This last week, I was in Sweden, attending the Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability summit, or the 5th Global YES Summit – Rework the World, in Leksand, Sweden. I was invited to go to this event by my friend Dr. Mario Tokoro, President of the Sony Computer Science Laboratories (Sony CSL). The event itself is an annual gathering of 2000 entrepreneurs, opinion leaders, local and global leaders in politics, civil society and business. “Rework The World” is a collaboration between Tällberg Foundation and YES Inc.  The Tällberg Foundation was founded by Bo Ekman, a former executive from Volvo. YES is an international organization represented in more than 55 developing countries with a focus on youth, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

Anyway, I was asked to speak at several sessions at the event, including:

  • 6/4/2010 – Featured session: Rethinking the role of enabling technologies (462)
  • 6/5/2010 – Rethinking Finance – Future financial mechanisms (533)
  • 6/5/2010 – Plenary session V – Investment Forum

This is actually my first trip to Sweden, and since I was on my way from Rome (via London), there was no real time-zone change. While the flight was only about 4 hours into Stockholm-Arlanda airport, I then transferred to a train, heading to Leksand via a city called Borlänge (transfer station). This trip was scheduled to be only 2.5 hours. Unfortunately, about an hour into the trip, my train apparently hit and killed a person. Apparently, this is a relatively common occurrence in Sweden too. (I read somewhere that countries that have tough gun laws invariably have high suicide rates by train.) Anyway, long, long story short, what should have taken an hour or two at most to clear up ended up taking 13 hours. My reading of the situation was that the person killed was hit several kilometers before we stopped. The train driver only realized what had happened after we stopped at a train station and someone had to tell him before we left again.  If the story had ended here, it wouldn’t be that bad.  Unfortunately, when we arrived at the station, there were no taxis for 1.5 hours and when I finally arrived (at 2:30 am) at the hotel, it was closed (obviously) so I spent another 30 minutes banging on doors to get someone to let me in.  Interestingly, it was still relatively bright outside and getting brighter from around 3am.  To make matters worse, multple phone calls and e-mails (sent from soon after the accident) to the organizers were never answered.

Anyway, I digress. This year, the summit ran for 3.5 days and had many young people (in their 20’s) attending from all over the world (over 100 countries). Unfortunately, Gunter Pauli had to cancel his trip; therefore, I was the ONLY attendee from Japan. Most of the discussions I had were with people who had a strong motivation towards social/BoP-type entrepreneurial activities. The remaining people were interested in sustainable and/or clean technology entrepreneurship. Therefore, my pure capitalism entrepreneurship was a little out of place. Nevertheless, I was hoping to share my first-person experiences, as well as what has been going on in Asia and Japan.

The conference was also interesting in that the dinner was at the “tent,” which is almost like a circus tent where people ate, and the local elementary school and junior high performed musical acts throughout the night. However, what was more interesting was that most of the people would eat outside the tent in the grass and form spontaneous study groups on one particular topic or another. The scene almost looked like an entrepreneurial Woodstock which would last until very early in the morning with various bands playing onstage.  On the other side of the tent, there was a section where various vendors setup ethnic Swedish shops that would sell baskets, food, clothing, etc. I did get comments from the older participants that the Tällberg participants from years past did not show up this year and that most of this year’s participants were dominated by the YES members a generation or two youngerThat I’m using the word “young” or “younger” is somewhat depressing because it tells me that I’m just getting older….

As for the conference itself, apparently this was the first year the Tällberg Foundation decided to host an event with YES.  After experiencing this first hand and talking to many original Tällberg participants, this didn’t turn out to be such a good idea.  Unfortunately, when an event grows from several hundred people to several thousand, the logistics are completely different and it showed the event staff could not handle this change.  In fact, for my first presentation, they made a last minute room change to a space that was about 15 minutes away.  What was confusing was the change of venue was not announced in time and when it was, it showed the wrong time. Moreover, the change of room sign was posted on the new venue and not at the original room.  Therefore, while the other panelists (from industry) eventually made it to the new room, many of the audience members either stayed at the old venue or gave up.  Ironically, due to the drastically smaller sized group, we actually had a better dialog with just the other panelists – however the sponsor (Erickson) was not happy.

Furthermore, to put together a ton of people in their early to mid 20’s with a smaller number of people in their 50’s and 60’s, created a situation where conversations were difficult to carry.  Specifically, many of the young participants, without much real world working experience, all had environmental, social, BoP related ventures in mind.  While this, in itself isn’t bad, their activist style either berated (as evil) people who were “pro business” or were demanding (“just give me the money” – seriously) investments without cause, reason or justification.  When questioning them on the use of funds, what to expect in returns and other similar investor relatd questions, many got defensive, angry and argumentative – on multiple occasions.  It almost felt wrong being a “classical” capitalist entrepreneur at this event – at least in front of the younger generation.

On the third day, I got to judge a BoP centered business plan competition.  This was actually kind of interesting.  The organizers told us to be “nice” to the presenters since this wasn’t a real business plan competition (i.e., don’t critique their ROI, financials, etc…)  Nevertheless, out of the 10 contestants, I found that the Solarcool concept (providing solar-powered refrigerators for $5 a unit) from a venture in Sweden and Peepoople (Self-sanitizing, single use biodegradable toilet bag) idea were actually very interesting if they work as claimed.

Regardless, while there were several low points in the conference, the few older Tällberg participants I did get to meet were all very interesting and educational.  By the end of the 2nd day, we tended to cluster up in our own group. I have even spoken to some of them already on getting involved with similar activities that they are involved in.  Unfortunately, the student part of the program was not well run – especially compared to events such as St. Gallen.

Some interesting observations of Sweden:

  • Taking a number is very popular – from information booth, changing currency to buying train tickets. Instead of waiting in line, you get a number and wait for it to be called.
  • Sony Erickson cell phones are very popular here.
  • Most (except for 3 channels) of the TV programming was in English and subtitled in Swedish. This is compared to Italy, which had no English programming and any shows from the US were dubbed in Italian.
  • Everyone here can speak English, whereas the Italians will tend to ignore you.
  • The country of Sweden is in such a northern latitude that the sun does not set. When I arrived at my hotel at 2:30 am, it was bright enough to see without any lighting.
  • Since it is always so bright outside, you need those eye masks (that they conveniently hand out in the plane) to sleep.
  • Satellite dishes are pointed level to downward to get the satellite signals in equatorial orbit.