THE INNOVATORS

20 Nordic innovators that shape our future, part 1

We give you 10 Nordic innovations, and their founders, that are surfing the tsunami of change.
Words ERIK SEDIN & ALICIA NILSSON
March 03, 2021

Scandinavians have been amongst the busiest inventors since the Age of Enlightenment. Centuries-old inventions such as dynamite and the gas turbine have irreversibly impacted mankind, but often at great cost to our planet. Contemporary innovators are still world-leading, but also world-saving. 

Read the second part of the list here.

Pasi Vainnika — SOLAR FOOD

The innovation The people at the Finnish start-up Solar Foods produce Solein, an edible protein that is created with co2, air and electricity, which ultimately means that production is completely disconnected from agriculture. Solar Foods is the food startup that creates edible nutrition, quite literally, out of thin air.

The innovator Founder and CEO Pasi Vainnika says Solar Food came to life from the research institution VTT’s research programme at the LUT University in Villmanstrand, Finland.

— Being a scientist, I hardly ever say that there are binaries, black and white outcomes and facts. But I do feel that my grandchildren will think it was brutal that we’ve been taking the lives of living animals to get a hold of proteins, Vainikka says.

Why now? By sidestepping agriculture Solar Foods can do our planet a huge favour in the name of sustainability. 80 % of global land is either planned for agriculture or used for agriculture, and conventional food production wastes water at unreasonable levels. Solar Foods says that the Solein is 100 times more climate-friendly than meat production, and ten times better than, for example, soy production.

— Not enough innovation has taken place in the food industry — we’re still practising agriculture! Which is so unnecessary if you think about it. For example, you don’t really need a chicken to have an egg. To grow and feed a chicken just to get a hold of the proteins in an egg, is an unnecessary process. I think that there is a real chance that meat, egg, milk and animal-based products as a whole, can be replaced with technology, like fragmented proteins, Vainnika concludes.

Hamza Qadoumi — ECOGARDEN 

The innovation EcoGarden is basically a simplified miniature of Mother Earth, and her whole ecosystem, that fits on your kitchen counter. Roughly sized like a weekend duffel bag, EcoGarden is a baby-sized greenhouse that operates on top of an aquarium. Using fish waste as a nutrient source for plants is called aquaponics, an ancient growing method that Native Americans have used for thousands of years. Growing plants aquaponically divides the growing time by three, which means that you can have fresh, homegrown basil in less than two weeks. On top of that, the plants naturally filter the water, which is recirculated back to the fish, and feeding the fish is automatically done through a supported app. 

The innovator Even though the EcoGarden is a self-sufficient aquarium with built-in WiFi, voice assistant and a smart autonomic fish feeder, CEO and co-founder Hamza Qadoumi says that his innovation can be explained rather ­conventionally. 

— Basically, you feed the fish, the fish feed the plants and the plants feed you!

Qadoumi, who grew up in Stockholm, didn’t originally intend to work with agri-tech or food-tech, but when he took a gap year from his Mechanical Engineering studies and travelled in South America he knew that he wanted to help people to eat better, live healthier, and grow smarter to help our planet.

Agnes Arnadottir — BRIM

The innovation Since their maiden trip in October last year, sustainable cruise ship ms Brim has been busy sailing the waters of Tromsø and Lofoten in northern Norway. The ship sales without noise or pollution thanks to the electric motors, making it possible to experience the arctic coast in silence, comfort, and with a clean conscience. Most of the cruises focus on Arctic wildlife, with specific whale watching cruises. The ship is also equipped with underwater drones that can follow the ­active wildlife underneath the surface. 

The innovator — Our goal is to change the way our guests experience the ocean and highlight the challenges and the possibilities that lie in the marine environment. We believe people are more inclined to care for something they know. By operating in the most sustainable way we can we want to inspire optimism in new technology, and for our guests to learn more and care more for our oceans, Arnadottir says.

Why now? Travelling and exploring can be both complex and hard to defend from an environmental viewpoint. Brim is one way to travel through breathtaking scenery, guilt-free.

Robert Falck — EINRIDE

The innovation The freight transport business of today is facing huge challenges of sustainability — road transportation alone spews out seven per cent of the world’s total co2 emissions. Enter Einride, the Swedish autonomous freight transport company that wants your online bought purchases to arrive without co2 emissions, nor a truck driver — the Einride trucks don’t have a driver seat at all. 

— We call the system Autonomous Electric Transport (AET). The system consists of autonomous and electrical vehicles that are coordinated by an intelligent operating system that handles ­order ­management, fleet planning and remote-control steering, all from a distance, says CEO Robert Falck. 

The innovator Falck came up with the idea during his years working at Volvo Powertrain, where he saw how different transport trucks were built from scratch. He also saw a struggling industry. Globally there was a lack of drivers and at the same time increasing demands for transport services. He started thinking about how to improve the commercial transport business to get up to tempo with the ­changing world.

— The challenge for traditional truck manufacturers is to meet the increasing demand and at the same time convert to a more sustainable business life. A lot of money and knowledge is invested in diesel technology in our business, even though a majority of business owners know that electrical power is the future. Our advantage is that we’re not carrying any baggage — we never invested in outdated technology and business models, he says. 

Why now? The fact that more and more Scandinavians are using online retail instead of physical retail is not a new phenomenon. The long-established ”high street” shopping experience has seen a slow decline for the last decade, and the power shift has instead turned to a blooming online shopping experience that doesn’t seem to stop thriving anytime soon. But with great power comes great responsibility. Einride’s futuristic robot trucks can lower the co2 emissions by 90 % in comparison to similar heavy transports, and at the same time lower the costs drastically. But not everyone likes the thought of self-driving trucks on public roads. 

— For us, there are both technical and regulatory challenges. But technology and legislation are developing rapidly, thankfully. In the long run, our biggest challenge is to win over public acceptance to share our roads with robot trucks. To prove that our truck is safe and sustainable is an important task.

The Swedish mobility company seems to be on the right path. The company has over 80 employees and curious and progressive customers are lining up all over Europe and the US to use self-driving trucks to transport products. With the right backing and open-mindedness from producers and retailers, you might be able to do your future Christmas shopping from home without feeling too bad about ruining your kids future on this planet. 

Isabella Palmgren — MIMBLY

The innovation It all started when the owners of Mimbly asked themselves if we need drinkable water to wash our clothes. With this in mind, Mimbly created the Mimbox, a smart filtration device you plug into your laundry machine that recycles water and filtrates out microplastics. Clean water from the laundry machine gets recycled back to wash your clothes, whilst the dirty water goes to the sewer. This means that you can save up to 70 % of your water, and significantly lower microplastic release.

The innovator Isabella Palmgren co-founded Mimbly back in 2016 together with Daniel Colunga, whom she met at Chalmers University. What brought them together was the motivation to work towards a sustainable use of water in a ­simple way.

— Our impact entirely depends on people and businesses to adopt and use our solutions. Therefore, we strive to make our products intuitive, easy and pleasant to use, the way sustainability should feel, Palmgren says.

Why now? Scandinavians are using way too much water since most apartment housing uses a predetermined water bill. Also, the microplastics that our clothes and textiles release into the sewer with normal laundry machines end up in our oceans and cause a catastrophic impact on our ecosystem.

Anders Forslund — HEART AEROSPACE

The innovation Heart Aerospace is an aeroplane manufacturer based in Sweden that is working to create the fastest, most affordable and sustainable transportation for regional travel yet. Right now, Heart Aerospace is creating the fully electric ­es-19 aircraft, a 19-passenger airliner with a range of around 400 km to service domestic business or leisure travel. By 2026, the company hope that the plane is ­certified for commercial operations.

The innovation CEO and founder ­Anders Forslund researched mechanical engineering at the tech-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When he got into electronic aviation, the idea came to him just as the drone revolution started in 2014.

— I realised that electric aviation will develop in Silicon Valley and maybe Germany, but not in Sweden. Then we realized that Sweden actually has a lot of resources and history about this. And then Norway announced that all domestic flights will be electrically driven by 2040, and we thought that we had to give it a go, Forslund told Dagens Nyheter.

Why now? Sustainable mobility is not only seeing big moves in investments and technological breakthroughs within its own business, it’s also met with economic enthusiasm and general curiosity from buyers and the public. It makes sense that concepts of fully electronic passenger aeroplanes are starting to pop up, and it would be strange if Sweden, with its historically progressive approach to sustainability and aviation, didn’t jump aboard the progress.

Annie Thorell — RE:LEASED

The innovation It’s Re:Leased is a subscription service for high-end fashion brands for Stockholmers. Every month, three fashion pieces show up at your doorstep for you to enjoy for four weeks. When the time is up, a It’s Re:Leased collector comes to your door to collect the pieces and hands you three new pieces. And then the ­process repeats itself.

The innovator Techie Annie Thorell, who studied Computer Science and ­Industrial Engineering and Management at the Royal Institute of Technology, didn’t know too much about the fashion industry or that she would eventually work within it.

— My co-founder Johanna has been working within fashion and retail for the past 17 years and she felt a strong itch that something was off. I was introduced to Johanna when she had just started working on the idea of a fashion subscription service, and our combined experience in fashion and tech made the perfect precondition for a solution, Thorell explains.

Why now? Our fast-paced lives in combination with the old linear economy have left us living well above the resources we have at hand. Today the average Swede buys fourteen kilos of clothes each year and gets rid of eight kilos that same year. The fashion industry’s high contribution to global carbon emissions is not sustainable. It’s really about the old way of doing business not fitting well with how we now live and consume — we need a new normal.

Rafal Modrzewski — ICEYE

The innovation The Helsinki based startup is specialising in SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellites, a technology that ICEYE is a world-leader in. ICEYE launched in 2018 and has already racked up many world-first achievements for small SAR satellites. For example, the satellites can offer 0,25-metre resolution video and image data from above and take pictures through clouds, as well as in ­complete darkness. 

The innovator Instead of using fewer, large satellites to provide the world with extraterrestrial photos and data, often with relatively low resolution, Pekka and Rafal Modrzewski thought that it would be better to have smaller and more agile satellites that can get up real close to the earth. 

—ICEYE is enabling others to solve immeasurably difficult problems that affect the lives of millions of people around the world. Our team has built a reputation for delivering results to our customers with unmatched timeliness and quality of service. We are proud of that reputation, and we intend to maintain it, says Rafal Modrzewski. 

Why now? his revolutionary up-close photography can be used for saving lives during humanitarian and disaster response situations, such as fires, climate-driven changes in weather or even urban activities. Also, the satellites can produce crispy clear photographs four times a day.

Why now? ­— I wanted to do something good and to contribute something to the world and that’s why I started Ecobloom [the company that produces the EcoGarden]. The biggest problem we want to solve is the amounts of food waste around the world. And of course, combined with the rapidly growing population, and the urbanisation and as a result, we need to produce more food while we’re erasing a lot of it. The question we want to address is how can we grow food that is smarter, more local, and with sustainable resources, in an artificial way?

Elsa Bernadotte — KARMA  

The innovation In the world of food-tech, Stockholm-based Karmalicous is truly a trailblazer. Since 2016, Karma has been ”helping to create a zero food waste generation” as Barack Obama described it. And it would be remiss not to think a generational change is both anticipated and overdue. Every year, millions of tons of edible food are thrown away by consumers and retailers. Karma connects surplus food from restaurants and grocery stores with hungry consumers via the Karma app. The food retailers gain money on food that would have been thrown away, and the consumers get perfectly edible food for a cheaper price. Everyone wins.

The innovator Elsa Bernadotte is the president and co-founder of Karmalicous, and she claimed a spot on Forbes prestigious 30 under 30 list in 2018 for her work with Karma. She met her co-founders (Mattis Larsson, Ludvig Berling, and Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren) during a round of ”founder speed dating”, as she founded the Ice Cream company Pop Fruits a few years earlier. 

— We couldn’t have done this by ourselves. It relies on our partners and our customers coming together to change their food behaviour for the better. We are so proud of what we have achieved so far, even though we know there is still a long way to go, says Bernadotte.

Why now? Every year, millions of tonnes of edible food are thrown away by consumers and retailers. Producing, transporting and packaging food products take a big toll on the environment, and it’s not ideal to harm our environment for nothing.

— In March this year we reached a new milestone with our community — rescuing over 4 million meals. It was a huge moment for us and proved that together we can create real change in society, ­Bernadotte concludes.

Hanna de la Motte — PULP-TEXTILES-PULP

The innovation For close to a decade now, the Swedish science programme Mistra Future Fashion and the research institute RISE have strived to create a circular economy for textiles and apparel. By breaking down the cellulose fibres to a dissolving pulp (that can be transformed to lyocell or viscose), and separately transforming the polyester to its original building blocks (glycol and terephthalic acid), P-T-P can turn our clothes and textiles into a wide variety of garments, and also plastic bottles and phone cases.

The innovator Ph.D. Hanna de la Motte is an internationally renowned expert in chemistry in general, and cellulose chemistry and chemical recycling of textiles specifically. She is the project manager of p-t-pand is fully aware of the project’s importance for our world. 

— Every year, 56 million tonnes of textile fibres are produced for use in clothing globally, and 97 % of the raw material used is virgin. When used, 73 % of the clothes go directly to incineration or landfill, and less than 1 % is recycled into new clothes. The textile value chain is very linear, and we help to make it more circular by enabling used textiles to become new raw materials, instead of being incinerated, de la Motte says. 

Why now? In regards to a circular economy for textiles and apparel, P-T-P is not quite there yet. But it’s not fully up to them. Governments have a responsibility to not throw out service textiles from hospitals, schools, hotels, or workwear. And personal consumers also need to change their habits too. 

— One big challenge is that large-scale collection and sorting of textiles is not sufficient enough. The right materials need to be sent to the right place in an economically, ecologically, and socially efficient manner, de la Motte concludes. 


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