Johnny Högberg, CEO of Skellefteå Science City

26 Jul 2016

‘It’s been very exciting but very challenging too!’

To mark the first anniversary of the foundation of Skellefteå Science City, the CEO, Johnny Högberg, tells us about the challenges of the first year, his excitement as The Great Northern innovation house takes shape, and his determination to get Skellefteå’s old and new businesses working together.

Johnny, it’s been a year since you launched Skellefteå Science City – how has it been for you?

JH: It’s been very, very exciting. It’s been quite a challenge but mostly great fun too. I left quite a big organization (Johnny was previously head of Sollefteå municipality) with a large support staff and ended up, by myself, running Science City. It was quite a change!

So, tell us, what is Skellefteå Science City?

JH: Skellefteå Science City is an innovation company that was established by Skellefteå municipality and Skellefteå Kraft. The purpose of the company is to attract talent and capital to Skellefteå but also to stimulate start-ups and accelerate innovation in established businesses in Skellefteå. It’s all about innovation. We’re also responsible for establishing contact with regional institutes and municipalities. We want to Skellefteå to be a municipality that is really innovative and where people want to move to for business reasons and then stay to settle down because it’s such a fantastic place to live.

What were your biggest challenges at the start of Skellefteå Science City?

JH: I think the biggest challenge was all the expectations that came with the start of Science City. There are a lot of people interested in Science City and I had to meet all these people to assess what they expected from Science City.

And those in the private sector wanted different things to those in the public sector. I needed to narrow down the focus as much as possible.

The best thing to happen was appointing Emina Kovačević, our Innovation Manager. I was struggling a little bit before she came in but we started working on a business model and a business plan and things came together and we had better focus.

What is Science City’s main focus now?   

JH: Our main focus at the moment is the launch of The Great Northern, an exciting new innovation house focusing on creativity and collaboration.

We are aiming for the The Great Northern to be a tech/cultural/creative melting pot where design, technology and business will blend to form a thriving startup community. It will be an ambitious mix of co-working space, incubators, event arenas, startups and established businesses.

Our main aim is to try and gather as many as possible of the supporters of innovation into the same building and give them an environment in which great things can happen. With all this creativity and positivity in one place, magic is bound to happen!

But, on a very basic level, we also want to create a modern attractive workplace for very talented people.

There’s been a great deal of excitement in Skellefteå about The Great Northern. When can we expect it to open?

JH: It will be up and running by October, so I would say there will be some kind of inauguration or grand opening event in November but there’s still many things that have to be worked out.

You recently announced the news that RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, the government-owned network of research and technology organisations, is to make Skellefteå its first regional office. This will give quite a boost to smaller and medium-sized businesses in Skellefteå.

That was quite a coup – there must have been many municipalities jostling to be the first to have a RISE office.

JH: I don’t know how many other regions were also trying to lure RISE but I’m very pleased we managed it through a mixture of hard work, long discussions and probably some luck too! It is very important that we have good cooperation with important organizations such as RISE. It’s good for the region and good for the region’s business.

They will bring so many fantastic resources with them.

Once The Great Northern is successfully launched, what do you have planned next?

JH: We won’t just stop working with The Great Northern once it’s up-and-running – we’ll be overseeing the business community and communications aspects of the house for as long as we’re needed. But we do have some other very exciting projects bubbling away, including a huge gaming project and a strategic venture with other cities on the periphery of Europe to establish a start-up network. They’re both very important and will drive a lot of interest in Skellefteå. We’ll know more about these projects in the winter once The Great Northern is underway.

Of course, Skellefteå may be gaining a reputation as a place to do digital business but it’s most famous as a place for heavy manufacturing industries. Will you be working as a conduit between the older industries and the newer digital ones?

JH: Yes, of course. One of our main objectives is that we focus on established, traditional Skellefteå businesses. We’ve been trying different kinds of innovation workshops with them.

But it hasn’t been easy. Many of these people are very busy and can’t see an immediate pay-off from the activities we’re introducing them to.

It’s a challenge but we’re moving forward and we have plans for this autumn, plans that will make a lot of things happen, I hope.

We have other organizations involved that will help us tackle this issue in a different way. They will help us make the case for concepts such as open innovation. There are some very important traditional companies in Skellefteå and once we determine their needs we can provide them with various tools in innovation and development.

The Great Northern will also play a role. It’s a place where we can hold events and have seminars and workshops. My greatest hope is that traditional companies and digital companies come together at The Great Northern and create very interesting things.

But I will be honest – we need to improve upon our work with traditional companies. So far we haven’t achieved enough in this area. But we’ve only just started and I have great staff so I’m very confident.

Is there a divide between digital and traditional industries in Skellefteå?

JH: ‘Divide’ might be too strong a word. But we cannot have two separate roads for traditional and digital industries. We have to make them drive in the same lane and flourish together.

The fact is that the municipality and the public sector haven’t decreased support for traditional business. It’s that the municipality is now contributing more money than before to the start-up and digital scene. We need to get this across.

Beyond encouraging cooperation between traditional and digital industries, where do you see Skellefteå Science City in five or ten years’ time?

JH: I think that we are going to have better corporation between different support systems because that’s a big challenge in the whole of Sweden. There are so many players that want to help business to grow and develop and innovate but it all needs coordination.

I see us as a major player in the regional innovation system in this role.

But with The Great Northern’s international aspect, I also think Science City could have an overseas dimension, whereby we offer soft landing to other similar organizations in other countries.

We should be a local, regional and international hub for innovation. That’s my hope. But it will take stamina and lots of it!

Back to news