The 2012 research bill identifies four focus areas for specific investments (with size of the investments as well as their percentage of total GBAORD in parenthesis):
• Life sciences: especially the new national center for life science research SciLifeLab and targeted funding for infections and antibiotics, ageing and health, treatment studies, clinic studies and drug development (€52m, 1.75%)
• Strengthened basic funding for universities and other higher education institutions, generally through the base grants for research and doctoral training as well as through two specific funding programs, administered by the Research Council, for the recruitment of internationally prominent researchers to Swedish universities and for young researchers (€45m, 1.52%)
• Research facilities: the SciLifeLab facility (see above) and the European Spallation Source and MAX IV facilities under construction in Lund (total size of investments not yet clear; several hundred m€ envisioned but from a variety of sources including existing appropriations to e.g. the Swedish Research Council as well as line items in future governmental budgets)
• Research results to lead to new products and services (no sum available; composite of several existing and future programs within different agencies)
Researcher-initiated research of high quality at universities and other higher education institutions will be strengthened to create better conditions for pioneering research that has the potential of leading to breakthroughs. The government is thus focusing on areas with strong research, such as life sciences.
Generally, as noted in earlier sections, the role of the ministry in setting national research priorities is somewhat limited; governance of the Swedish public R&D system is still rather decentralized and a great degree of influence over priority setting still lies with the universities. The actual distribution of research funding on different areas, although it is not the result of policy initiatives but rather determined by path dependence and a composite crystallization of priorities on lower levels in the governance system, does of course say something about the default priorities of Swedish public R&D. According to these figures, medicine is the most prioritized area (consuming 31.4% of the total research budget of the academic sector in Sweden), followed by engineering sciences (23.4%), natural sciences (18.1%), social sciences (14.5%), humanities (6.9%), and forestry/agricultural sciences (3.6%). (The categories are the official statistical categories of Swedish government, developed by Statistics Sweden)
The policy instruments geared towards these areas include the creation of new international competitive research environments where industry, higher education institutions, public authorities, and research institutes are encouraged to collaborate.
The main actors in the Swedish support system for innovative starts-ups and entrepreneurship are: the Innovation Bridge, VINNOVA, the Industrial Fund, the University holding companies, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and ALMI Business Partner (Trendchart, 2008). On January 1st 2013, Innovationsbron AB and Almi Företagspartner AB merged into one organisation, a change that is expected to create a more effective organisation providing information and financial support for improving innovation capacities in national and regional SMEs, but whose effects still are to early to evaluate.
These actors provide venture capital and advice, at different stages in the innovation process, and provide incubator functions (the Innovation Bridge). Examples of programmes launched by these agencies include: “VINN Verification”, offering the possibility to conduct a more comprehensive commercial and technical verification and validation of research results with commercial potential. The programme is jointly run by VINNOVA and the Innovation Bridge. “VINN NU” is a competition also organised by VINNOVA with the aim to make it easier for new R&D based firms to prepare and clarify commercially interesting projects at an early stage so that they can apply for further funding.
VINNOVA’s programme “Research & Grow”, launched in 2005, aims at stimulating greater R&D investment in R&D performing firms and also attracting R&D-performing firms from abroad. This programme is targeting SMEs, and aims at funding their needs-driven R&D projects. The background is that 80% of private R&D is performed by large companies while 98% of all Swedish companies are SMEs. This calls for Route 2 policies to specifically target SMEs.
In Sweden, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth is responsible for supporting entrepreneurship, start-ups and the development of SMEs. The agency has a wide range of measures at its disposal, which target entrepreneurship and SMEs, whereof only a few of them explicitly target firms that do not yet perform R&D. One example of this is the “Product Development in Small Companies” programme which offers direct support to business R&D through grants and loans (Trendchart, 2008).
Policy instruments in place favouring attracting R&D-performing firms from abroad mainly focus on keeping a strong performance in terms of knowledge and innovation creation. The main policy instruments are the centre of excellence programmes and the support of strong regional innovation milieus. Since 2005, a number of centres of excellence have been implemented, e.g. the so-called “VINN Excellence” programme, “Berzelii Centres”, “Institute Excellence Centres” programme and “Industry Excellence” programme. Common for these programmes is the aim to build bridges between academia and industry by creating excellent academic research environments in which industrial companies actively participate. The “Linnaeus Grant”, jointly announced by the VR and FORMAS in 2005, is supporting strong basic-research environments at universities. The Strategic Research Areas grants, introduced in the 2008 research bill, has a similar purpose but is targeted to 20 specific areas of research. The 2012 research bill identified another several specifically important areas that will be given increased financial support in the coming years.
The Science for Life Laboratory, inaugurated on January 1, 2013 and one of four major focus areas in the 2012 research bill, is aimed at integrating academic and private R&D efforts in the area of life sciences, broadly defined, and can be seen as a major effort to strengthen the Swedish life science sector across academy-industry boundaries.