Flying Cars, hacking the Pentagon and convicted felons – a roundup of Stockholm Tech Fest

Mon, 04 Sep, 2017

Electricity and water will become free in our lifetime. Zuckerberg as president is a way scarier prospect than Trump. Food production needs to double but the impacts will result in an ecological disaster. The Pentagon was hacked in 13 minutes. I’ll share my data with Tesla but not the Swedish government. Double standards are better than no standards...


The great and the good of the Nordic innovation scene – investors, startup founders, designers, developers, students, corporates, journalists - gathered yesterday in Stockholm for a highly eclectic, sometimes controversial, but always fascinating canter through some of the latest developments, announcements and trends.  In what was the fifth annual installment of STHLM TechFest, Sweden's latest Unicorn - Bambora - joined perennial poster boys Klarna and PirateBay co-founder Peter Sunde, on stage, alongside a dozen or so early stage companies (several of who are being talked about as potential future unicorns) and many other 'explorers' - for something of a glimpse into the future. In what felt a bit like a cross between TED, CES and the Web Summit the discussion and debate was wide ranging, painting both a positive and bleak picture of the future of humanity.  

As you would expect, AI featured heavily with Amazon and IBM evangelizing that AI is not the future - it is very much here and now (and slightly bemoaning the fact that more companies are not embracing the opportunity). In contrast, I think all the startups pitching on stage claimed to be AI powered to some degree. By this measure at least the future is clear...

Sebastian Siemiatkowski (CEO, Klarna) emphasized the importance of AI from his perspective, claiming to only care about UI and AI; making beautifully designed products powered by killer data-driven services his customers want. Tieto made a compelling case that human decision making groups are 17% better when supported by AI. I wonder when companies will we see an AI 'sitting' on any of our decision making bodies – perhaps even the Board...? But please, please, please... can we stop seeing Terminator images in AI presentations??? 

Energy and Transportation also featured heavily – both being utterly fundamental components of modern human existence. Renewable energy has many advantages over fossil fuels, but is not without challenges of its own – not least the unpredictable nature of its generation, which will inevitably never exactly match demand patterns. Energy storage, being pioneered by Tesla and Northvolt among others, is therefore set to become a multibillion dollar industry almost overnight – and indeed Peter Carlssons' Northvolt are on the cusp of raising $4billion to build Europe's largest battery factory somewhere in Northern Sweden (but he does require 1.5% of the country’s electricity to power it…).

Also fascinating was the need to more than double electricity production, just to replace the power derived from oil and other fossil fuels. How will already creaking infrastructure cope with demand more than doubling???  Particularly exciting was the demonstration of a vertical takeoff/landing vehicle, being pioneered by Lilium, a German startup. With a new $90m investment round, if their view of the future comes to fruition, then we will all be flying around in such vehicles in the next 5 – 10 years – perhaps a sort of Uber Air?

No future facing conference would be complete without a Virtual Reality session.  HTC Vive were again evangelizing what might be possible as imagination is unleashed from the constraints of reality, and alluded to some very interesting developments to be released shortly.  Along with a raft of new and ever more immersive games one company impressed in particular; SpaceVR, who have put a VR camera rig on to a satellite to give everyone the opportunity to experience the apparently lifechanging effect that all astronauts talk off.  A huge new VR centre is set to open in Stockholm on October 5, with the aim of developing a world leading VR ecosystem – part innovation hub, part arcade. You can sign up for the launch party here (use discount code Sthlm2017).

It is impossible to really summarize so much great content but here are just a few high level takeouts:

  • Innovation it is not about flashes of genius or inspiration.... one so called 'overnight success' talked of the 12 years of trial & error and research that got them to where they are now. 
  • You can’t win alone...you’ve got to partner, got to make your data shareable. In the ever increasingly connected world there will be no success in isolation.  Be open, be collaborative.
  • Curiosity is the hallmark of a successful entrepreneur and innovator.  The cross pollination of ideas, insights and expertise from other industries and sectors was often cited as providing a breakthrough moment. 
  • Being No. 1 is hard work. Klarna CEO dismissed talk of work/life balance as crap. If your job is your passion, and you’re competing with Alipay in China, where working 70+ hours a week is the norm.
  • The pace of change is ever increasing.  Two very different industries – gaming and payments – both explicitly claimed their industry would change more in the next five years than they had in the last 30 or 40. Food, Energy and Transportation were equally clear that they were on the cusp of huge step changes. No great leap to assume many other industries are on the verge of similarly significant changes…