecosystem.


Lack of affordable housing has long been a problem in the Bay Area, not only in San Francisco, but up and down the Peninsula. While highly paid software engineers, business executives, lawyers, and many other professionals don’t have problems paying for housing, growing numbers of others are struggling and now face long and painful commutes as they are forced to move (to the South Bay or East Bay, in most cases) as they search for housing they can afford. Most people in the retail and service industries that support the high tech industries are severely affected, but so are “entry level professionals”, and even with new efforts by many Bay Area cities making plans for more low-income housing, it will not likely come close to meeting current or future needs.

As the tech giants—including Apple, Google Facebook, and others—expand their operations and footprint in Silicon Valley (Google, for example, has plans to occupy large parts of downtown San Jose, near the train station and will dramatically expand its footprint in that part of the Bay), the cost of housing will likely see continue to rise. The effect of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino has had some amazing impacts, and a recent local news article pointed out that someone had paid around $730,000 above asking price for a 2,000 square foot house near the new Apple Campus. The joint impact of Apple’s growth and the inflow of wealthy Chinese who regularly pay $1.5 million for small houses around Cupertino, make housing increasingly unaffordable for large segments of the labor force in Silicon Valley.

Increasingly dense housing—including (relatively) low-cost housing—near public transportation hubs, including Caltrain stations—is one (partial) solution that could alleviate some of the current housing problems, and projects of this kind are now underway. However, so far, most cities are avoiding high rise solutions, in sharp contrast to what one finds in other urban areas around the world.


Yes, worsening traffic congestion is not unique to the SF Bay Area, and you may note that this is the cost of having a vibrant economy—and undoubtedly, congestion will improve when the economy slows down, and which of these evils do you want? A significant part of the traffic problem is caused by growing numbers of people being forced (by high cost of housing) to move (to the south Bay and beyond) or towards Sacramento, spending perhaps 2 or more hours commuting to and from work. Figure 3 shows how traffic has changed in recent years, and how this compares to other heavily trafficked areas of the country.

Figure 3

The Long Way Home

Source:   California’s Housing Policy Is Holding Back Its Climate Policy; Bloomberg; November 15, 2017

Source: California’s Housing Policy Is Holding Back Its Climate Policy; Bloomberg; November 15, 2017

Growing recognition that a number of interconnected traffic problems of the SF Bay Area could help undermine the health of the economy of Silicon Valley, including driving much needed talent out, or contributing to the needed talent deciding to stay out, is reflected in various efforts now under way to look for unprecedented measures to try to fix these problems, once and for all. Urban transport experts now say that all previous steps have been incremental and have been a case of “too late, too little” and have not really had a significant, positive impact on Bay Area traffic. As a result, as discussed in a very recent article in the San Jose Mercury News (“A Multi-billion-dollar ‘mega measure’ to fix Bay Area traffic for good heading your way”, December 17, 2017), including a podcast on the same topic, describe how powerful, private sector organizations, including Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council, along with the urban planning think tank SPUR, have come to the following conclusions about Bay Area traffic:

  • The problems cannot be solved without a holistic, comprehensive plan that includes all elements of our transport system (cars, ferries, trains, bridges and highways, among other things) throughout the Bay Area
  • A roadmap that includes all the elements of the solution must be agreed to and accepted, and the total package must be presented to the taxpayers, so they can understand why the cost—likely to be around $100-150 Billion—is high, but is the only way the current problems can be solved.

Interestingly, Silicon Valley is known for attacking big business and technology problems and seeking “disruptive solutions” but so far no one in Silicon Valley has presented acceptable, innovative, creative solutions that could totally transform our current, poorly functioning transportation (and thus housing) systems. So, I applaud the organizations and people involved in the new ‘mega measure’ and hope they can create consensus around the solution and convince the region’s taxpayers that this is worth funding. If they are successful, it will likely be a major and positive contribution towards making Silicon Valley innovation engine sustainable in the long run, in my view.


               Retaining and Recruiting Talent

To some extent, this issue is also partly tied in with the two earlier issues/challenges of housing and traffic, and solving them will definitely make Silicon Valley a more attractive option for talented workers from around the US and the world, who in the past have come in droves to Silicon Valley. The immigrants from other countries have helped launch over half of all startups in Silicon Valley over the last decade or so (much has been written on this topic of immigrant entrepreneurs, and a Google search will reveal a significant literature), so any slow down or reversal of this trend could significantly harm the Silicon Valley innovation engine.

While the housing and traffic elements discussed above are to a large extent within the control of the SF Bay Area residents/policy makers (not true of the federal funding that may be needed for some parts of the ‘mega measure’), this is not true for the issue of foreign immigrant entrepreneurs. Current federal policies and regulations in these areas already have hurt not only foreign students who want to come and study in the US but foreign immigrants who would likely start companies or provide deep, needed technical expertise to Silicon Valley companies, are now reluctant to even try to seek visas that are now much more difficult to obtain, especially if you are from certain countries. And as other, competing “innovation hubs” in other countries, in Europe and Asia, especially, which are more welcoming to foreigners and also often provide significant funding in the form of grants and seed investments, will make it more difficult for Silicon Valley tech companies to hire the talent they need, at least for their Silicon Valley-based operations.

On top of the immigration challenges that Silicon Valley may face in the near future—especially if future regulations and policies don’t change their current trajectory—we must add a worrying situation for education sysems in the SF Bay Area. A presentation by Michael Kirst, Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University—and a recognized expert on the US, California and local post-secondary educational system and trends—at a Media X workshop at Stanford (on Innovation Ecosystems for AI-Based Education, Training and Learning) on November 13, 2017 made it very clear that current conditions are NOT good. Here are just a small sample of the statistics that Professor Kirst shared, all with potentially serious implications for the vitality of Silicon Valley’s long term economic health (especially when seen in combination with the other factors discussed above):

  • San Jose State University, which is a key provider of engineering talent to Silicon Valley, has 50,000 applicants and can only take 20,000
  • Completion rates at Community Colleges are very low (20-30%), implying a significant waste of resources
  • Qualified K12 graduates can’t find places in post-graduate institutions
  • Because of inadequate funding and other factors, many students can’t get into the majors they prefer
  • The region has very few workforce development centers (for helping people who often already have college degrees)

Concluding Remarks

“Prediction is hard, especially about the future”, according to an old Danish proverb (and often attributed to Niels Bohr). And predicting what the condition and future ranking of Silicon Valley as a regional innovation ecosystem will be is obviously difficult and highly uncertain. But, as noted in my first blog post on this topic, I have heard many wrong predictions over the last 40 years, most assuming Silicon Valley would not be able to retain its position as the world’s leading innovation ecosystem. Too many other dynamic regions with strong innovation ecosystems would no doubt catch up and surpass Silicon Valley. The region’s resilience has surprised many, but perhaps not so much the local regional economists, like Doug Henton and John Melville, among those who has a deep understanding of the region.

But let me be clear: The past is (obviously) not necessarily a good predictor of what the future will be! And many regional economists and Silicon Valley policy makers and business leaders are now concerned about the issues I have noted above, and likely also many other issues that I have not included in this post (some of the other issues are noted in the Scorecard shown in Figure 4). And many excellent reports and articles have been written about interesting changes in other parts of the world, and what these may mean for Silicon Valley. Let me point to just two interesting reports that address what is happening on the European and Chinese technology fronts, both written by excellent analysts at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute (both available, for free, at the BACEI website):

  • Innovation Bridge: Technology, Startups, and Europe’s Connection to Silicon Valley (August 2017)
  • Chinese Innovation: China’s Technology Future and What it Means for Silicon Valley (November 2017)

These two reports discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of the innovation ecosystems in Europe and China, but point to significant changes that have taken place and that are underway, which may make both regions more competitive with Silicon Valley in the future. But, as the reports also point out, both Europe and China have extensive, and often deep, connections to Silicon Valley, and these connections will likely evolve and perhaps strengthen. Chinese tech companies, with huge domestic advantages (as China continues to protect its domestic markets and so far refuse to embrace “reciprocity” trade principles that others obey, mostly), could give Chinese tech companies significant “big data advantages” that they can leverage in combination with huge investments being planned for AI and machine learning in China.

Some Nordic analysts and prominent executives and entrepreneurs also think that Europe could (finally) start closing the gap on the US and Silicon Valley, particularly in areas outside of technology. In a recent article in the Financial Times, Marten Mickos, a prominent Nordic business executive in Silicon Valley [CEO of HackerOne, and previously SVP at HP, Board Member at Nokia, and CEO of Eucalyptus Systems] noted that “Entrepreneurial opportunities are moving out of just ‘software’ or ‘tech’ and into all aspects of life. In these new areas, I believe the EU can perform strongly compared to Silicon Valley.” Whether this will be enough to diminish Silicon Valley’s overall ranking as a leading innovation ecosystem, is unclear

Finally, let me briefly mention that a book I am reading ‘[The New Education, by the eminent US educator, Cathy Davidson, the City University of New York] has led me to wonder whether our secondary and post-secondary educational institutions are keeping up with innovations happening in other parts of the US. This is also what Professor Kirst implied in his recent presentation at the workshop I attended at Stanford. Professor Davidson refers to many of the leading innovators in US Higher Education that are blazing new paths outside the old silos of traditional academic fields to prepare students for careers that draw on the best of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) PLUS humanities and Arts, so students can become versatile and can adapt quickly to changing career opportunities and work environments. If Silicon Valley schools—starting in elementary schools, and in secondary or post-secondary levels—indeed are not among the leading innovators in the US and the world, this could threaten Silicon Valley’s prominence in the long term. This is especially true if people from outside Silicon Valley (either in the US or from foreign countries) decide that they are not wanted or that access to Silicon Valley is too difficult, or costly. In this scenario, Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem will take a significant hit.

NOTE: If you want to take a “deeper dive” into competitiveness issues of Silicon Valley, I highly recommend the reports from the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project (SVCIP): A Dashboard and Policy Scorecard for a Shared Agenda of Prosperity and Opportunity. Figure 4 shows the SVCIP Indicator Dashboard from the 2017 report, summarizing its findings.

Figure 4

SVCIP Indicator Dashboard

SVCIP Indicator Dashboard.png


Working With Norwegians--Comments on book by Sean Percival

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Working With Norwegians--Comments on book by Sean Percival

Sean Percival.JPG

By Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Chair of SIG on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning


Sean has just let me know (at end of August 2019) that he is doing updates on his book. I loved his first version and sure the new one will be even better. I can’t wait to read the updated version


If you are a Norwegian, and curious how people from other countries may think of us (especially in business contexts), you may consider picking up this book:  Working with Norwegians (written by the American VC, Sean Percival, who has lived in Norway for two years or so).  If you are not Norwegian, but work and interact with Norwegians, you may also read the book and see if you agree with what Sean says in the book.

Of course, Sean makes generalizations (that I think some will take some exceptions to) and state things in “black and white” to make his points stand out, and this makes for more interesting (and sometimes fun) reading, and thus avoids making things too bland and uninteresting. Keep this in mind when you read the book.

Sean refers to the “law of Jante”—which states that you should not stand out and try to be better than others—and I guess that still holds to a certain extent in Norway (and perhaps the rest of the Nordics). BUT, I suspect that “law” holds much less today than in the past, and it will continue to erode, especially as young people in Norway now are embracing entrepreneurship like never before, and also start accepting risk much more than before. Yes, in certain areas of business, risk aversion still is strong, and perhaps especially in the kind of venture operations that Sean works in, as this is very high risk and (hopefully) high return.

My wife, who is American (but lived in Norway for a year), agrees with many of Sean’s observations, including the following: It is hard to get to know Norwegians because they (most) don’t connect easily with strangers/outsiders (my wife certainly found this to be true). In the major metropolitan centers of Norway, which have the largest concentrations of foreigners, this might not be as true as in smaller towns and in rural areas.

Sean also comments on the slow pace in Norway, and he contrasts with Silicon Valley (but today, perhaps even more with the extreme pace of things, especially in entrepreneurial environments, in China). Yes, I think this is true, and this often results in Norwegian entrepreneurs being slow in following up on communications when they come to Silicon Valley. If you want to have success in Silicon Valley, the work-life balance that most Norwegians enjoy (and that Sean is now embracing, it seems) might be difficult. And here, the boundaries between work and leisure are blurry, or don’t exist. Some of us find this ok, but most probably agree that the Norwegian situation is sensible, and something we in Silicon Valley should strive to achieve. But if we want to compete with the Chinese (and others), this may be wishful thinking!

Sean also makes the point, in many parts of the book, that Norwegians—like other Nordics?—are not good at “small talk.” This can complicate or result in awkward business and social interactions. Since Norwegians and other Nordics travel extensively, especially as Norwegian Air often offers incredible deals on international flights, I would expect that Norwegians would slowly pick up the art of small talk. And as Norwegian entrepreneurs—growing by leaps and bounds over the last five years or so (as in the other Nordics)—interact with foreign partners and customers, mastery (at some level) of small talk would (hopefully) result.

Much respect is given in the book to Norwegian business culture of collegiality, lack of formality (including avoiding titles), lack of extreme salary differences (vastly different from Silicon Valley), and honesty, obeying rules and regulations, etc. Sean also claims that Norwegians “love their taxes” but here I think he overdoes it. Yes, Norwegians recognize they benefit in many ways from significant public services that must be paid for, and in contrast to the current regime in the US, which holds that taxes should be minimized to shrink the government/public sector, Norwegians (and most Nordics, I suspect) see things very differently. BUT I have seen many times how people pay cash (“under the table”) to avoid “Moms” (the value added tax, VAT) on services rendered by carpenters, plumbers and others, and one report I saw, said Norway had the second highest underground economy in Western Europe (14% of GDP), which raises doubts about Norwegians love of taxes.

But I enjoyed reading the book and think most readers, whether they are Norwegians or from other countries (and who have interactions with Norwegians) will find it enjoyable, get a few laughs, and hopefully also learn a few things that can avoid some of the cultural challenges that Sean points to in the book. Happy reading.


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Silicon Valley: Becoming Irrelevant?


Silicon Valley: Becoming Irrelevant?

Over the almost 40 years that I have worked and lived in Silicon Valley—and observed and studied this amazing, dynamic, and complex innovation ecosystem—I have heard many times the view (mostly from visiting delegations) that Silicon Valley, although interesting and important, especially from a historical perspective and perhaps even currently, would soon be in decline and be eclipsed by other regions. (I regularly get a newsletter entitled “The Next Silicon Valley” so I keep an eye on competing regions around the world). Today, I learned (from a Facebook posting and an article in the Norwegian Innovation Magazine—that a Norwegian “investor guru”, Steinar Hoel Korsmo, President and CEO of the Seed Forum Network, which organizes pitching sessions and training around the world—thinks that Silicon Valley “will be irrelevant in 30 years” and perhaps even in 20 years or before! This prediction was given in his presentation to the Change Makers conference in Oslo, Norway.

Unfortunately, VERY little evidence is presented in the InnoMag article for why Mr. Korsmo feels Silicon Valley will start going into decline and become “irrelevant”, except for basing his prediction/speculation on things like:

  • The growing numbers and quality of entrepreneurs he sees at the Seed Forum pitching sessions around the world, including in the Middle East and Africa
  • The emergence of “new” industries that are emerging or will emerge—which he seems to feel, I guess, that Silicon Valley will, for some reason (not mentioned in the article), not be participating in (and driving) to any significant degree.

An important piece of Mr. Korsmo’s thinking, it seems, is that the emergence of “new Silicon Valleys” around the world will be driven in part by entrepreneurs in developing countries funded by aid programs of countries like Norway, as these will take the place of traditional development aid (for infrastructure and other more traditional development projects). And one of the important arguments behind such new entrepreneurship programs is that they will bring jobs and economic growth to the Middle East and Africa and thus slow, or ideally stop, the “migration crisis” facing Europe (According to Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates, around one million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe till 21 December 2015, three to four times more than in 2014, but dropping by around half or so in 2016).

Shifting development some of the (traditional) development aid towards funding entrepreneurship programs—and thus supporting programs like Mr. Korsmo’s Seed Forum—may make good sense, to both alleviate the humanitarian crisis resulting from the migration crisis, and to stimulate new development paths in Africa and the Middle East. It will be interesting to see whether other Nordic and European countries change their economic development policies and aid programs towards support of entrepreneurship, and if so, to what extent this will create significant new jobs and growth in the Middle East and Africa.

Yes, the growth of entrepreneurship has been fascinating to watch, in almost all countries around the world, including the Nordics which has seen a disproportionately strong growth in: Number of entrepreneurs, successful startups, amount of seed and VC funding raised, and number of so-called unicorns. (Very well-informed people like Neil Murray, Nordic Web, regularly publish updates on this—for more info on this and other information sources, please see the Silicon Vikings FAQ session on our website). But it is not clear, yet, that this growth in entrepreneurship around the world will undermine the future of Silicon Valley, which Mr. Korsmo assumes/predicts. While it is far beyond the scope of this brief article to describe and analyze the current trends in Silicon Valley that will help shape its future, or lay out a detailed view of what the future of Silicon Valley will be, I will point to a few things that I think will be important factors determining its future viability. In a separate post, I will address some of the challenges the region will have to address if it wants to keep its role as the premier innovation ecosystem in the world.

Here are a very few of the trends that help strengthen the regions innovation ecosystem—both in absolute and relative terms (i.e. relative to other regions that Mr. Korsmo feels will overtake Silicon Valley). If you are interested in more depth of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, you can find a number of past posts I have made in the Silicon Valley blog (listed in a box at the end of this post), and a Google search will no doubt surface numerous books that should be of interest.

Depth and diversity of talent. The Valley has been, and continues to be, a magnet for talent from around the world. While Chinese leaders feel their population of 1.4 billion gives them an important edge in building their innovation economy for the future, the US has traditionally been very successful in tapping top talent from the world’s 7.6 billion people! (And the self-selection of these people to come and start, often from scratch, in Silicon Valley, point to their determination and recognition of the resources, both money and knowledge (about building companies) that are available in Silicon Valley. Even though the Trump Administration policies are undermining the “talent attraction engine” of Silicon Valley, this is hopefully only a temporary setback and will be reversed once Trump is gone! (and hopefully soon!) Talented engineers and scientists who get educated at UC Berkeley, Stanford and many other excellent universities and colleges in the greater Bay Area often want to stay and start their own companies here, and many others come with dreams of finding cofounders, funding and customers here. The large Indian and Chinese population in Silicon Valley—as well as sizable groups from most countries around the world (including the Nordics!)—play a very important role in building new and innovative companies (which Vivek Wadhwa and others have written about), including in the future and not-yet-identified industries of the future that Mr. Korsmo refers to.

Open innovation brings startups and large enterprises together. Silicon Valley has long been a very densely populated region, consisting of large numbers of small and large, world-class tech companies across a variety of industries and sectors, especially in high tech—spread across a relatively small region (enabling easy direct access). The region also is the home for large number of well-established incubators and accelerators, many of which now have interesting programs which bring startups together with larger, established corporations (often in specific “verticals” like these offered by Plug and Play: Internet of Things, Fintech, Brand & Retail, Insurance, Health, Travel & Hospitality, New Materials & Packaging, Mobility, Food & Beverage, Supply Chain & Logistics, Energy & Sustainability, and Cybersecurity). Similar programs are offered by Rocketspace in SF and others. Foreign firms coming in to Silicon Valley, or the Greater Bay Area, sometimes take advantage of the existing accelerator infrastructure, as it enables the new entrants to quickly find a way into the Valley’s complex innovation ecosystem.

Silicon Valley innovation outposts (SVIOs). This is a topic I have written a bit about in the past—see information in box at the end of the blog post—and this part of the Valley’s innovation ecosystem continues to strengthen and grow. Depending on how you define SVIOs, there are probably between 150 and 300 of these scattered around the Bay Area. In my third SVIO post (in the box), I included a graphic showing a number of automotive, or mobility, related SVIOs that now form a hub of “next generation mobility companies”, so this is an example where the future is now being created in the Valley, BUT obviously the large incumbent players in Detroit, Stuttgart, and across Japan, Korea and soon in China, will also help shape the new auto or mobility industry. But since software and AI/machine learning—plus big data—will be crucial elements of this emergent industry, Silicon Valley is very well positioned to continue to play an important role, far more so than the emergent entrepreneurial hubs in the Middle East and Africa that Mr. Korsmo suggested, or implied. One of the more interesting elements of the SVIO picture, especially as we look to the next decade or more, is what the role of large Asian, and especially Chinese, companies—including the “Big BATs” of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent—will play in contributing to the evolution of Silicon Valley. This quickly becomes complex as these large Chinese “platform companies” are increasingly competing globally with the “Big 5” US platform companies, three of which are in Silicon Valley (Apple, Facebook and Google) and 2 in Seattle (Amazon and Microsoft). Some of these issues were dealt with in an excellent new report published by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, BACEI (Chinese Innovation: China’s Technology Future and What it Means for Silicon Valley, is available for free here). A likely scenario will involve both collaboration and competition among these large players as well as smaller companies here and in China, some of which will benefit from needed capital coming from China, and others will face tough competition from growing number of Chinese startups. Other Silicon Valley companies will find new ways to enter the Chinese market through collaborative ventures, but these could also be challenging, as they need to protect Intellectual Property and learn how to operate in less transparent and increasingly politically-driven high tech environment in China. (Some of these issues will also be addressed in the Silicon Vikings event on November 29 at Stanford University)

Networking: Life blood and knowledge sharing system of Silicon Valley. It is interesting to see the explosion in incubators and accelerators in the Nordics and elsewhere, and the associated growth in events and (informal) networking that has long been the life blood of Silicon Valley. Large number of Meetup and other events—including at the many incubators and accelerators throughout the Bay Area—offer interesting events, typically with a focus on particular technologies and often with pitching sessions with local or international startups. In my blog post on Innovation Outposts: A Growing Element in Silicon Valley’s Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem; April 6, 2015 (see box below for links), I listed 10 software-related Meetup Groups in Silicon Valley, the top 3 with a total of 40,518 members. The same three Meetup groups today have 66,119 members, including 32,720 members in the Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs & Startups group, an increase of 84% in about 2 1/2 years! And don’t underestimate the value of these informal events and networking opportunities. They serve many roles, all helping to “oil the innovation engine” of Silicon Valley:

  • Learning what are new and interesting projects that give you an idea of what is “trending” in the world of tech and entrepreneurship and what is getting funded, etc
  • Connect with people (including investors, of course—and 30-40% of all VC funding is still located in Silicon Valley—and has remained pretty stable over many years) and get their business cards to you can connect with them when and if you are looking for a job or funding.
  • Gaining insights and learn what people are thinking about and hearing perspectives of people from different background (and, usually, from other parts of the world)

Such groups and networking phenomena are now common in many parts of the world and on the rise all over, especially in the emerging hubs of entrepreneurship in Europe. But the extent and intensity of intensity in Silicon Valley is still ahead of most other parts of the world. (For a good report and listing of what is happening on the entrepreneurial front, please see another excellent BACEI report, Innovation Bridge: Technology, Startups, and Europe’s Connection to Silicon Valley. This report also clearly demonstrates the close connections of Europe to Silicon Valley, something that will not go away anytime soon and thus will keep supporting, and likely strengthen, the position and role of Silicon Valley. A subset of this picture of the SV-Europe connection is of course the growing and strengthening—NOT weakening!—connection between the Nordics and Baltics and Silicon Valley, something we in Silicon Vikings are seeing “up close and personal.” And again, there are NO signs of this weakening.


Links of my SVIO posts:

1.      The New Transportation Ecosystem and The Role of Silicon Valley; July 20, 2015 —

2.      Silicon Valley Innovation Outposts: Update; June 20, 2015 —

3.      Innovation Outposts: A Growing Element in Silicon Valley’s Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem; April 6, 2015 —

4.      Silicon Valley Innovation Outposts: Mini-Case Studies; April 6, 2015—  



The Growing Dominance of “Big Tech”


The Growing Dominance of “Big Tech”

Over the last year, I have read a number of articles describing and analyzing the rise of “the platform economy” and the growing concentration of corporate revenues and profits in a very small number of very large companies, including especially the large tech companies [this situation may be seen as analogous to the growing concentration of personal income and wealth among a VERY small number of people and families in the “top 1% or top .1% that we have seen in the US and many other countries]. A series of articles covering these issues have appeared over the last year in a number of newspaper and magazines, including the (British) magazine Economist and the Wall Street Journal—and here are just a couple of links, in case you are interested:

More recently, another article dealing with much the same topic appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the title “Can the Tech Giants be Stopped” (by Jonathan Taplin). Here are just a few excepts that may give you a sense of what has been happening over just the last 10 years:

  • “Ten years ago, only one of them, Microsoft , was among the biggest companies in the world as measured by market capitalization. These days, the top five usually consists of Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook.” [Interestingly, these are all US companies—which explains the growing concern of Margrethe Vestager, the (Danish) head of the EU Commissioner for Competition—and 3 of the 5 are of course Silicon Valley companies]
  • Given the increasing role (at least potentially) of big data and AI (including Machine and Deep Learning] to affect future competitiveness of companies, this comment in the article by AI venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee should give us all pause: “A.I. is an industry in which strength begets strength: The more data you have, the better your product; the better your product, the more data you can collect; the more data you can collect, the more talent you can attract; the more talent you can attract, the better your product.”
  • Taplin notes that “this shift [towards platform domination of a small number of players] has brought about a massive reallocation of revenue, with economic value moving from the creators of content to the owners of monopoly platforms.” And Taplin adds that “In the third quarter of 2016, companies owned by Facebook or Google took 90% of all new digital ad revenue.”

Europeans are understandably worrying about their media organizations (and even about the future implications of the role their national languages will see use in the new media world) and what will happen to them as they try to compete with Google and Facebook, especially. Taplin notes that in the US, “newspaper ad revenue fell from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013 (the last year for which data are available).” In Norway, an effort was launched in the spring of 2016 among Norway’s leading media companies to create a consortium that could pool resources to build a competitive, joint media platform that would offer Norwegian consumers more personalized and competitive services to what Google and Facebook can offer them in Norway. The hope was to also get NRK, the (public) broadcasting system in Norway to join the group, and thereby bringing more content resources into the group.

Will we see more efforts in the Nordics, elsewhere in Europe and in other countries around the world as they see the growing US dominance continue and perhaps grow? And what is the likelihood that these smaller national or regional companies or consortia can provide the resources needed to compete effectively with the big US tech players? While large and powerful Chinese media companies are emerging—including Baidu, Tencent and others—and which have enormous data bases and unique access to data on Chinese consumers that can give them an edge in leveraging their new AI-based platforms in their domestic market, it is not clear they will be able to compete effectively against the big US tech giants in international markets.

The Taplin article in WSJ used a graphic which showed a vacuum cleaner sucking up media/content, consumers, technology and companies, and some of this may be good news to many foreign and US startup companies that see potentially lucrative exits by selling out to the US tech giants. But we should perhaps start also thinking more broadly about the social, economic and political implications we will face in the future if the trend over the last 10 years continues or even accelerates.

Illustration: Robert Neubecker  



Recording of Anticipating and Preparing for the Future Session

Anticipating and Preparing for the Future--Session Recording

At the request of Adrienne Sörbom, one of our excellent panelists at last night's event, we decided to record and post the proceedings (after Brock and Jim agreed and had no objections) so that Adrienne's friends around the world, and others, of course, could enjoy the discussion that took place last night. We realize the recording is long--about 90 minutes--but you can "surf and sample" and listen to just a bit here and there, of course, so no need to sit through the whole session, unless you are very interested in issues around "futurizing." Enjoy.



Next-Gen Tech: Think Nordic?

By Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Chair, Special Interest Group on Entrepreneurship and Learning, Silicon Vikings


Full Disclosure Note: Since I have been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for about 6 years and serve as the Chair of the Special Interest Group of Entrepreneurship and Learning, I cannot say I am a “disinterested party in promoting the Nordic Brand.” Silicon Vikings have for 20 years been promoting “thinking and doing Nordic” from our HQ in Silicon Valley and our nodes in the Nordic & Baltic region. Over the last year, we have also had support from Nordic Innovation for a project to build a Nordic Edtech Network (see various posts on this in our blog), and Nordic Innovation is very much supporting and promoting the Nordic brand.

Silicon Valley, more specifically, Palo Alto, also is the home of the Nordic Innovation House (NIH), led by Gro Dyrnes (who is also the Director of Innovation Norway) and other Nordic colleagues, also with support from Nordic Innovation. NIH is a great addition to the Nordic presence in Silicon Valley, complementing and augmenting (to a Nordic level) the work by Innovation Norway, Vinnova, Tekes, Finpro, Team Finland, and Innovation Center Denmark. Nordic startups are among the greatest beneficiaries of the presence of NIH and the Nordic organizations in Silicon Valley, and they all help connect entrepreneurs, but also large enterprise representatives who come to Silicon Valley to seek new partnership or technology as part of their open innovation strategies.

The explosion in entrepreneurial activity in the Nordics over the last five years or so has helped strengthen the Nordic brand in tech, and has helped create growing interest among US (and European) investors in Nordic tech companies. And interesting signs are pointing to new areas—such as AI, or specific areas of AI, like machine learning—where we may see growing presence of strong Nordic startup companies in the future. Just this morning, an article described a new initiative to accelerate the building of education, research and competence development around Artificial Intelligence. Norway’s Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab. This is being established with funding from the Norwegian telecom company, Telenor, tech research contribution from Norway’s leading technology university, NTNU, and SINTEF, the leading Norwegian research organization (similar to SRI International in Silicon Valley) focused on the commercialization of the AI technology coming out of the lab. As I read the article, I wondered about:

  • What similar initiatives have been launched or are under consideration in other Nordic countries for AI-focused research (basic and applied)?
  • What potential Nordic collaboration opportunities exist around AI research as well as around commercializing and building companies around AI-related technologies (like machine learning)?
  • And if larger, Nordic initiatives could be launched, would it not make sense for these to have a few representatives, either permanently or on a rolling basis, sitting in NIH in Silicon Valley as a way to connect with the many AI-focused initiatives and companies—small and large—that operate in Silicon Valley? At our Silicon Vikings event on Digital Transformation last week, one of our panelists was Nicolai Wadström, of Swedish background, and now heading a very interesting and unique venture capital investment firm, BootstrapLabs Group, that is focused on Applied Artificial Intelligence. Nicolai has for some time had a “front row seat” at AI developments not only in Silicon Valley, but also in Asia and other parts of the world, and I suspect he would be interested in building bridges to Nordic AI initiatives.

Many other, similar opportunities no doubt exist in other technology areas, such as Blockchain, for instance. After reading Don Tapscott’s book, Blockchain Revolution (after I attended his book launch seminar in San Francisco in June of 2016), I have seen an explosion of interest in the Blockchain technology, with numerous consortia and companies emerging to explore how to exploit the technology. A friend of mine took a leadership position in an Oslo-based accelerator—TheFactory (running two parallel programs, FintechFactory and InsurtechFactory)—and reported growing interest in Blockchain startups. In conversations with a Finnish edtech platform company I therefore suggested that they should consider using their platform to create a Nordic Blockchain Knowledge Community to connect Nordic experts and companies focused on Blockchain, and to encourage dialog and collaboration across the Nordics.

Another development that I am hoping to see before too long, is more sizable investment funds focused on Next-Gen Nordic Tech, ideally of the magnitude similar to what Atomico’s recent tech venture fund of $765 million (Atomico is a London-based venture firm started by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom). Funds of this size  would help accelerate the growth of Nordic companies in AI, Blockchain, and other key technologies of the future. Again, Nordic collaboration in creating large investment funds for risky tech ventures across the Nordics would help sustain the strong startup growth that the Nordic region has experienced in recent years.



The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations

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The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations

Two previous posts in the Silicon Vikings blog--Nordic EdTech Network: Building a Vibrant Nordic EdTech Network, and Nordic EdTech Network Project Update--described and gave an initial update on the research project which Silicon Vikings was commissioned by Nordic Innovation (a Nordic funding agency with HQ in Oslo, Norway). Two blog posts were just posted on the Nordic EdTech Network website, and if you are interested in an initial, detailed look at the emerging Nordic EdTech industry, here are the two blog posts:

1. The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations — Part I

2. The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations — Part II





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New "International Entrepreneur" Immigration Rule

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New "International Entrepreneur" Immigration Rule

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has proposed a new 155 page ‘International Entrepreneur Rule’ which will be published in the Federal Register this week for a 45 day public comment period. 


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