What’s in the herring in Sweden?

In the early 1970s an upstart social marketing campaign challenged Canadians to become more physically active by comparing our average fitness level to that of a 65-year-old Swede. Since then, over 200 elite Swedish hockey players have joined NHL teams and, in 2011, their juniors captured the world championship.

Join us at Innovative Sweden, a three-week celebration of innovation starting on Monday, January 23 at MaRS.

What began decades ago as a wake-up call to Canadian couch potatoes has morphed into a much broader look at what Sweden is doing right in a lot of areas – not just sports. How does a country with less than 10 million people found the prestigious Nobel prize, produce global brands like IKEA, Getinge, AstraZeneca, Volvo, Ericsson and ABB, and consistently rank as one of the world’s most technologically savvy nations?

In the 1990s the Swedish economy was deeply distressed, with high unemployment and widespread business failures. The ensuing decade was characterized by painful restructuring, the transformation of public finance and skillful management of the social safety net. Investments were made in education, labour force skills, research and development, and IT infrastructure. As a nation, Sweden committed to matching its investments abroad with inbound foreign direct investment, achieving near parity in these areas by 2003.

Sweden and Canada have much in common—both countries have relatively small populations, advanced economies and an expanding relationship in technology innovation. However, by international standards, Sweden has the highest share of workers in the knowledge-intensive job sector, ranks third on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, and is the 10th most innovative country globally. By comparison, Canada ranks eighth in knowledge economy jobs, 12th in competitiveness and 14th in innovation. What we need in Canada, according to the recent Jenkins report (Innovation Canada: A Call to Action), are streamlined commercialization pathways and a single-minded national focus on the growth of innovative SMEs.

Sweden’s prosperity arc is not a simple story. Its reputation for transforming knowledge into marketable products has been won through a mix of public intervention, sustained investments in science, rapid technology adoption by consumers and diversified businesses with global ambitions.

There are insights for Canadians far beyond what Swedish retirees can tell us in the gym. For an insider’s view of technology leadership in both Canada and Sweden, join us at Innovative Sweden, a three-week celebration of innovation starting on Monday, January 23 at MaRS. The event will feature Swedish and Canadian commercialization hubs discussing the best ways to accelerate technology entrepreneurship. Business leaders will share their views on how innovation can address global challenges in health care, energy sustainability and community building. And an exhibit in the MaRS Atrium will showcase groundbreaking products from promising Swedish startups.