The past week has been a big week for Colorado’s innovation community, as delegates from Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology Innovation Office visited Boulder to begin talks for future collaborations with not only CU Boulder, but the Front Range’s premier research labs.
Similar to CU Boulder's innovation ecosystem, KTH Innovation Office coaches and helps undergraduate and graduate students translate tech ideas into applicable research and creative startups. Up to 400 ideas are processed through this office each school year. The business ideas reflect the KTH strength areas of technology being cleantech, material science, biotechnology, electronics and health. A KTH spinoff that has gotten attention lately is Renewcell. Founded in 2012 by KTH researchers, their technology recycles textile waste into a high-quality material called Circulose. In 2020, H&M released its first collection made out of Circulose and is now commercially sold in other brands including Levi's.
Representatives scouted the Boulder area this month to prepare for the expansion of their internationalization program, Brighter. Brighter aims to support early startups in their international expansion and enable business, partnerships and investment opportunities. The program launched 10 years ago and has to date been focusing on prominent innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston, Munich, Tokyo and London. KTH has identified Boulder, Colorado as an emerging hotspot to expand the program to.
CU Boulder's Innovation Ecosystem Tour
Their day at CU Boulder began with a one-on-one conversation with the campus’s leading innovation heads to learn more about what each campus offers for students. The time was spent comparing notes and discussing how to both campuses support students in all stages of entrepreneurship. Through programs like I-Corps, New Venture Challenge and Catalyze CU, CU Boulder is able to connect the campus with top business minds and entrepreneurs to transform inspiration into market-ready products. With KTH's extensive history turning tech stars into business partners, both institutions note future improvements from a partnership.
“One of the biggest possibilities of partnering with KTH is the opportunity of spurring further innovation within CU Boulder’s own programs,” said Chris Gustavson, director of CU Boulder’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. “We all have the same challenges, aspirations and needs. We can definitely learn from each other.”
Delegates then toured Idea Forge to learn more about CU Boulder’s in-person support through workshops, building stations, woodworking spaces and more. Idea Forge focuses on design and innovation through hands-on experiments where students can imagine, design, create and test products and solutions. The campus visitors noted lacking multi-disciplinary come-one-come-all spaces that Idea Forge offers, opening up new conversations in different levels of support for students.
"We have been looking for more creative ways to enable our students to build and improve on our own campus—an environment for creative thinking like CU Boulder has," said Lisa Erickson, director of KTH Innovation.
The trio then met for lunch with Venture Partners at CU Boulder, the university's commercialization arm, to further discuss how to best support university spinouts, both in the United States and abroad. Renowned spinouts from KTH Innovation include music-streaming app Spotify and Furhat Robotics, which recently acquired Boulder-based Misty Robotics. In 2021, Spotify founder Daniel Ek and KTH professor Mathias Uhlen recently made a substantial donation to KTH Innovation to support the next generation of founders, launching the KTH Innovation Award. This “give back” mentality is prominent in Boulder's innovation ecosystem, making Boulder an attractive place to grow the next generation of university-based companies. Thus, delegates look to send up-and-coming KTH founders to Colorado as a gateway for them to enter the US market.
KTH and CU Boulder will continue discussions towards an official collaboration between the two institutions later this year. During their visit, KTH also met with the Rocky Mountain Institute, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to better understand the strength of research and innovation in Colorado.
This visit was coordinated by Venture Partners and KTH alumni in Boulder.