Out of orbit

What’s in your recipe for an innovative business ecosystem? Clear goals and cross-boundary cooperation are part of the mix, according to our former Female Engineer of the Year prize winner.

When did your interest in engineering begin?

“I’ve had it since I was a child. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family; I’ve lived in Sweden and Switzerland, and I studied in the US and London, where I lived for 14 years. This has meant that I’ve always been curious and interested in learning new things.”

How do we spark an interest in engineering amongst young women who are making choices about their education?

“It has to start in school by encouraging an interest in engineering, not just amongst girls but amongst all children. They need to be able to play and experiment. Then both companies and the government need to invest in women and set clear, measurable goals for them. For the business sector it is important to attract all the available talent, regardless of gender, skin colour or religion. Diversity creates innovation.”

What role models did you have?

“To start with, my parents. But I think that there are a lot of role models among successful entrepreneurs, athletes and everyday heroes. If I were to give just two examples, they would be Anousheh Ansari, a successful entrepreneur from Iran and the first female astronaut to visit the International Space Station, and Swedish cross-country skier Charlotte Kalla.”

Where in the world do we find the best conditions for innovation?

“In the ‘borderlands’ – where you dare to try new approaches and work without boundaries between, for example, private and public industry, between different industries or across national borders.

“If you want to have an innovative climate, you have to decide to create an environment that is favourable to technological development and to set targets for the work. You also need to have a climate in which people are allowed to both succeed and fail.”

What is required to develop an innovation into a commercial product?

“It is essential that a clear target group wants the product or service; otherwise a developer that is ahead of the field needs to create the demand. Companies and society need to cooperate to reduce bureaucracy and remove any obstacles to commercialisation. Companies at the forefront of technology are often affected by legal restrictions. A Swedish example of this is the Swedish Act on Space Activities, which is almost 50 years old. It needs to be amended in order to allow manned space flights and high-tech industrial development”.

How will space tourism be developed?

“Space tourism is a high-tech, multi-billion dollar industry that will help to create an entirely new ecosystem. It is not just a matter of sending researchers out into space but of developing new products, services and experiences around this. It is estimated that a spaceport will provide 8,000 new jobs over 10 years. Sweden has the potential to become a leader, but competition is increasing, especially from the UK, where the government is spearheading work to make the country Europe’s biggest player in space tourism.

What does being Female Engineer of the Year mean to you?

“I’m incredibly proud; it’s a great honour and very encouraging. It is particularly pleasing that Saab is presenting the award, since the company is investing so much in research and it understands the importance of technology and innovative work.”


Fast Facts

Name: Karin Nilsdotter


Age: 39


Position: CEO and partner in Spaceport Sweden AB and co-founder of the newly established Space Travel Alliance. Named as Female Engineer of the Year 2014 by Saab.


Background: Studied maths and physics, has a Master of Science Degree in Business and Economics and an MBA. Directorships in Sweden and the US, founder of TEDxKiruna, previously worked for VisitSweden.


“The winner of Saab’s Female Engineer of the Year 2014 is a visionary with high-flying plans. She is passionate about technology and its potential, and she proves in her business activities that Swedish technology and innovation are leading the way. The winner clearly demonstrates that you can achieve your goals and fulfil your dreams if you just have the courage to pursue them. She is therefore an excellent role model for young women in the engineering profession.”