Green innovation in Sweden: An interview with Gustav Stenbeck

Sweden has been at the forefront of environmental protection for decades and has shown that it is possible to combine both economic growth and reduced emissions. The Nordic country will be the first one to meet the European Union’s renewable energy targets, eight years ahead of schedule. Sweden’s economy is also one of the most innovative globally, ranking 2nd in the Global Innovation Index. In particular, the country is one of the world’s leading nations innovating, implementing, and exporting green and sustainable technologies. For example, Sweden ranked 3rd in the Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2017 and every year, between 300 and 900 new cleantech companies are incorporated. The sector currently comprises several thousand companies with an annual turnover of over 20 € billion and innovates in many fields, including waste-to-energy, water purification, biofuel production, or renewable energy sources.

This is where start-ups come into play

Sweden boasts one of the world’s most active start-up ecosystems. Naturally, venture capital funding in Sweden is rising progressively, and Stockholm is referred to as Europe’s “unicorn factory“. Sweden has always been well represented by start-ups in our SET100 network. Some of the previous Swedish SET Award winners and finalists include Enjay AB (SET’ 20), BLIXT (SET’19) and Einride (SET’ 19), among many others.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Mestro-CEO Fund Manager, Gustav Stenbeck who kindly agreed to answer some questions on green innovation and start-ups in Sweden.


Hej Hej! Please tell us about yourself, your role and your business.

GS: I run Mestro a Tech Scaleup working out of Stockholm serving customers in the Nordics and Northern Europe. We help customers with large property portfolios measure and reduce their energy spend for lower carbon emissions and costs.

Based on your work with sustainability driven start-ups, what is your assessment of how Swedish start-ups and companies are adapting their focus, models and products, given the rapidly evolving consumer behaviour (especially during the current pandemic)?

GS: Start-ups are good at adapting, that’s in the very DNA of being a start-up. Swedish ones are not probably better at adapting than other start-ups, however Swedish start-ups are working out of a unique region of the world that has a very strong tradition of cooperation and working with sustainability. This gives Nordic start-ups a unique outlook on solving issues that might not today have a direct customer – but one that will in the future. The problem with working with sustainability is that you’re mainly solving a shared future pain point (e.g. the environment) rather than an immediate, personal one. This would detract many start-ups from regions that don’t have the same history and values of the Nordics from starting a company in this space. Since there is no immediate customer with a high willingness to pay.

Sweden has spearheaded the acceleration of digitalisation and become a hub for innovation. What are some ways that the Swedish start-up ecosystem has used such developments in the context of the global energy transition?

GS: Mainly I think we’re good at showcasing that sustainability can be good for business. We’ve tried and iterated many times and large companies have often turned big losses in sustainability programmes. They’ve done so because public opinion has superseded willingness to pay and many have thought that the former would equal the latter. (Which it has not many times). However, these losses have funded strong sustainability programs that in turn have forged a strong culture within companies to not only focus on the immediate customer. This has dissipated into society and today many people out of the Nordics are more willing to pay more for a more sustainable products than consumers in other developed markets. This means as Swedish companies grow and internationalize, they bring these values with them to other markets. In doing so, consumers will become more aware of how they consume and spend energy as well as goods.

What makes you fall for a start-up?

GS: A strong team. Many people think it’s about the idea, but ideas are a dime a dozen. A good team can take a mediocre idea and turn it into gold. A mediocre team can absolutely destroy a golden idea. In tech-start-up circles many people refer to three T’s; Team, Traction and Tech.

How are you working with start-ups during the current pandemic? 

GS: The world is digital and both ideas and teams are global. Therefore, there is not that much of a change. Small companies are used to adapting. The pandemic is not a big problem. We have bigger fish to fry, like making sure the world switches to sustainable sources of energy and starts consuming in smarter ways.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Gustav.


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