As it searches for a replacement for its oil and gas industries, Oslo has built a culture of sustainable innovation through public-private collaboration, says Ka Man Mak.
Oslo is one of Europe’s fastest-growing, most ambitious capitals, aiming to become a zero-emission city. This is in line with Norway’s ambition to transition from the oil-and-gas economy to a knowledge-driven and innovation-driven economy. Although Norway currently takes 2% of the global oil production, the transition has seen industries such as health technology and sustainable energy accounts for around 4-5% of exports.
In its annual report, Oslo: State of the City 2020, the city is recognised for its collaborative working culture, green competitiveness and startup scene. In 2017, the city was the first in the world to implement a Climate Budget, requiring authorities to ‘count carbon the way we count money,’ and the city became the European Green Capital 2019.
To tackle global challenges, such as climate change, collaboration is necessary and a common practice in Norwegian innovation endeavours. Collaboration crosspollinates skills, shares knowledge, paves new routes to market, creates new innovative ideas, and builds both collective resilience and scalable opportunities.
Innovation Norway is the ‘Norwegian government’s most important instrument for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry.’ In its 2019 annual report, value created for startups and businesses by Innovation Norway increased productivity, sales, jobs and success in the international market, it announced.
Innovation Norway supports companies through various means, including innovation clusters, alongside the Industrial Development Corporation of Norway (SIVA) and Research Council of Norway. These innovation clusters are industry specific, fostering collaborative business activities, innovation and collective competitiveness between companies, customers, suppliers and knowledge institutions.
Norway Health Tech is one of many innovative clusters in Norway, and the largest among the three health industry clusters. The cluster’s mission is to improve quality in treatment and care by developing and industrialising world-class health solutions through their members and ecosystem. Norway Health Tech has so far 280 members and has awarded NCE status.
The clusters are categorised by their maturity, from status Arena, to Norwegian Centres of Expertise (NCE), to Global Centres of Expertise (GCE). There are so far 39 industrial innovative clusters.
“It’s about creating sustainable solutions and not only focusing on Norwegian challenges – but also on global health challenges. Covid19 is a very good example on that,” says Kathrine Myhre, CEO of Norway Health Tech.
“Norway was only a few days away from not having PPE equipment. So, as a cluster, we mobilised our members, both our R&D institutions and companies, to both get access to more PPE equipment, and start producing PPE. This joint effort from governmental health providers and the industry helped out in the crisis.”
Myhre said that several US hospitals has reached out to them by email for collaboration, and a platform of Norwegian medical products will be published soon.
“Because the [Norwegian] health services are public, there is a mutual need for both parties [public and private sector] to collaborate. Having said that, we have been struggling to get the public healthcare sector to really understand the need for collaboration with the industry.”
The Norwegian health industry relies on testing its products, and the public health sector can provide facilities for that. Myhre stressed that it is important for the public sector to “open up to collaborative partnerships with the industry” as they provide the domestic market for the industry. When Covid-19 hit, the public sector ‘opened up doors for the industry,’ it’s agreed.
“We also focused on what we call ‘innovative procurement processes’,” said Myhre. “The key aim is to focus on the challenge and the need of the public healthcare sector and the industry, providing good solutions for the needs on the table.”
Myhre sees that the Norwegian health industry is very promising. ”Norway is good at making its inventions, and building and growing and scaling our industry, there is a huge potential for Norway to build a new industry that can take over the oil and gas industry when it closes down.”
Oslo is also home to a wealth of incubator and accelerator programmes that have sprung up in the city to enable startup growth. Many are private organisations and some collaborate with Innovation Norway.
Stina Låstad is a project manager of SoCentral, an incubator that brings together municipalities, entrepreneurs and citizens who want to find answers for a more sustainable society. Låstad is experienced in working with innovation in the public sector and was recently awarded ‘Community Builder of the Year’ by E24, a Norwegian business newspaper.
“We were tired of hearing people talk about how important it is to collaborate in order to find good solutions to social challenges. Then everyone went home to their silos and worked as before. We decided that we would create this collaborative space ourselves,” says Låstad. “Right now, for example, we work with sustainable city development, climate change, inclusion and diversity.”
SoCentral has also initiated new projects, such as Pådriv (front runner in English), a partnership between public, private and social actors who are working together to improve sustainable urban development. This collaborative network involves 40 partner companies and organisations, and 200+ private collaborators. “Our ambition is to transform the area Hovinbyen in Oslo to a global example of a future sustainable city.
“In order to make collaboration happen, we have to actively initiate it, build trust and facilitate new partnerships. Easy? No, it’s not easy, a lot of the work we do takes time, is frustrating and we fail. At the same time, it is so rewarding, a lot of fun and there are so many competent people in all sectors with a big commitment to create a sustainable future. There is no lack of complex challenges ahead, we need more actors operating in this space,” says Låstad.
In the spring of 2019, Innovation Norway launched an official marketplace for Norway to export its green technology internationally, called The Explorer. The website has attracted more than 800,000 visitors from over 100 countries, with 302 registered Norwegian companies. Ope, a Norwegian cleantech furniture company is registered on The Explorer.
Lars Urheim is a co-founder of Ope and co-founded Ogoori, a Norwegian ocean impact company that supplies traceable ocean plastic. It is working with various businesses to replace the plastic industrial value chain with a circular model. Ope plans to incorporate the ocean plastic into its products.
“We can’t sit with all the competences in one house,” said Urheim when it came to Ogoori. He adds that, when going into a market with various partners, it brings credibility to their product. “This is a project that we need to lift together. So, everybody wins.”
Urheim has also taken up loan capital from Innovation Norway, which he said has stemmed his company’s growth and further efforts as he has had to pay down the debt, “You can create your ideas, prototype and develop concept and do research. There is a lot of support for that. But that only takes you part of the way as you need to go to market, and that is where re-cost occurs.” He believes that continuous support is needed so that green businesses can become more sustainable and competitive. Such support is currently not available, according to Urheim.
It is very clear from past and present sustainable development strategy plans that Norway wants to be a leading nation in environmental policy and sustainable development. The careful balance between phasing out oil and gas production, and boosting green technology, whilst also maintaining a healthy economy, is no easy task.
Per Espen Stoknes, an Associate Professor teaching green growth development, and politician for the Green Party, concludes: “We have a large share of electric vehicles that are now eating into the market share of fossil fuels. So, it’s looking pretty good in the last few years. If this recent turnaround accelerates, which I hope it will, then transport too, will be able to contribute to green growth and the Norwegian economy.”
Ka Man Mak is a British-born Hong Konger, multimedia journalist, and social entrepreneur based in Oslo.