The innovation expert who leads by example

If it doesn’t work out on the first attempt, she finds a different, better way. Innovation expert Sofie Lindblom wants more girls to become master problem-solvers in the tech sector. Now she has been honoured as one of LiU’s two Alumni of the Year.

Sofie Lindblom in front of whiteboard Photo credit: Lena Katarina JohanssonIt’s raining in Stockholm, and Sofie Lindblom walks into her office on Olof Palme’s Street with an umbrella in her hand. This has been her workplace since the spring, as CEO for the innovation platform ideation360. As she gives us a tour of the premises we see hard cotton balls, Lego and other things you don’t normally find in offices.

“We help businesses and organisations find structures for taking advantage of ideas. Contributing to your organisation’s flow of ideas should be just as natural as posting a photo on Instagram.”

Daring to test new things has always come easily to Sofie. She grew up in Täby, a suburb of Stockholm, as the eldest of three siblings. The family travelled a lot, often to adventurous destinations – far from the convenient, child-friendly package tours.

“That has probably affected me. I want to keep seeing the world, and try to understand it.”

After senior secondary school she lived in the French Alps, working as a bartender, skiing and snowboarding. Then she travelled around in Australia in an old camper van, before she decided to apply for university. She chose industrial engineering and management, to avoid the nerdiness and get a good salary, but wasn’t accepted. So she quickly checked which programmes still had places available, and ended up in electronics design engineering at LiU. But it didn’t suit her at all – at first she just wanted to move back to Australia and throw her passport in the ocean.

“My confidence in maths was quite low after two gap years. Plus I hadn’t noticed that the programme was in Norrköping. I’d been looking forward to living in a student town!”
Luckily, student life in Norrköping turned out to be at least as good as in Linköping. And through a joint maths course, Sofie came across the programme in media technology and engineering. It was a much better fit, and she managed to transfer.

“The most important thing I learned during the programme was how to solve problems and not to be afraid of it. This has been extremely useful for me.”

Applied for a job at Spotify

Sofie Lindblom on her way out Photo credit: Lena Katarina JohanssonThe programme’s third year she studied in Singapore, where she met lots of highly motivated students, and returned home full of ambition. As she wanted a summer job that was related to her studies, she applied for an internship at Spotify – but was unsuccessful.

“So instead I applied to be a student ambassador. I worked hard and tested new ideas. Unfortunately the people who came to our events were almost exclusively guys, so I started up a hackathon called Diversify, where we said we wanted 50-50. I was convinced that the problem wasn’t the girls’ skills, it was the set-up. So we worked a lot with communication, and an inclusive tone of voice, and we succeeded!”

Diversify got a lot of exposure, and Sofie gathered the courage to ask her boss at Spotify if he could recommend her for an internship the following summer. She was interviewed by Rochelle King, Spotify’s vice president of data and insights.

“I was very nervous – as you should be. That’s when you know that you’re pushing yourself.”

Sofie Lindblom got the job. She became Rochelle King’s right hand, and learned a lot about leadership and building global teams. After the summer she got a part-time job in design operations, while continuing her studies, and until Christmas she was also a student ambassador.

“That was a bit stressful,” she says with a laugh.

During the spring she did her graduation project at Spotify, where she investigated what makes an organisation innovative. She lived in San Francisco for three months, interviewing people at companies such as Google, Apple and Netflix. After graduation this led to a new role as Spotify’s Global Innovation Manager.

“At Spotify we had lots of discussions about innovation. How to retain a start-up culture when you’re growing quickly. My role was to build the structure for our global innovation work. My portfolio contained about twenty initiatives, for instance hack weeks where the entire organisation got time off work to develop something they were passionate about.”

In the middle of all this, Sofie received an offer. The Innovation360 Group was starting a subsidiary and needed a CEO.

“I had no plans to change jobs, but I had always wanted to start my own business. Now I had the chance to do that, in the field I love more than anything: innovation.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, but if you’re adventurous…

Innovation360 consists of three companies that collaborate closely, to help organisations build up their innovative capacity. ideation360, the company where Sofie Lindblom is CEO and co-founder, gets involved in the final phase, when the organisation has set its targets, and plans to achieve them. They have developed an app that helps to structure and facilitate the process, where you can enter your ideas and react to other people’s.

More girls needed in the tech sector

Sofie is passionate about getting more girls to choose technology. She has got involved in the association Womengineer, and has held a TEDx talk titled “IT girls are the new it girls”.

“People have so many preconceptions about what an engineer is and does. I almost missed the engineering profession because I didn’t think it was for me. We have to broaden the image, so more girls get the chance to become master problem-solvers, and change the world. It’s important for society as well. We’re facing a very serious skills shortage.”

Now she is a role model herself, who has won a number of awards, most recently one of LiU’s two Alumni of the Year.

“It’s brilliant, I’m really proud! I think it’s courageous and cool of LiU to choose me, considering my rather different background and profile.”

Sofie Lindblom is a woman who wears many different hats. In a literal sense, as she loves to go out in the handmade hats that a friend produces, and figuratively, as CEO of a small start-up. She does everything from financial reports to sorting out bugs at night to giving presentations.

It’s still raining as she heads out for a quick walk, before getting up on stage at the Human Tech Mingle, where she will talk about innovation.

“I’m going to evangelise a little. Innovation is business-critical, and more and more businesses understand this. We have to get better at making use of our ideas. That’s how we’re going to find solutions to the big problems: clean water, climate change, education for everyone…”

Sofie Lindblom is ready to take the challenge.

A day with Sofie Lindblom

Sofie Lindblom writes

Lena Katarina Johansson

Sofie Lindblom with Lego

Lena Katarina Johansson

Sofie Lindblom in office discussion

Lena Katarina Johansson

Sofie Lindblom with an umbrella in the rain on Drottninggatan

Lena Katarina Johansson

Sofie Lindblom on the phone in a café

Lena Katarina Johansson

Sofie Lindblom on stage at the Human Tech Mingle

Lena Katarina Johansson

More about the Alumni of the Year award

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