Technoport’s Event Manager, Hermann Vidarsson, has previously worked with concerts, theatre and corporates: “I always find events with narratives, where you are using an event to tell a story,” he says. “That’s what fascinates me.”
Hermann’s devotion now lies with innovation and entrepreneurship. Born in Iceland, raised in Norway and educated in Denmark (with a Swedish love affair chucked in for good measure), Hermann is the original Blandinavian, who brings a human touch to the proceedings. Here he speaks to Tech List about his work and his aspirations for Technoport… and Trondheim at large:
Tech List: What are the highlights or selling points of the conference, any updates from last year?
Hermann: When you see the programme you will see we managed really concentrate on a topic for this year’s conference. We dress the ‘human factor’ and I think it’s quite exciting.
Tech List: Where did the topic come from?
Hermann: We put together room of 12 people who work related to tech and set up a workshop to discuss all things tech. A couple of us sat on the sideline trying to find out what elements led this discussion. There was passion, enthusiasm, controversy… and that happened to be a ‘human factor’. It’s multifaceted. The biggest question is how will the technology be applied to the society we live in it and do we believe that a kind of ‘technierism’ is the next step in development? Is development preordain or something that we chose? Is the path of technology determined? How to affect this path if we don’t believe it’s preordain/predetermined/set.
Tech List: Who are the ’12’, the people behind developing the conference?
Hermann: We invited people from SINTEF, Eriksson, Statoil, Telenor, from big tech companies in Norway. We invited designers, accelerators, people who help start-ups, people who work with tech., maybe not in developing tech itself but in tech development, if that makes sense.
We try to put together multiple scripts; both in terms of gender and background. Some of us have background in storytelling, some in hardware. We want a diverse group and we want multiple perspectives on this discussion.
Tech List: Is this the same panel deciding the theme each year?
Hermann: No, this year is the first time! In previous years we have based our theme off one-to-one conversations. We kind of involved people who we respect and we wanted their perspective but in one-to-one format. This year we invited them to do a workshop together and see how that developed. There is something exciting about a group brain.
Tech List: When does this process start? How long does it take to plan a conference’s theme and structure?
Hermann: We started as early as May last year. Quite soon after the last conference finished! You start thinking about (the next conference) as soon as you made a decision on the theme. There’s a kind of instant urgency.
Tech List: And what about you; what’s your role in Technoport?
Hermann: I’m Head of Events. I’ve been with Technoport with that title for four years now. Before that I was working as a sub-contractor for Technoport.
I used to be Event Manager and Producer for concerts, theatres and for last 10 years I’ve been less exclusive to corporate events. I always find events with narratives, where you are selling a story, using the event to tell a story rather than just ‘throwing apart it’. So even a show or award ceremony can be a narrative.
Tech List: Is there a narrative which is specific to Technoport, or is it individual to each event/conference?
Hermann: Technoport’s mission is to build culture and know-how for innovation. To use innovation while on a very early stage. There is a Norwegian phrase, something what doesn’t well translate to English: skaperglede. It is the joy of building, of making and creating. Skaperglede is what we do to make a fair a playground, and through this we build enthusiasm.
It’s about the meeting of culture and know-how. How to be innovative and then lobby for a framework that helps these innovative perspectives.
Tech List: What is Technoport’s end goal? And how do you measure success?
Hermann: That’s very difficult because we have goals that are soft. How do you measure culture change? It’s very difficult. We have some effect goals: we want more people working in tech in Trondheim. We want more start-ups to come to Trondheim, spin-offs, and also existing companies to release new products.
Entrepreneurship is just one path of innovation. Innovation is bigger than entrepreneurship. So although entrepreneurship is the most telling factor, I think that innovation and technology can increase value to our lives. I think when you look over the history of time it has increased our productivity; our average income has without increasing the workload. When you ask people what were the biggest events in change history back in time, I think there are a lot of points which are technology related. One of them is the image of the washing machine. Prior to the washing machine, taking into consideration gender roles at that time, every woman spent three hours a day throwing rocks against textile. Technology is one of the biggest sources of change to society.
Tech List: What’s the technology era of the moment? What’s the big change happening now?
Hermann: It’s happening extremely quickly now and is coming from surprising places. The Internet is of course a revolution – a change as we digitalised things. We are challenging the right to ownership patterns, how we think about ownership. The symbol image is a movie which can be copied, so you are stealing it, but since you copied it no one is losing a product per se, but someone is losing a revenue. Those theoretics kind of change the way things are. When you add new forms of manufacturing – 3D printing for example, where you can print your parts yourself – the whole idea of ownership changes.
Tech List: Will Technoport conference 2017 touch upon these ideas?
Hermann: How do we chose what technology to be developed. Do we chose it or does it technology chose it for us. Is the technology development just a train that runs on its own, full steam ahead and you can only jump onboard and get driven over or this is something we, as a society can affect some way?
Tech List: There has been a lot of criticism in recent times about technology which is being developed, not necessarily out of a need to address some serious issue, but more technology which is being created for the sake of the technology.
Hermann: I think we give a lot of attention to some innovation now that doesn’t really solve big problems. I think it is what in Norwegian is called ‘barnesykdommer’ (when the business become more professional, and the solution outgrows the problem). There has been a change in Norway and most of the Western world over the last years, where innovation has moved from being something a few people have done to all people thinking it’s the most important. So there is a lot of potential in technology and entrepreneurship.
That’s a part of your question. The amount of innovation happening now in total is more than five years ago. We give a lot of attention to innovation and it’s bound to be that some innovation isn’t all that relevant. One of the most important things about staying innovative is to allow us to experiment. It’s not really experimenting by just doing sure fire innovation. So there is also going to be some ‘less needed’ innovations.
Tech List: What is the face of today’s innovation? Is here a difference in today’s innovaton, or is it the way it’s packaged up? Are we just calling small business ‘start-ups’? Are we calling them inventors ‘innovators’?
Hermann: I think so, a little bit, yes but I think it’s just, as you say, a fact. That’s gonna change. I don’t think people are gonna be multimillionaires and make unicorn companies from apps anymore. There was a kick start campaign for somebody who made such a cool box; a chill box with a stereo system and so on … It made hundreds of thousands of dollars! This is something that no one really needs, this is not innovation. But, I think that maybe, whatever they did may trigger some other ideas. Then you have more efficient ways of distributing vaccines in sub- Sahara Africa through their cool box. You mustn’t hit down on those. ‘Less needed innovation’ is just a part of the game.
Tech List: We’ve examined the success of Flow Motion’s crowdfunding at last year’s Technoport in quite some details. What is the potential for startups getting involved in events and conferences?
Hermann: I was at Slash couple of months ago and I was at a conference in Paris. What’s their coined ‘deep tech’, which is entrepreneurship based on research rather than just a business idea. Commercialized business projects are getting a lot of attention now. Both investors and entrepreneurs, angel investors – they are much more excited about complicated technology now that solves real problems rather than quick solves small problems.
Tech List: This feels as though Technoport’s conference theme last year (Crack the Codes) is starting to be realised in the marketplace, suggesting you’re ahead of the curve. Looking ahead to this year’s theme, The Human Factor, and I’m wondering whether Trondheim is perfectly placed to be discussing the is a human factor. It’s small personal city, and that is one of it’s strongest facets, no?
Hermann: I think it’s always been. It’s such a small city that people need to cooperate. It’s not enough space for people to feel snubbed in each corner. It’s like either you cooperate or move out. There is no real option there. You can’t have pointed elbows in Trondheim, it’s too small.
How does Trondheim stand in regard to the other Nordic countries? In terms of innovation, I think, we are brilliant. In terms of entrepreneurship we’re not so brilliant and I think that’s related to this (size). I think the aspect of cooperating is central in developing new technology, in reaching markets, and beating competitors in it, not so much.
Tech List: What characteristics are unique to Trondheim? In a positive sense…
Hermann: You see most of the exits from successful entrepreneurial endeavours in Trondheim. They start making technology, they make technology that’s unique in the world, that has a huge market potential, that get acquired by some other bigger player in that market, use the technology, where the mother company is the one doing a consumer face work and Trondheim keeps feeding them competitive advantage through technology.
If you have a technological problem, come to Trondheim, you’ll find a solution. Don’t wait for Trondheim to sell it to you because that’s not gonna happen.
Tech List: The Start-up Guide Trondheim, which Technoport financed, was all about encouraging people from overseas to consider setting up their business here. Do you see people coming here to do business, or do you see the focus on organic Trondheim business?
Hermann: In Silicon we have three successful stories from Trondheim. We have Arm, Atmo and Nordic Semiconductor. Arm and Atmo, both had an exit when an international company came and bought our R&D department, kept R&D in Trondheim but did the marketing from California. Nordic Semiconductor managed to keep their all operations in Trondheim. They have no end-users, none of these companies have. You’re not likely to see business-to-consumer success company in Trondheim. But we are brilliant at supplying technology to those companies who do do that.
That’s also a kind of down side of our strongest advantage because we are doing extremely complicated science and technology development in Trondheim. You can’t really sell that to the end-consumer before you’ve done the packaging. None of us care about what’s inside our phones and how they work. You are buying an identity, brand, and that sort of things; you are not really buying technology.
Tech List: Does the pace of life (and business) here in Trondheim lend itself to a more thorough research-based knowledge economy?
Hermann: I think that Trondheim is the only place, where people actually stop to think. That sometimes makes me nervous, when you answer a question and the answer doesn’t come until two minutes later!
But in Trondheim that’s seen as a strength, I think. In Oslo, where is quite high a pace, the production per hour is very high. They might not work many hours though. We had interns from the UK at Technoport a couple of years ago and their first reaction was “are you going home now?” when we left at 4:30pm. They were shocked by that but after a couple of months they said “are you never gonna have a break?!” because we kept working and there are no 2-hours lunches here.
Our mission is to boost Nordics.
Tech List: So then you don’t really see a border issue?
Hermann: No, we do. We’ve kind of chosen to emphasise those strengths that Norway has and that are strong in Trondheim as well. It’s like the term deep tech. Innovation coming to universities – that’s what we find especially interesting in innovation. That means that we collaborate quite a lot with Bergen, a bit with Oslo, a bit with Stavanger but we mainly collaborate within the Tech Transfer Offices at universities. I think that’s about how can we contribute. For every Kroner we spent on the events they should create more value than we invested in a start-up. Our purpose is to support and use innovation, not to make innovation and have fun but help others. To do that, the best what we can do, what we are great at, we have great tech and since we’ve been in Trondheim for the last years, we’ve found that we can support using innovation, university research, and the environment. We are building further in the strengths we already have. That pushes us in one direction or maybe not direction but in general area, the one reachable.
Tech List: But you’re more than just Technoport. Your experience comes across Scandinavia, coming from Iceland as well. What are your experiences about
Hermann: You mentioned Iceland , that’s something you are looking into. I think Iceland has very much of the thing that Trondheim does not have in marketing, and competitive segment of entrepreneurship. They are geographically between Europe and America. They have the American culture if it comes to (??? Recording 3 15:58) That’s one of the reasons that you see more successful companies coming up on Iceland. They have this kind of grow or die mentality.
Tech List: Where did you leave Iceland, 20 years ago?
Hermann: Yes. I moved there back 3 years before we crushed in 2005 and lived there 3 years between 2005 and 2008. No sorry, late 2005 so I lived there 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Tech List: Is this true it’s like a climbing destination?
Hermann: One of the best and worst things about Iceland is that their motto is ‘þetta reddast’, which can be translated to “relax, it’s gonna fix itself”, which is a lot of fun if it comes to climbing and not so fun when it comes to policy making. (…)
Tech List: Why did you leave then? Just for a big challenge?
Hermann: Partly because of the national crisis. I had obligations in Norway, Norwegian debt was really difficult with Icelandic income.
Tech List: You studied here?
Hermann: I studied in Denmark actually.(…)
Tech List: (…) Ok so that’s Iceland.
Hermann: I think Finland has… I don’t nothing about Finland.
Sweden has really good understanding of markets, they are really good at selling, and they have tradition. I always have and use their products. Big companies, electro products.
Tech List: It was much harder to me to just start thinking about it on my mind. Which companies would you accredit to Norway ? It’s so difficult.
Hermann: Not so much end-consumers.(…), Konsgberg, maybe Telenor. (…)
Tech List: I wouldn’t depend on that before moving to Norway to be honest. (…) So you got from Iceland to Norway by a Danish university.
Hermann: Born on Iceland, studied in Denmark, raised in Norway and until recently engaged with Sweden. And what we called Blandinavia in Denmark.
Tech List: In the context of that background and with your role of Head of Events at Technoport. What’s the main thing we can do to lift the Trondheim, Norway tech and innovation scene over the next, the coming years.
Hermann: I think that we need to show that we have the quality technology developed in Norway, in Trondheim. (…) we can’t sell to a lot of end-user products but we can really supply knowledge and technology. We are really good at solving difficult problems, not really good at selling good solutions. I think we need to stop looking at as a problem, I think we need to just plan from what you know, not from what you wish. I think big companies should come to Trondheim and share their problems to the Nordic section. I think Trondheim is one of the best places in Norway on this field but I think the Nordics is the best field in Europe, where the project becomes more important and politics and politicians, people are committed to solve the problems. That’s what I love about Trondheim.
Tech List: Practically how do we attract those businesses to come here and share their problems with us?
Hermann: I think we should be better at doing thing that we don’t do now – be better at inviting. That’s what we do at Technoport – inviting international actors to Trondheim.
Tech List: Final question: What is the future with Technoport?
Hermann: I would love if Technoport… I don’t think we should grow very in terms of number of participants. I would love if we could annually collect one of the 1200-1500 most forward lean innovators to actually work together.