Photo of Stanford's main campus
Stanford's main campus

Exploring blue San Francisco: a post-doc’s perspective

In the following text you’ll follow me, Linus Brunnström, a post-doc at the Gothenburg Centre on Knowledge-intensive Innovation Ecosystems (U-GOT KIES) during my visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The purpose of this visit is to explore new contacts in the research field of university impact and especially such contacts and experiences that may benefit my Wallander post-doc project on Kristineberg Center for Marine Research and Innovation and how basic and applied research into ocean solutions may co-evolve with commercialization and external start-ups.

There are some moments in life when one realizes how small the world is. Taking the nowadays run-down BART train, I ended up in a conversation with an equally unimpressed stranger by the name of Benjamin Slotnick. It turned out to be an entrepreneur with a researcher background. As if this wasn’t coincidence enough it turned out this new acquaintance was not only a scientist entrepreneur, but one that worked with algae as a solution for rejuvenation of sea water. As it happens, I’m doing research centering on university and science impact in the field of ocean solutions for a sustainable future.

Photo of Linus Brunnström and arbro Osher
Meeting Barbro Osher, Dr HC and Honorary General Consul of Sweden in San Francisco

After a good night’s sleep, awaiting the jetlag that never came, I met up with Barbro Osher. Barbro is the intriguing woman behind the Osher scholarship I can thank for allowing me to go to San Francisco in the first place. Our discussion centered around the San Francisco region and what Sweden may gain in being more active there. As well as societal issues and the impact of Covid-19 and the following restrictions has had on the region. Even as a visitor it was evident how many commercial properties had been abandoned and that many people were left in desperation. Thinking back on my last visit in the city in 2014, the many homeless people in the streets 2023 was something I didn’t expect.

Photo of the streets near Nob Hill
The incline of the streets near Nob Hill were insane

Experience exchange with PhD student at Stanford’s Ocean Solutions.

Day three I met up with a PhD student currently at Stanford’s Ocean Solutions. His research related to how to measure impact in applied research, startups and projects dealing with solutions for a cleaner ocean. I think we were both struck by how aligned our respective research where and by some of the differences in our respective research approaches. He had a background in Oceanography and I in innovation, entrepreneurship, and further back finance. Our discussion ended up in the conclusion that there’s a lack of innovation leaders in “oceantech” (in lack of a better word). We agreed on the view that there is a need for someone doing the same as Elon Musk did for electric cars and space tech to attract more interest and stimulate more solutions into this space.

Photo of the train station in Palo Alto
The train station in Palo Alto

Visit to the Nordic Innovation House

Day four I got up early and took the Caltrain to Palo Alto, the center of famed Silicon Valley. On the agenda was visiting the Nordic Innovation House (NIH) and meeting with a manager of science impact at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford. Nordic Innovation House is a Silicon Valley hub founded by the governmental agencies for innovation in the Nordic countries. At the NIH I met Anna Seitz and Sarah Johansson, two of the managers responsible for managing the hub and more importantly the community of startups and network that has been built over the years. They introduced the hub and the various services they provided to emerging startups wanting to explore the American market. Many startups have passed through its doors since it became the NIH in 2014, after the house had been run by Innovation Norway exclusively since 2011. This history does make an impact in the composition of startups taking advantage of their services, as Norwegian firms are the second most common after the Swedish ones. As it happens, surprisingly often in this area of California, I bumped into a fellow northerner from Business Region Västerbotten who is visiting the NIH as part of the Wallenberg Fellowship.

Photo of the Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto with Stina Berglund, Sarah Johansson and Anna Seitz
At the Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto with Stina Berglund, Sarah Johansson and Anna Seitz

After having productive dialogue with the people at NIH, off I went to the Stanford campus. The Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions is an interesting center, with some similarities to the Centre for Sea and Society at the University of Gothenburg. They aim to do science from "insight to impact" in the ocean solutions space and are based out of Stanford's main campus yet also have an office at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, CA.

Approaches and solutions for a bluer future

When I arrived at the meeting, the manager had asked a newly arrived Wallenberg Post Doctoral Fellow from Stockholm Resilience Centre to join us. The discussions centered on our respective research into university impact and differences in the respective approaches in the US and Swedish/European environments. The US often applies a bottom-up approach with many private actors and philanthropists financing ocean solutions as the European and Swedish approach involves the Government and State taking on this role, i.e., a more top-down approach. Which approach is the better, time will tell. But more importantly, for a bluer future, many types of approaches are needed. 

With these words, I end this note on my experiences during these days and hope that you have enjoyed joining me on this trip to our Atlantic neighbor. 

By Linus Brunnström, PhD and Wallander Postdoctoral Scholar at the Unit for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and U-GOT KIES.

Photo of Linus at Stanford's campus
Linus at Stanford's campus
About Linus Brunnström

Linus is a Doctor of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management of Intellectual Assets. His research focuses on how universities interact with society, where commercialization done by university incubators is one interesting way universities interact with society with the intent to create direct economic impact. His current position is as a postdoctoral scholar on the Wallander scholarship. Here, he is set to develop his research on university impact further and explore the maritime industry as part of a knowledge-intensive ecosystem. He defended his PhD thesis "Commercialization Done Differently: How Swedish university incubators facilitate the formation of knowledge-intensive entrepreneurial firms" on January the 19th 2021.