He is also there for you if you feel like enhancing your acrobatic skills or if you want to get an enthusiastic and instant feedback on your business ideas on Startup Weekend Travel!
What does Vinnova do?
I have been working for Vinnova in the past 6 years and my job is to help fund innovation projects. More specifically: the commercialization of Swedish projects – to help drive sustainable growth in Sweden. There is a very broad range of things that we can do within this space of innovation financing, but we are also limited to investing in projects where the innovation risk is so high that traditional financing is difficult or impossible to arrange. The potential impact of Vinnova can be huge within this area – we could fund the next Spotify, the next ABB or anyone.
Why do people work with Vinnova?
As an entrepreneur I never would have applied to Vinnova. I am an entrepreneur myself, I have had seven companies. The weird thing is that if we think about governmental financing, we worry about very complicated applications, slow processes, people evaluating the applications not knowing so much about the unique technologies and innovations themselves, etc. But it turns out to be completely different in my experience at Vinnova. Oftentimes one could expect it to be too hard to get governmental financing and the even if you get it, the reporting might be too complicated and time consuming to be worth the money that you receive, or you might get a crazy governmental bureaucrat (me! lol) disturbing your business and constantly giving advice you feel you have to follow… but these things generally don’t happen here, which I’m so happy to say.
From a public sector context, we are lightning fast: from the submission deadline to receiving the funding generally takes about three months – only 3 months! I know this can feel like a long time for exciting young startups but even for them it can feel fast, if their strategic planning is right. 3 months is usually within the burn rate of reasonable companies looking to change the world, so we’re totally worth a shot, especially as it’s pretty much a fire-and-forget application. As we are a governmental institution, all applications must be treated exactly the same. You send in your application, keep doing what you do and 3 months later you either get the money or you don’t. This can have a really huge impact and set fire to your rocket ship boosters in your quest to change the world. And did I mention that we pay our funding up-front? Cash is king, as they say, and we don’t force companies to incur costs and then submit receipts to us which greatly simplifies things for the companies. Not to mention that we also fund salaries, which isn’t always the case with early-stage and seed-level financing.
What is your job?
My job is often to help fund entrepreneurs’ dream scenarios. These amazing opportunities are often also the best investment opportunities for Sweden so it’s an incredible win-win all the way around. So as you can imagine, it can be a pretty terrific place to work – especially as my job is essentially to help you become as successful as possible. Sure, some of the entrepreneurs think that three months are too long for our decisions. They need the money now and can be frustrated from that. But if you understand who we are, why we exist and you submit a strong application within the theme or that has the effect that we are working to fund – it’s almost unlimited what you can do!
My personal dream is to feel that we are more closely aligned as partners with Sweden’s entrepreneurs, change agents and public and private sources of financing. I honestly believe that together we can all help build financing strategies that help promising companies and innovations come all the way to market where they can have the greatest impact for all of society and where they can do the most good. Call me blue-eyed, but I believe in human nature and in the amazing things people can do together.
What are your superpowers?
My nickname is AlwaysHappyTony, so it definitely has to be optimism. I honestly think the best of the world and that something good can be gleaned from just about everything. It is a choice. Whether on the small scale, or large, we can all chose to do something with that. This is why I love working with Vinnova because we have the opportunity to seek out potential and opportunity when others shy away because the risks are too great. I hesitate to say ‘only in Sweden’, but it does feel like such a Swedish thing to offer faith, support and trust to those who just *might* be able to change the world and to bring about something new. To all of you who try; my hat’s off to you.
Speed would be another one which is absolutely needed here as we receive 6-7 thousand applications every year so we don’t have time deeply research each of the concepts presented to us. So we must be able to understand things fast enough to help guide the processes to the best results possible. (And we rely heavily on external evaluators for their specific technology and industry expertise).
Confidence is the third – in working for Vinnova I don’t have an agenda, which is amazing! Essentially, my only task is to help Sweden and her inhabitants improve as a society and to thrive, using the tools and opportunities provided to us within the ‘innovation system’. Whatever that means for you that is fine, I don’t need you to go one particular direction or another. That leads me to a tremendous amount of confidence. I am confident that my job is to help you succeed. If I would be a consultant on my own, then I would have to constantly work to make a sale. Here I don’t have to do that, so I can literally focus solely on what you need and how we can help you get there. And if I can’t help you directly, then I hopefully might find someone who can. This is where my conversations go basically – to understand quickly where you are and what you need, and to find the resources through my network to help you reach your goals, if at all possible.
Can anyone contact you with their ideas?
Absolutely! If you have a company and an innovation that has never been done before, then Vinnova may be able to help. See if there is anything on our website that sounds interesting, then call me or my colleagues.
We don’t help in starting up though. We exist to help fill the gap in an innovation being creatively discovered and the possibility to getting it actually to market. We help mitigate the risk in this case. When the risk is high enough, then the financial markets don’t work anymore and you can’t get a loan, investment or any funding that your company needs, but your concept is potentially valuable so it might be a billion dollar business. It is called the Valley of Death, which is the failure of the entire market system – this is the gap that Vinnova aims to fill – to correct the failure of the market system. Later when you actually will have a proof that your business is working, then the banks can fund you, the investors can give you a reasonable valuation, your friends and family can actually jump in for you and so on.
It might be your greatest dream to do this. If you are being rational with your own funding, then you need to make sure to have enough income to pay your rent. You need to make sure that your existing customers are happy enough to continue being your customers. And you also know that if you do your innovation, you might will be able to change travel industry, but you don’t have enough funds to realize that. Let’s say you only have a million kronas in your company and you can only cover the salaries of the people for the next three months with that. You can’t take a huge gamble on that by putting all your bet on your next idea. But we can help you with that, we pay salaries and all the costs that are related to this kind of activity. We literally pay for your lottery ticket.
Get your (lottery) ticket to Startup Weekend here: stockholm.up.co!