It’s a rainy Friday morning when I knock on Sofia Steinwall’s door, who calls me up to the bright living room in the townhouse on northern Lidingö. In her arms lays her 3 weeks old son August. Sofia has just joined the board of Sting Bioeconomy and will contribute with both experience in sustainability and innovation as well as a genuine love for entrepreneurship.
Sofia is the head of Innovation and Concept development at the Swedish retailer franchise ICA, but in many ways, entrepreneurship in Värmland is where she has her roots. Sofia grew up in Forshaga and embarked on her academic journey in the one-year Innovation program at KU. She says “I’m interested in business ideas and creativity and things like that, and I’ve probably always been since childhood!”. Through the program, she came into contact with Karlstad-based Inova and the world of incubators. At the same time, she took on the role of project manager at the organization Drivhuset and coached other students in entrepreneurship, she continues “I learned a lot there, and it was just so much fun!”.
Inspired by the then already established Entreprenörsdagen (Entrepreneurship Day) in Gothenburg, she founded Entreprenörsdagen in Karlstad. “We launched it at Karlstad University. I was responsible for it and brought many inspiring speakers and partner companies to the event, it was a real success!” When it was time to move from Värmland, Sofia decided to relocate to Gothenburg. Parallel with her studies at the Economics program with a marketing focus at the Business School of Gothenburg, she then had the opportunity to manage the larger Entreprenörsdagen there as well. “I’ve always been quite goal-oriented, so alongside my studies, I did a lot of other things as well. Studying was not the important thing for me, it was everything else – to build relationships and develop skills through assignments and responsibilities. It was worth its weight in gold! Also, to be around people who were incredibly supportive!”
After her studies, Sofia knew that she wanted to enter a trainee program. She also knew that branding and communication were the areas she wanted to focus on in her work. At the time, there were new trainee positions opening up at ICA, and after an application, she managed to secure a place. When Sofia talks about her time as a trainee, she is grateful and nostalgic. She explains, “It was absolutely fantastic, I was overjoyed! It was a 14-months long trainee program and we had the chance to be everywhere. And that’s how it ended up like it did. I’m still at ICA, I still enjoy it and on this journey, I have been taking on several different roles!” Sofia has always liked leading and coaching people, and after three or four years she was offered a managerial role. Since then, she has overseen both branding, communications and concept, as well as taking something from an idea to the market.
Just in time for Sofia’s return from her parental leave, after giving birth to her first son, a new role emerged that offered an exciting new step for her – Head of Innovation in the Context of Sustainability and Health. “That’s exactly what gets me going! Food and products of the future. To have insight into all the steps of the food-chain and take things from start to finish, I like that.” Sofia feels that the role still is both exciting and meaningful. Additionally, she has through this role had the opportunity to encounter many companies that work in different ways for a better planet and future.
“It feels a bit like closing the circle, I started by working with startups at Karlstad University, and now I’m doing it again but within ICA. It has been a huge learning journey for me! We need a lot of expertise to create sustainable food systems. It has been mine and my team’s great driving force!”
As Sofia reflects on joining the board of Sting Bioeconomy, she says, “I think my profile matches Sting Bioeconomy very well. And it’s even more fun since it offers an opportunity to give back to and meet people I’ve worked with before, who have been very supportive earlier in my career. Again, we are coming full circle!” Taking on this role, she is both curious, excited and humble.
“It’s not just about contributing with my knowledge, I will also learn a lot. The companies Sting Bioeconomy works with are super exciting, and often they work in areas that I see I can learn much more about. /…/ At the same time, I can offer guidance on branding, communication, and strategy, where I have a lot of experience. How to think ahead, within the framework of sustainability, which is a quite complex area to work in.”
Sting Bioeconomy’s global focus is also something that has attracted Sofia to take on the board assignment. “It’s exciting to get an insight into it because I don’t have much experience there. I work for a very Swedish company.” Sofia takes Melker of Sweden as an example. She says that it’s fun to see how the success the company has had in Canada, really shows how we in Sweden and Värmland are good at sustainable materials and have found something we can invest in and build on internationally. “And the companies are not supported to the point of being carried, but rather Sting Bioeconomy makes a point at being there, we coach! The drive will and must inherently come from the companies, I think that is the right approach and I especially liked that with Sting Bioeconomy!”
She is also pleased that the Region sees the value in, and invests in sustainability. “They (Värmland Region) prioritize this, and it feels extra meaningful to come back then.” For Sofia, sustainability is about everyone playing their part – politics and policy as well as individual actions in everyday life must be carried out with a long-term perspective. “You actually have to learn, and it’s not that easy. So I think that sustainability is very much about knowledge. /…/ Therefore, all companies – large and small – have a responsibility to have a sustainability focus and to be transparent on what they do and why they do it.”
Sofia lives with her husband and their two sons August and Walter on Lidingö in the Stockholm archipelago. A place where they have the luxury of being able to live close to nature whilst also being able to easily get into town. The family also has a summer house 20 km north of Karlstad, where they spend a lot of time. “We have both friends and family there, and it really is our favorite place. It’s always great to come home!” Sofia emphasizes.
“I think Värmland is exciting because it’s a bit like a country within a country. And I notice that even more clearly when I live here (in Stockholm). There is an enormous pride that I feel as a “Värmlander”. We have something unique where both the forest and the business community play a major role. For example, there are so many companies that support each other. I really like it! There’s a big heart there, that I’m very happy to be a part of.”
Sports also play an important role in the family. Sofia played both handball and football in Forshaga in her younger years, and the sports interest runs in the family. Sofia’s father was an elite athlete, and football, skiing, and hockey often streamed on the television in the living room at home. “My oldest son Walter is a huge Färjestad fan. And I’ve already bought a Färjestad shirt for August!” says Sofia with a content laugh. She also borrows her view on leadership from the world of sports. “It’s one thing to be a manager and quite another to be a leader, I really believe in the idea of coaching leadership.” As a board member, Sofia wants to have the same approach, both in dialogue with the board and potential dialogues with companies.
“Entrepreneurs are my idols really. In addition to sports stars, it’s them! I am really passionate about entrepreneurship. It is so important in Sweden to have more companies and entrepreneurs and to be able to support them,” says Sofia. “I really respect and look up to those who take the step and start companies, and that is probably the biggest reason why I wanted to take on this assignment. They need all the support they can get!”
“I dream a bit myself of starting a company, but haven’t gotten the ball rolling,” Sofia says after a while, with something dreamy in her eyes and a wry smile. “Sometime maybe, but right now I’m having a little too much fun at ICA,” she concludes. We are really happy to have her on the board and look forward to benefiting from her long and valuable experience and drive.