The sun was bright for the royals’ mid-January visit in California, a brief trip mixing business and pleasure. Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, who are both very interested in Swedish entrepreneurs abroad, visited the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

Early on Sunday they took Princess Estelle to the zoo. Later in the afternoon they needed a respite to relax with their daughter and were afforded a private reception at the Swedish Church Abroad located at the beautiful Norwegian Seamen’s Church overlooking the bay. They were greeted by guests of the church, whose affection for the family was immediately palpable. The Victoria and Daniel sat in beautiful armchairs, but the little princess felt more comfortable on her father’s lap than sitting on the wee chair placed between her folks.


Deacon Åsa Sjöberg told Estelle, who’s not quite 3, that here in America young children sing some of her favorite songs, and together they all sang — in Swedish — “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” They sang several of Estelle’s other favorites, accompanied on guitar by Åsa’s husband, Jan. It was such a warm welcome, and they all joined the congregation, as the spider climbed up the rainspout, as though they were back home in their palace.

Warm welcoming
After Consul General Barbro Osher officially welcomed Their Royal Highnesses to the Bay Area on behalf of all Swedes, Estelle led everyone upstairs for refreshments. With the royal family sitting on a sofa behind a coffee table with cakes, cookies and drinks, and photographers swarming to snap photos, people greeted the family and thanked them for returning to San Francisco. Nothing could have been more thoughtfully arranged, for the church was originally a private home, and this upper floor at the front door level has an unsurpassed and unobstructed view of the bay from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge.

One of the first to greet the couple was Lisa Wiborg, the grande dame among all Swedes here. She spent several minutes with the family and was so warmly received, as though Her Highness was welcoming a grand aunt or a visiting dignitary, which is the place of honor that Lisa holds in the hearts of all here. That set the tone for everyone else. The Crown Princess was so cordial in taking time to warmly greet and sincerely talk with each person. Everyone was buzzing about the opportunity to have spoken with Her Highness, to greet her daughter, and welcome Prince Daniel. Just imagine the many kids’ memories of that day: to see not one but two real, live princesses — one their age and one with her Prince Charming. And should anyone doubt them, they have the pictures to prove it.

Ambassador Björn Lyrvall thanked Their Highnesses for this visit, emphasizing how significant it was for them to meet with their Swedish flock abroad who keeps the values, reputation, and enterprises of Swedes in this most dynamic area of the world. As the family and their entourage left the grand mansion, a cable car was passing the church, and in that car happened to be a group of Swedish tourists, gazing in amazement. They greeted their princess as the car climbed the hill, much to the surprise of everyone. It was quite a memorable day.

Royals visit Silicon Valley
The purpose of the royal couple’s visit to the Bay Area was to learn about the success of Sweden’s entrepreneurs in this capital of innovation. Their wish was granted by four notable sponsors: Anne Lidgard of Vinnova, who designed and hosted their tour; Yvonne Ericsson from Nordic Innovation House, who executed flawlessly the entrepreneurial reception; Anne-Sofie Safa of Business Sweden, who arranged for the tour; and the indefatigable Consul General Barbro Osher.

The royal couple visited high-tech leaders Tesla and Google as well as notable Nordic enterprises Runway and Stripe. They lunched at the Nordic Innovation House — sponsored by all Scandinavian countries and home to several dozen startups. At Stanford University they visited Vinnova as well as the university’s famed Design Center, a model of multidisciplinary integrative innovation.

A highlight of their journey was Monday evening’s reception — The Nordics and Silicon Valley—From Startup to Success. In welcoming all, Lidgard acknowledged three centuries of Swedish business among the evening’s sponsors: Ericsson (begun in the 19th century), IKEA (20th) and Yubico (21st). In addition to the tour’s four sponsors, Lidgard thanked Marguerite Hancock of the Computer History Museum for welcoming them to this temple of innovation. The support of Lars Johansson of international law firm K&L Gates, SACC-SF/SV, and the Silicon Vikings were also acknowledged. The 150 guests enjoyed Chef Pelle’s table of delights complemented by beverages from West Wines and Sjoeblom Winery.

Lidgard began the program by reiterating the success of Nordic entrepreneurs — though Scandinavia represents but 4 percent of Europe’s population, their entrepreneurs garner 30 percent of venture capital’s yearly investments, attesting to the premium value of the Nordic brand. Consul General Osher and Ambassador Lyrvall welcomed the royal couple and the entrepreneurs; a show of hands revealed that almost everyone was an entrepreneur and a first-generation American or recent arrival.

Expert wisdom worth gold
A distinguished panel of entrepreneurs — Magnus Aronsson (ESBRI) as moderator, Stina Ehrensvärd (Yubico), Peter Arvai (Prezi), Lene Schulze (Innovation Center of Denmark) and Nikolai Wadström (Bootstrap Labs) — addressed the topic of the evening by comparing entrepreneurism here and in Sweden. The insights were worth gold.

While Scandinavia, for its population, has the largest number of entrepreneurs in Europe, the panel said that living in Silicon Valley was absolutely necessary to thrive and grow globally, because only in Silicon Valley is there the critical mass and competition to learn from, to collaborate with, and to execute at the pace necessary to succeed.

Everyone from the first day here learns that what distinguishes this axis of invention is meritocracy and pragmatism, distinctive American values. Talent matters: Everything depends upon what you can do. Yet perhaps experience is valued even more highly. The motto of Silicon Valley is “fail fast but learn from your mistakes.” Unlike most places, including Sweden, failure is not a sign of defeat here unless you allow it to conquer you.

Here, too, are 46 percent of the world’s venture capitalists searching to invest in and nurture new enterprises. They are distinctive not merely for their money but also for the generosity of their advice. Because they have succeeded, part of their culture here is to give back to the ecosystem by sincerely helping and advising promising new entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley is home to the icons of technology. If you can get your product associated with one of them, you can tie your brand to theirs and leverage that among many new customers. Better yet, as one panelist cited, if you find an intrapreneur to advocate your product within that company, that person spreads your message as they move during their career. And moving from one company to another as one climbs a career is typical here.

The diversity and variety of people continually arriving in Silicon Valley is the secret sauce. All immigrants are welcomed and engaged. This diversity is the valley’s strength. Working collaboratively with people from other backgrounds and disciplines yields many new solutions. It is true that many Swedes need to learn to balance their natural humility and equality by learning how to become individually distinctive. While every panelist was proud of their native roots and value as Nordics, they were challenged to think big and then to act to realize their dreams here in the U.S.

The panel concluded by discussing the most important question: Can Silicon Valley be replicated in Sweden, in Scandinavia? This ecosystem is unique and has been imitated but never duplicated elsewhere. Perhaps Sweden could apply these lessons and this model of entrepreneurial incubation to its native strengths, and find its solution in its own culture. While Sweden will not imitate Silicon Valley in high tech, maybe it would be in another field basic to their culture, such as social entrepreneurship.

Remarkable royalty
The royal family’s trip to visit entrepreneurs is particularly notable this year, for 2015 is the centennial celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair. In it, Sweden was represented with a beautiful pavilion displaying leadership in social, cultural, governmental and entrepreneurial prowess. One of the companies exhibited in the Swedish Pavilion was Ericsson, notable then for telephony — and even more notable today for its leadership in data storage and communications, with a lab now in Silicon Valley. Sweden had many noteworthy entrepreneurs then and even more today.

The polished expertise of the young royal couple was remarkable. They dazzled their visitors not with their royal bearing but with their common touch. Whether in the small congregation of admirers, famous companies and campuses, or during the evening of entrepreneurial insights, their genuine interest in the spirit and success of everyone they met was stunning. What a gracious, distinctive, remarkable couple represents Sweden’s future.

By Ted Olsson
San Francisco