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20 years of Swedish innovation - how did it happen and why?

20 years ago, Sweden got a new innovation authority - Vinnova, which was to be unique in its kind. Which has change, social benefit, knowledge and innovation in its DNA. But how did it happen and why? And which people and events came to control Vinnova's mission?

This web page has been machine translated. If there are any uncertainties, please refer to the Swedish text.

Watch the film about Vinnova now and then

On 1 January 2001, four new authorities started their activities to promote research and development in Sweden under the motto " r&d funding in collaboration". Vinnova – the agency for innovation system, was one of them. The other three were the Swedish Research Council, Formas and Forte.

A committee had then worked for ten months investigating how Sweden's research, education and innovation development would gain momentum. The aim was to promote Swedish growth and competition and to raise competence within the education system.

Today, Vinnova is a public authority that works to mobilize and support actors in the innovation system. We encourage knowledge exchange, individual mobility and skill development and share methods for social change towards sustainable objective. We identify needs and gather actors to face common challenges. We finance investments for a sustainable future.


Vinnova was commissioned to finance " needs-driven research and development to support the innovation system and sustainable growth and development". We ended up under the Ministry of Business and Industry and had to take over parts of the responsibilities that previously lay with Nutek, the Swedish Council for Labor Research and the Communications Research Committee.

Vinnova would conduct r&d funding in cooperation between authorities to promote Swedish growth and competition.

An important assignment was to identify growth areas and map what the innovation system looks like for them.

We would propose initiatives to strengthen development and growth in technology, communication and working life. The purpose was to make it easier for new knowledge to be utilized and translated into products, processes, services, regulations and working life.

Even then, diversity and sustainability issues were mentioned in several sections of Vinnova's mission. The key word was collaboration and we were asked to coordinate our efforts for research, development and innovation in order to have a greater impact with targeted efforts. The government wanted a better overview of Swedish research and innovation efforts.

Over time, sustainability issues and cooperation have come more and more into focus for Vinnova's mission.

The researcher perspective permeated


At the start in 2001, Vinnova employed approximately 150 people and received a billion kroner in the budget for funding innovations. Björn Rosengren was Minister of Economic Affairs. Per Eriksson became our first director general. He came from the post of rector at Blekinge technical university college. The researcher's perspective pervaded the assignment and the organization at Vinnova.

  • Vinnova's first proprietary programme was called Vinnväxt and is more relevant than ever today. Winnväxt finances regions for long-term innovation initiatives. Triple Helix was a basic principle for this initiative – that is, collaboration between academia, the public sector and business.
  • Forska&Vex - with the perspective of small and medium-sized companies was also created during this period
  • The competence center initiative was updated.

Charlotte Brogren - GD from business

With Charlotte Brogren, who came to Vinnova in 2009 as CEO directly from business, Vinnova got a new way of working with innovation. We started listening and trusting the actorsmore. What were the needs and where could innovation create value?


Our new motto became "Connect, catalyze and stimulate!"

  • In the outside world, Barack Obama is sworn in as President of the United States.
  • Statsminister Fredrik Reinfeldt becomes EU president.
  • The financial crisis, the climate and the EU's new treaty are some items on the agenda.
  • Maud Olofsson is the Minister of Economic Affairs.

Landing in big common challenges

In the same year, Vinnova was involved in producing the "Lunda declaration". We put societal challenges on the EU's agenda together with the other research funders. And thus on top of our own.

This started a challenging journey at Vinnova - to go from thinking industry or sector to agreeing on some common challenges.

This thinking then became the basis for the initiative Challenge-driven innovation (UDI).

UDI built on societal breadth and systems thinking, sustainability and common objective. A mindset that is still central to Vinnova's work to mobilize for sustainable social change.

The role of the public sector in the innovation system became more prominent and the administrators had to do when nearly 800 applications for funding came in.

The Vehicle Strategic research and Innovation (FFI) innovation program was also introduced in 2009 - at a time when the vehicle and transport industry was in deep crisis. Among other things, the program has contributed to - and still contributes to - the industry's competitiveness and Sweden's transport and climate policy objective.


The whole society mobilizes - strategic innovation programs

2013 was the year when Vinnova started its biggest effort overall with great importance and international attention - the strategic innovation programs. They came about as a development of previous industry programs and would tackle:

  • National gathering of power in important areas for Sweden.
  • Sustainable solutions to global societal challenges.
    Increased international competitiveness.
  • The programs were based on broad cooperation by being actor-driven, strategically important, national, open to all, transparent and having a jointly formulated research and innovation agenda.

Agenda 2030 becomes a tool

In 2015, Vinnova began working with Agenda 2030, which was integrated into the initiatives Challenge-driven innovation and Winnväxt. Agenda 2030 is now a tool to direct our funding towards more consciously sustainable choices.

Abbot Liljero's innovation grew and began cautiously with a "nursery for social innovation" that received a great response. Today it is an established effort at Vinnova.

Vinnova received a government assignment for equality integration in authorities (JiM). Among other things, that work has led to an increase in the proportion of female project manager managers in the Vinnova-financed project, and we have seen increased quality in solutions and broader target group adaptations.


Partnership programmes for breadth and power

In 2017, the government launched five strategic partnership programmes according to the new research and innovation bill from 2016. Vinnova was given the honorable task of both contributing to leading the work and financing efforts, primarily through the strategic innovation programs.

We scouted policy labs around the world where they worked with design-driven processes for regulation and policies with the user in focus. A national policy lab was born.

Together with the Trust Delegation, Vinnova carried out about 20 project with various authorities, starting with fintech and the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority.
Today, smart policy development and strategic design as methods are natural parts of our activities.

To see systems and contexts


In 2018, Darja Isaksson took over as director general of Vinnova. Darja Isaksson came in with the goal of using innovation for sustainability. She wants to create a balance between leading the innovation system and keeping her ear to the ground.

The whole society needs to mobilize in common directions towards sustainable objective.

The staff information meetings were transformed into workshops where everyone at Vinnova was invited to talk about what is most important for innovation to succeed.

The work led to a strategic plan with the motto "to see systems and contexts".

Collections of forces for sustainable common objective

While balancing and strengthening our project portfolio, we challenged ourselves to test a mission-oriented way of working in both food and mobility. Today, in connection with the theme, we have our first system demonstrator Reel up and running - a national effort on the electrification of large transport vehicles.

Our contribution to the Research and Innovation Bill was submitted in the fall of 2019 with the message "Mobilize the entire society for sustainable development."


2020-2022 - new working methods for sustainability

Once the Research and Innovation Bill came in 2020, we had received a good hearing for our direction.

This was the year in which Vinnova would mobilize for system innovation by developing new working methods. Preparations for ten new areas took off at full speed.

We appointed an international expert council with three recognized innovation experts. An important step for our international connection.

But we didn't cancel – we rescheduled. It was an intense spring with innovations in the wake of the crisis.

In the outside world, the Covid-19 virus took off across the continents and on March 17 we started working from home - which we did for two years with digital aids.

But we didn't cancel – we rescheduled. It was an intense spring and innovations in the wake of the crisis became a quick and appreciated effort in response to the direct and short-term needs of society at that time.

Since we started working from home, we have completed 37,500 team meetings. Today, in 2022, we are back to the office in a new hybrid-based way of working.

We open the way for innovation that makes a difference!

Vinnova has a budget of 3.5 billion for research and innovation projects and we have 200 employees. We stand firmly on the funding leg and push ourselves in the role of change agent. For us, innovation is about thinking new and doing differently to improve the lives of people and our planet. We open up to innovation throughout society. It gives Sweden competitiveness and makes a difference to the world.

people in network meeting


Lovisa Roupe

Head of department

+46 8 473 32 93

Last updated 2 September 2022

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