Lund University exemplifies Swedish innovation

Interview with Per Eriksson, Lund University

Academic research and economic development | Volume 4, Issue 1 – 2014

Founded in 1666, Lund University is one of Scandinavia’s largest institutions for education and research, consistently ranked among the world’s top 100 universities. When asked about the university’s research focus, Per Eriksson described how Lund University is fulfilling its motto “prepared for both.” (1) No longer in reference to the book and sword, the motto is now a manifestation of the university’s ability to offer a comprehensive education as it establishes top research teams and a new international hub for materials science, and to champion local development while seeding global companies.


Putting fuel in the engine

Why does Sweden consistently score highest on the European Union’s Innovation Scoreboard? (2) Per Eriksson provides two key reasons. First, the country has a strong culture of innovation bolstered by the fact that it is decentralized, less bureaucratic and hierarchical than many other countries, and has an informality that encourages individuals to pursue their ideas. Secondly, he comments, “We put a lot of fuel in the engine.” Government and industry are very supportive, whereas he believes there are still opportunities to strengthen the outputs.

Another key factor is the competitive atmosphere for commercialization of intellectual property (IP).  In Sweden, academic researchers own their IP by default, which is a much simpler arrangement than in many other countries. (3) And they can choose to commercialize their research at another university or within industry, which makes for a very competitive environment.



The triple helix

Lund University offers much to incentivize researchers to stay within the region with nearby facilities like Ideon Science Park, the largest and oldest of its kind in Sweden. Between the university’s research and Ideon’s go-to-market infrastructure, world-class companies have established themselves in Lund such as Gambro, which created the first artificial kidney, and the telecommunications giant Ericsson. In particular, there has been a strong success in combining expertise in engineering and medicine, such as the pioneering of ultrasound technology by Dr. Inge Edler and physicist Hellmuth Hertz to diagnose diseases of the heart. (4)

A strong triple helix model among the public sector, academia and industry ensures sustained growth. If success can be measured in terms of financial support, the Swedish innovation agency VINNOVA exemplifies success, having had close to a 150 percent increase in budget over the last decade. (5) However it is VINNOVA’s effectiveness in championing scientific quality and impact, and addressing business and public sector challenges, that are the true measures of accomplishment.

Of course, a university is charged with developing a labor force of well-educated young people to seed society and business. Eriksson would like to see more movement of talent from academia to industry and back again as a means of transforming competencies. He sees this starting to take root with adjunct professors working in business, industry-supported PhD candidates and Centers of Excellence that attract a blend of researchers.  He would also like to engender innovation by increasing the international student and faculty ratios from 10 percent to 20 percent.


A local leader

The movement of talent can be seen in a recent example of the triple helix in action. Three years ago Astra Zeneca closed down in Lund; 900 people were to be laid off or moved to another location. A research and innovation council comprising university, industry and public sector representatives negotiated and brainstormed with Astra Zeneca to minimize the impact of the shutdown. A creative solution was found to repurpose the Astra Zeneca site into Medicon Village, 80,000 square meters of space for life science incubators and startups.

The university was also involved in discussions around the restructuring of the local Sony Ericsson business in 2011. Issues discussed included determining which divisions to maintain in Lund (the software portion of the business) and which others could be formed into new companies (the hardware part was transformed into Sigma Connectivity). A new research institute for cloud technology was also launched as a result of these actions. However, the best is yet to come, with two new world-class research facilities on the horizon.



An international stage

Lund University will host MAX IV, a national facility for materials research based on synchrotron radiation, which is jointly operated by the university and the Swedish Research Council. Also to be located in Lund, the European Spallation Source, supported by 17 countries, will be a unique facility based on the world’s most powerful neutron source. This multidisciplinary scientific research center will include a linear proton accelerator, a heavy-metal target station, a large array of state-of-the-art neutron instruments, a suite of laboratories, and a supercomputing data management and software development center. (6)

These facilities will put Lund even more firmly on the map as an international center for science. At the same time the construction of these facilities is already having a positive impact on the local economy. To build these facilities takes high-competency companies, and the university has established programs to train companies to work with these materials.

“When you think of Sweden and science, you think of the Nobel Prize,” says Eriksson. “With these two massive projects located in Lund, Sweden will also be seen for the strength of its scientific infrastructure.”
 



References

1. From the Latin “Ad utrumque paratus.”
2. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/innovation/policy/innovation-scoreboard/index_en.htm
3. http://www.codex.uu.se/en/agande1.shtml
4. http://www.med.lu.se/english/about_the_faculty/history_of_the_faculty/personalities_discoveries_and_innovations/inge_edler
5. http://www.vinnova.se/en/
6. http://europeanspallationsource.se/

 

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