“Innovations do not automatically arise just because you invest in research” Interview Article with Fredrik Hörstedt, Vice Rector in Chalmers University of Technology

– The fact that research and innovation are different activities has not so far set its full mark in Swedish politics and in the government’s management of universities and colleges. It has in some way, been a taken for granted that there will be innovations just because you invest in research, says Fredrik Hörstedt, Vice President of Utilisation at Chalmers.

Fredrik Hörstedt is the only Swedish representative in the European Innovation Council (EIC) and one of the initiators together with RISE, University of Gothenburg and Business Region Gothenburg for the strategic investment in innovation called Testbädd (Test bed) Göteborg.

– I usually say that my job as vice president for utilisation is to make sure that our research results really are spread and do something useful, that is, strengthen the competitiveness of the industry and contribute to societal challenges,” says Fredrik. Of course, our research will reach the community through our educational programmes and the examined engineers, but also through our innovation ecosystem.

As a player in three private research institutes, three Science Parks (Lindholmen, Johanneberg and Sahlgrenska, together with, among others, the Business Region Gothenburg), Chalmers Ventures and Stena Center, and with its innovation advisors who help researchers with utilization, innovation and commercialization, Chalmers is definitely an important cog in the innovation ecosystem of the Gothenburg region and Sweden.


How do you view Chalmers work in carrying out research in society, creating business benefits and at the same time meeting the social challenges?

– It’s not as easy as one might think, as a university, to work with sharp challenges in business and society. The reason is that the challenges are often complex and comprise a large number of sub-problems. To build knowledge and solutions, resources from many different directions are required. Because of this, we often have to work both interdisciplinary – for example, researchers in physics, chemistry and IT work together – to gather the knowledge that is required. But we also have to work across social sectors to gain access to special knowledge or equipment,” says Fredrik.

Sweden constitutes about 2% of the EU population and the EU in turn is about 6% of the world’s population. In short, Sweden is a very small country and the world around is constantly increasing the pace and Sweden must respond to it.

– Given our smallness, we need to work together throughout the whole society and gather power between different sectors, such as between industry, research institutes and academia. The clearest potential is to find stronger collaboration at a new level. Chalmers’ goal is to be the best university partner for industry and society, where, of course, the ability to collaborate plays an important role and with that comes confidence and trust that is the basis for all collaboration, says Fredrik.

– When it comes to specific challenges, perhaps the most important and, in my opinion, the best challenges are those that contribute to great societal values AND economic values at the same time. An example is climate-neutral road transport. We have an immense vehicle tradition in Sweden that now needs to take the next step and become fossil-free. If we are fast and proactive, we will continue to have a competitive automotive industry in Sweden, while contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s vehicle fleets,” says Fredrik.


“Research makes knowledge of money and innovation makes money of knowledge” is a concept that has emerged in the debate – can you agree with it?

– Yes, you can see it like that, even if a little simplified. It is an important simplification as it raises some important difficulties to the surface. Research and innovation seem to be related, but in fact they are very different activities, says Fredrik.

Research is about the search for knowledge; on an issue that is originated in theory, which takes place openly and is based on the sharing of knowledge between active researchers, at scientific conferences and in publications. Research is primarily driven by building new knowledge and exploring uncertain factors.

Innovation is about something else; a clearly defined value creation for organizations and individuals in practice. Innovation takes place in competition between entrepreneurs and other technologies or approaches that want to try to create equivalent values in other ways. Innovation minimizes and eliminates uncertain factors and is primarily driven by solving a market need.

– The fact that research and innovation are different activities has not so far set its full mark in Swedish politics and in the government’s management of universities and colleges. It has been a little taken for granted that it will be innovation just because you invest in research. We now know that it is not done by itself.

– My picture is that the government has over-invested in research historically and that we now have to look at the entire chain, not least in light of the climate change which is perhaps the biggest societal challenge and at the same time one of the greatest opportunities for the Swedish industry. It is really high time now to review the role of our universities in the national innovation system.


What do the solutions look like for Chalmers to help us meet the climate challenges and Agenda 2030 goals?

– Chalmers is one of the universities that has improved most in combining research, utilization and innovation. We are looking for “double values” where we can utilize our entire repertoire to lay the groundwork for cutting-edge innovations and solutions through world-leading research. I hope that more educational institutions can be stimulated by a progressive research and innovation policy where Chalmers is happy to be the role model in different ways, says Fredrik


Prestigious role in Europe

In the spring, the European Commission has chosen who will direct the newly created European Innovation Council, the EIC, which is proposed to manage a budget of EUR 10 billion for start-up companies and promising high-risk research. As the only Swedish representative, Fredrik takes a seat on the council.

– It was with great pleasure and humility that I accepted to work on the board of the EU Innovation Council. Of course, this is a very important role for Europe, Sweden and the world, not least in light of the fact that the newly-appointed EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent with the goal of exporting European industry world-leading technology and solutions to the rest of the world.

– Applying a Swedish research and innovation perspective to contribute to it feels urgent and important. In addition, I will learn a lot about the level of Europe that can be taken back and applied to Swedish development. We have the first board meeting in September, and then we also meet the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation. It will be extremely exciting!


What will this mean for Chalmers and for Gothenburg?

– An important thing for Chalmers as well as for Gothenburg and off course Sweden is to build capacity to be competitive in research and innovation at EU level. Sweden’s membership fee to the EU is significant and it is important to participate in the collaboration to take advantage of the benefits in the form of money, knowledge, networks and other resources.

– Because of both Sweden’s and the EU’s smallness in the world, we need to increase European collaboration, and this also applies to research and innovation. I think that the EU should have access and integrity, and that the European agenda should not be set by countries in other continents. Europe should not become anyone else’s playhouse. As I said, it is clear that Sweden needs the EU, but among other things the new EU Commission’s climate ambitions also show that the EU has an important role to play in the world.


You are also one of the initiators of Testbädd Göteborg, which is a long-term investment that allows to accelerate development, build knowledge and exploit the region’s innovative power. Why invest in test beds as an educational institution?

– Being able to test new solutions quickly and safely significantly increases the opportunity to solve society’s challenges. The conditions we have here in the Gothenburg region are unique.

– Test beds also suit Chalmers business very well. On the one hand, they are good collaborative environments where we, together with a company or a research institute, can test our hypotheses and solutions. The basics of test beds are also that they can speed up and improve the quality of research and development processes, says Fredrik.



Translated from an interview article with Fredrik Hörstedt by Business Region Göteborg (BRG), 30 September 2019.  The original interview article in Swedish can be found here: https://www.businessregiongoteborg.se/sv/kontext/innovationer-uppstar-inte-automatik-bara-att-man-satsar-pa-forskningen