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Sweden's tech charge

As the country celebrates its national day, we look at potential opportunities for collaboration between Singapore and the Nordic nation.

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Above: Teamwork, cooperation and innovation are highly valued by Swedish society.

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(From left) President of Volvo Buses Hakan Agnevall, NTU president Subra Suresh and LTA deputy chief executive Goh Teck Seng.

FROM Spotify to Skype, Ericsson to Electrolux, Swedish brands are famous the world over and their innovations have found their way into many homes. Innovation and entrepreneurship have long been a core aspect of Swedish culture and this enterprising spirit has only served to propel the Scandinavian country forward in today's technologically-driven climate.

This year marks 53 years of diplomatic relations between Sweden and Singapore and while both countries are separated by distance, they share similarities in their innovative and research-focused outlook.

It is no surprise that Sweden is ranked third in the 2018 Global Innovation Index (GII), a ranking of world economies' innovation capabilities and results. It is also home to some of Europe's largest tech companies with Stockholm only second to Silicon Valley in producing billion-dollar tech companies per capita. Singapore is not too far behind on innovation standards either, ranking fifth - the highest-ranking Asian country - in the GII report.

According to a study by the Swedish Patent and Registration Office, it is also the top European country to file the most patent applications in Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with 2,600 patent applications from 2010 to 2016. Majority of these applications are from communications technology company Ericsson alone.

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Sweden's traditionally open and innovative outlook has also helped facilitate collaboration and it is currently exploring opportunities with Singapore.

Business Sweden, the official Swedish Trade and Invest Council, notes the high potential of Singapore as a gateway to the Asean region for Swedish companies.

A business climate report that Business Sweden released earlier this year noted that Singapore's expanding healthcare and life science sectors would need new innovations to manage its ageing population. Singapore's growing infrastructure and transport sectors, with projects such as Changi Terminal Five and Tuas Mega Port, also provide opportunities for Swedish technology and services companies.

"(The people of Singapore and Sweden are) generally optimistic and welcoming to new technology and new solutions," said Darja Isaksson, director general of Sweden's innovation agency Vinnova during a dialogue. The dialogue, Singapore and Sweden: Innovation Collaborations and Diversity in Tech, was presented by SGInnovate in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden in Singapore in February.

And as recently as last month, Prince Daniel of Sweden visited Singapore with a business delegation to learn more about innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore, which included a visit to the Nordic Innovation House Singapore (NIH-SG).

Officially opened in February, NIH-SG was set up to serve as a launchpad, community and resource hub for small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs from the four Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) with high growth potential who are looking to penetrate the South-east Asian market and use Singapore as a base of operations. There are more than 250 Swedish companies in Singapore and that number is only set to grow, with more companies in services and software or IT services.

SUSTAINING GROWTH

Way ahead of the game in many areas, Sweden was also ranked the most sustainable country, in a November 2018 survey by asset management firm, RobecoSAM.

It has long been a leader in protecting its natural environment from introducing a carbon tax in 1991 to establishing a reputation for producing cleantech innovations, and hosted the recent Cleantech Forum Europe in May.

It's on track to run entirely on renewable energy by 2040 and has also attracted many companies. In fact, Microsoft will be setting up data centres in two Swedish cities that will be powered completely by renewable energy and will be working to reduce their carbon footprint.

Closer to home, Swedish manufacturer Volvo Group, which established its Singapore headquarters in 1979, launched the world's first driverless electric bus together with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in March.

The 12m-long bus has zero-emissions and consumes 80 per cent less energy compared to a diesel bus. A second bus will be trialled at an SMRT depot and Volvo is keen to continue its investment in developing autonomous vehicles in Singapore.

Driverless electric trucks with zero emissions also began freight deliveries on Swedish roads last month, which help to reduce freight operating costs by about 60 per cent compared to a diesel truck.