By Sigrun Daireaux
Recently, several public innovation evaluations and strategies have been published. Together they give an interesting – or alarming? – picture of the healthiness of the Norwegian innovation capabilities. Tell me, Doctor – will the patient survive?
Early February, the European Union presented their Innovation Union Scoreboard 2011. The report is based on 25 research and innovation related indicators, and includes the 27 EU countries as well as “outsiders” like Iceland and Norway. The countries are divided in four groups. Amongst the “innovation leaders” are Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany – well above the average. These are followed by the “innovation followers”, all around the EU average. Thereafter, “moderate innovators”, all below the EU average – and where we find Norway. And in the bottom are the “modest innovators”.
In addition, the study concludes, the EU is not able to close the innovation gap to the USA and Japan, and Brazil and China are catching up with us.
Only a week later, Statistics Norway published a study showing that the share of Norwegian companies introducing innovations to the market is declining – and has been since 2004.
In parallel, the the Norwegian government published their report “Norge 2020: Hva skal vi leve av i fremtiden?” (Norway 2020: What shall we live off in the future?). The report sest out stating that we need to build the future on our current recognized strengths, and that innovation is crucial to be competitive. In the words of Norway 2020: “Where will future demand growth be? What technologies and solutions must be developed? In which areas has Norway distinctive prerequisites to succeed? What important development trends will influence us?” 40 younger industry leaders and union representatives have been involved in the work, representing a wide variety of the Norwegian industries; from fisheries and energy to design and communications. And the result? The most specific response I was able to find, was by Per Benjaminsen, CEO of biotech company ProBio ASA: “The future wealth will come from the sea. Biotechnology will have a significant economic impact for the future value creation.” This is quite possibly true. And I wish the rest of the report had been – at least – as specific. Unfortunately, it is not. Aside this one statement, there is no direction, no actions, no statements saying what Norway should focus on. Is Norway able to become a country independent of its oil wealth? Will the patient (innovation in decline, already below EU average, and also lagging internationally) survive? My opinion is no, not based on this document.
Is there nothing to do, then? Well – almost at the same time, the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills published their “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth”. The similarities in ambitions, and the difference in the results, compared to Norway 2020, are striking. Where Norway 2020 is vague, the BIS reports rapidly gets very specific, stating focus areas and concrete actions – even with a timeline! Highlights are:
- Launching technology and innovation centres within six specific areas (“Catapult centres”) to commercialise innovation and research to be competitive internationally
- Improve incentives for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) – with measurable and specific numbers and initiatives
- International cooperation initiatives started to internationalise UK businesses and get access to foreign funding
The BIS also states clearly within which sectors the UK industry innovation shall focus. Some examples are:
- Life sciences (pharmaseutical/biotechnology, specifically cell therapy)
- High value manufacturing (space industry)
- Offshore renewable energy (wind, wave, tidal)
- Emerging technologies (synthethic biology, energy-efficient computing, energy harvesting, graphene)
I find this level of detail impressive, encouraging and brave. This of course does not mean that all other UK businesses need to change their course. But it means that there will be a high public focus on funding and driving industry development and innovation within these areas. I believe this sort of focus will actually help the UK succeed in their ambitions, creating jobs and generating globally competitive products.
Conclusion: There is hope. If we could get as action oriented as the UK, I believe there would be hope for Norwegian industry in competing with the international best. But it requires the ability to prioritise, and the courage to communicate the priorities. Let’s start with Statoil, and let me start with challenging my own R&D head: Karl Johnny Hersvik, what do we prioritise? Can we save the patient?