Johnny Högberg, CEO of Skellefteå Science City, right, with Phil Hopkin and Ingela Hällsten, also of Science City

12 Jun 2017

‘The level of collaboration this year has been off the scale!’

To celebrate the second anniversary of the foundation of Skellefteå Science City, the CEO, Johnny Högberg, tells us about a remarkable second year, which saw the opening of The Great Northern innovation house, the launch of Innovation Games and other innovation projects and a massive 500% increase in Science City’s turnover.

So, year two of Skellefteå Science City, Johnny. How was it for you? What’s your strongest memory of the last year?

JH: There were many great moments. The inauguration of The Great Northern in January was very special although I missed that because of the birth of my son, Arvid, which was obviously my best memory of the last year.

But there have been so many things about TGN that have been very interesting, demanding, challenging and successful. We’ve even experienced failure because it's a very difficult project. We’re trying to accomplish something totally new in Skellefteå and we really feel we’re getting there.

However, if there is one thing that has made me very proud it’s that Science City has seen its turnover increase by 500% over the last year.

And what are you most proud of?

JH: The rise of RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) the government-owned network of research and technology organizations, has been amazing. It’s already given quite a boost to established businesses in Skellefteå.

RISE’s representative has only been here since December 2016 and he’s already been involved with 20 companies, of which he’s still working with ten.

He’s been really impressed with the standard of ideas these companies are coming up with. And they’ve been impressed with the speed with which the various institutes have returned with feedback. It’s been usually just a few days, when most people were thinking it might take a few weeks. It’s a been a great experience for everyone so far.

It’s been good for the region and good for the region’s business.

Can you tell us more about the Innovation Game project? It sounds very exciting.

JH: It’s a project aimed at stimulating the establishment of a sustainable innovative environment for game development and game-related businesses, through interaction and cooperation with partners within northern Norrland’s innovation system. It’s designed to really kickstart the games industry in northern Sweden by encouraging collaboration and innovation.

It's not really about business development. This is an innovation development so it’s to refine ideas. So, for instance, if you have this character that you have designed, there are people in this project who could design the whole world for this character. They will expand the idea and get it right. They might also come up with ideas and solutions to make it more interesting. And so on.

And the greatest thing is that we really do have the best of the best in the gaming industry working with us on this.

Another aim of the project is to color the existing innovation system in Skellefteå with the values and attitudes of the games industry and to introduce elements of gamification into more traditional industries. It really is a fantastic project.

One of the issues we talked about last year was that Science City needed to improve its work with traditional companies in Skellefteå. Has this been achieved?

JH: I wouldn’t say ‘achieved’ exactly. But it has certainly improved a great deal. We now work with several traditional companies.

Another project we’ve started work on, Innovators’ Club, has proved to be a big success in engaging traditional companies. One event they ran was an open innovation workshop and we had several traditional companies here at the event in TGN. And three of those companies went on to work with RISE and open innovation.

It’s too early to call this development a success - we need to see real, tangible results first - but it’s certainly several steps in the right direction.

We also hope to have an intersective innovation project go live over the next few months - this will encourage players from different sectors to collaborate in open innovation. This can produce some really exciting ideas!

This is one of Science City’s prime objectives - to get people and companies to try new things and experiment to uncover new products or services that nobody had ever thought of.

How has The Great Northern fitted into Science City’s mission to accelerate innovation and stimulate start-ups?

JH: The level of collaboration at TGN is off the scale! There are all sorts of people working with each other. One day you see someone working in Gold Town Games, the next they’re over at Previble. Tenants are helping one another, working on projects together and giving each other business. It’s fantastic!

It’s everything we hoped it would be.

And, of course, once the cafe opens in the autumn, things will only get better.

Have there been any disappointments?

JH: Of course, there are always disappointments. We failed in a bid to secure EU funding for a project to build a network of micro-cities to increase density in the business ecosystem. We’re still not sure why we didn’t get the funding but we’re fighting on with the idea and applying again, this time to a different program. It’s too good an idea to drop.

What’s next for Science City?

JH: We have a lot on our plate, so the next few months will see us consolidate a little. But we have our eye on collaborating with Campus Skellefteå, we’re working on developing a network of business angels and venture capitalists from Stockholm to take a look at investing in Skellefteå businesses, and we have a series of popular science lectures coming up soon at The Great Northern.

After, all we are Skellefteå Science City!

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