New Year, New Projects & New People: Meet Our New COO Marie Louise Gørvild
A new year at Digital Hub Denmark means new projects and new people joining. Marie Louise Gørvild will be joining us in January as COO with a special focus on international relations and the new delegation centre, we are opening this spring. We met her in this welcoming interview.
Welcome to Digital Hub Denmark - What made you join us? Thank you, I’m excited to begin and look forward to the work! Going from a life as self-employed, entrepreneur, and former community organiser to a public organisation could sound like a bit of a jump. For me, it's more of a return to where I started my career. Going into this new role has made me think back and revisit my first time in public government in San Francisco and in the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Palo Alto. And It reminded me of valuable lessons and inspirations that have shaped me as a professional - and as a person, too.
What are these lessons that you bring to Digital Hub Denmark? I learned to respect the concept ‘public duty’ a lot during my time at the Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom’s press office. It was my first job out of university, and my first job in the US that I had moved to during the summer of 2008. I had landed in a (part of the) country highly energised by Barack Obama’s election campaign and ideas for the US societies. I was smitten by the energy and decided to stay there. When Obama was elected three months into my move, I relocated from the East Coast to the West Coast and landed in San Francisco. Only to do a new discovery: The town of inspiration, innovation, great talent, ideas and an incredible entrepreneurial spirit introduced me to the world of tech. And I never left! However, the irony of my moving to the epicentre for tech startups was that I didn’t land on the startup side of the fence. I landed in public government. And boy, did I luck out.
In the Mayor’s office, I met the most inspiring, savvy, talented and fast-paced colleagues I have had. Each and every one of the staffers there could easily have ventured into the buzzling corporate tech scene right outside the door with higher salaries and more glam. So why didn’t they? They were smitten by public duty, by the idea of serving citizens and building for public good. They taught me the power of setting political missions, working with visions, and lifting entire communities. Work that was further tested at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s office in Palo Alto, that was my first meeting with the incredible Danish startup scene.
Since my work and experience in California, I have tried my best to resemble the energy, dedication, vision, and openness that I met there among startups, investors, elected politicians, and public servants.
What did you bring with you from your time in the US? Five years in San Francisco and the Valley change you forever. No doubt. The area’s unique mix of entrepreneurial forces, bright talent, openness, venture spirit and innovation appetite was a huge inspiration - and frankly felt like a personal liberation at the time. Here was a place where I was challenged to a maximum - and I loved it. But it is actually something else I want to highlight as a lesson, I have come to think a lot about over the past years since I returned to Denmark: The notion of how the public government can and should play an important role in the world of emerging technologies. Working in San Francisco was the first introduction to what the American-Italian economist Marianna Mazzucato would call mission-oriented thinking. To Mazzucato, the epitome of the mission-oriented concept was the Apollo Program, the space program designed to land Americans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. Between 1960 and 1972, the US government spent $26bn to achieve precisely that. More than 300 different projects contributed, not only in aeronautics but in areas such as nutrition, textiles, electronics, and medicine, resulting in 1,800 spinoff products, from freeze-dried food to cooling suits, spring tyres, and digital fly-by-wire flight control systems used in commercial airplanes.
In 2004, San Francisco announced its first climate action plan. A feisty plan with a goal of becoming the nation’s green hotspot, it launched ambitions of reducing emissions by 20% before 2012, which was followed by the US’s first plastic bag ban (2006), mandatory recycling (2009), and city wide law that all new buildings should be built sustainably (2010). The city and county’s tech scene was encouraged to take part as the city funded new technologies to realise the transformation. All of which released innovation and ideas from the area’s bright minds and tech scene - including turning food waste from local restaurants into biodiesel. SF met its goal - and above- with a 28.5 % reduction in 2012.
The public sector can play a huge role in not just investing but also igniting missions in innovation and tech ecosystems, and I think a lot about how we best unlock this role by looking at cases locally and abroad, and understanding better how to work with mission-oriented projects. Over the past years, I have spent my time as a community organiser in the Danish tech scene, as CEO of Techfestival. This has given me a big exposure to the tech scene here, and I look forward to continuing the many conversations and getting more input as to how the public sector can best support and challenge the tech scene.
Why did you move back? I really have no good answer to that question (!). And I should, because every winter I ask myself why I’m not in SF enjoying the mild and light California winter. Jokes aside, there was a lot of stuff happening in Copenhagen - the city grew fast in the 10s and suddenly had an international outlook and felt full of opportunities. And it felt right to go back and contribute to this community that I admire for so many things. I find that Copenhagen has a lot of what I look for in life: work-life balance, welfare system, equality, culture, easy access to Europe, progressive mindset, and a coherency as a society unlike the growing divide, I felt in the States.
What was it like returning to Denmark? Whereas I knew what I left in California, I didn’t know exactly what I was coming back to. But it was such a positive meeting with the startup and innovation scene. It was like there was a confidence and appetite in the startup scene that has only grown since. The community was also thriving with meetups, international talent and initiatives such as CPHFTW. I have been a part of this scene since my return, first at the sustainability project Sustainia, the local TEDx chapter and for the last 3,5 years as CEO of Techfestival; a festival that ignited a conversation about the societal impacts of emerging technologies. An important conversation and project that raised awareness of the startups' role in societies. So to sum it up; the intersection of tech and society keeps being a focal point for me.
What are you most excited about in your new role? In Denmark, we have a lot of good stories to share with the world: A growing and confident startup scene; strong hubs such as fintech, edtech, createach, proptech; a leading position in digitalisation and e-governance; work-life balance; and much more. Therefore, I’m looking forward to working with the team on opening a new delegation centre this spring, so internationals get one-stop, when they want to connect with the talent, startups, research hubs, and frontrunners in e-governance, AI, and local tech hubs.
I’m also excited to join a mission and team that are dedicated to support the startup and tech scene that has inspired me so much over the years. And I look forward to giving back as much as I can. The work of supporting the ecosystem, attracting talent, and connecting the dots is a humbling and exciting task.
How do you spend your days besides work? I have had great fun over the past years with hosting talks and conversations like the Heartland stage and the series Between Generations. You can surely find me winter swimming in the dark winter months - something I produced a podcast about recently, I also serve as a member of TechDK Commissionchaired by Stine Bosse, where my fellow members and I publish tech recommendations. Unconventionally for a Dane, I haven’t had a bike for a long time - but walk everywhere instead. And I can highly recommend it - a good break during busy days where I get to see the sky, city life and reflect about big and small.
Marie Louise Gørvild joined Digital Hub Denmark on January 7th, 2021. You can catch her at email@example.com