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American consultancy is a magnet for Danish business community

Singularity University is the new kid on the consultancy block. A professor from Copenhagen Business School calls the self-proclaimed university a consultancy with practically religious inclinations, while Danske Bank and Egmont are among the institution’s many fans.
Founder of the consulting firm DARE2 Laila Pawlak is also faculty member at Singularity University in California and co-founder of SingularityU Copenhagen Chapter. Photo: Christian Als

Publiceret: 22.02.2017
Af Karen Witt Olsen mail

An abandoned and remodelled autobody repair shop in the outskirts of Copenhagen’s Østerbro district houses the consulting firm DARE2 and the innovation hub DARE2mansion.

Outside, a colourful unicorn has been toppled by the wind, but inside a fashionably distressed wall, large industrial windows, slightly shabby furniture and funky slogans reveal that entrepreneurs live here - and people who think like them.

Laila Pawlak is one of them.

“It’s always been about start-ups - and experiences and technology,” she says as she reflects back upon her career path, which has, among other things, taken her through Danfoss and Danfoss Universe amusement park before she founded the consulting firm DARE2 with her partner Kris Østergaard in 2008.

In 2013, she visited Singularity University for the first time for a six-day Executive Programme. And it felt like coming home.

“I found my ‘tribe’. Suddenly, everything that Kris and I had thought and spoken about made sense. We immediately knew that technology would change everything. And that we would empower people to make a difference.”

See also: Danish leaders wild about Singularity University

The desire for difference

For Laila Pawlak, technology is only interesting if it is turned into value and improves everyday life for people, e.g. by freeing up time or other resources.

She explains that when she returned from California, she lacked an “SU community” where she could talk to like-minded people, share her new knowledge with others and pass on her experiences at Singularity University.

This was the beginning of what is today the SingularityU Copenhagen Chapter. A non-profit network founded together with five other SU alumni whose initiatives include hosting 10 so-called salons per year.

These are free, three-hour mini-conferences with talks about e.g. biotech and subsequent debate and networking for everyone from students and business leaders to entrepreneurs and ordinary employees.

SingularityU Copenhagen Chapter was among the first of its kind, and today there are 55 networks in various cities across the globe. Denmark is, on the whole, quite enthusiastic about Singularity

See also: Denmark to challenge Silicon Valley

A new mindset

The Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) and the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) together hosted the conference “Driving Technology” with a talk by one of the SU founders, while Google held “Digital Frontrunners” with four speakers from SU.

The SIRI Commission led by Ida Auken (Social Liberal Party) is highly inspired by SU and, most recently, Singularity University’s founder and current CEO Rob Nail spoke at the first meeting of the Danish government’s Disruption Council.

Large Danish companies and organisations have sent their top leaders to SU’s Executive Programme.

At Danske Bank, much of the management has been sent to California. Global Leader of the bank’s Private Wealth Management Marlene Nørgaard explains that thanks to her time at SU, she is now helping to encourage Danske Bank’s 19,000 employees to think new and prepare for a future that is already here.

“Now we know that technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality as well as 3D printing will change the world in a decisive way and much more quickly than we could have imagined,” she says.

Egmont’s group management and other top employees have also been highly preoccupied by disruption for a number of years. In January, SU’s previous vice president David Roberts held a talk for 70 of the group’s directors and key employees.

“We get a look at ourselves from the outside and the chance to disseminate knowledge from one of the world’s leading disruption experts. Meanwhile, we take advantage of the opportunity to find inspiration with which we can challenge and educate ourselves,” says Egmont’s Director of HR Anne-Christine Ahrenkiel.

See also: Newpresident to take robotics comapny to new heights

Enthusiasm vs. borrowed university-plumes

The previous SU students that DIBusiness has spoken to are generally enthusiastic. They describe the place as an enormous source of inspiration that has opened their eyes to the future and technologies in a way they have never experienced before. And they unanimously recommend that others attend.

Others remain more critical. Among those is professor Jan Damsgaard from Copenhagen Business School (CBS). He is the head of the department of IT Management, digital mastermind and author of the book The Digital Transition.

The professor’s critique is that SU assumes a scientific disguise that it does not have the proper accreditation for.

“Singularity University is not a university and doesn’t have the merits required to have a faculty. Their results aren’t research-based and therefore are not scientific,” he says.

He explains that even though certain technologies such as computer chips, solar panels and 3D printing develop exponentially, you cannot simply apply this mathematical formula to the rest of society.

“Mathematical equations do not represent the way in which the whole world acts,” he says.

Jan Damsgaard does have many positive things to say about the way in which SU draws attention to the radical changes that e.g. digitalisation of society in general and the corporate world in particular are facing. As long as one remembers that this is not a university.

“Singularity University is a very skilled consultancy firm with practically religious inclinations. When people come home from California, they’ve seen the light,” he says.

Possibility for a SU Summit in Denmark

On the couch at DARE2mansion in outer Østerbro, Laila Pawlak sighs a bit when presented with Jan Damsgaard’s critique. She is a member of Singularity University’s faculty herself and gives lectures in California and at events around the world.

She finds the discussion about the name “university” less relevant. She does understand, however, why SU alumni are enthusiastic.

“We’re a bit like the entrepreneurs. We’re passionate and want to make a difference - very un-Danish, I know. But we’re actually all so dedicated to the cause that we’re willing to work for free, like we do with the salons at SingularityU Copenhagen Chapter. Imagine if Danish university students were as enthusiastic about their education as SU alumni are.

If some people are tired of hearing the term “disruption,” Laila Pawlak can understand that. For her, it does not matter whether we call the development disruption, Industry 4.0, digitalisation or something else entirely.

“The main thing is to put technology and possibilities on the agenda and get the dialogue going. This is what has happened in Denmark in recent years,” she says.

She experiences widespread support from across businesses, educational institutes, organisations and individuals, which amounts to a collective “pressure” that has now also reached the political level.

So much so that she dares wager that there will be an SU summit in Copenhagen at the end of 2017. And perhaps even a Singularity University representation - in which case it would be one of the first physical establishments outside California.

“We’re working hard to bring Singularity University closer to Denmark. The possibility to make technology useful for people and use it to make the world a better place is our goal,” says Laila Pawlak. 

FACTS
Singularity University
Think tank/ consulting firm
Founded in 2008
Headquartered at NASA’s area in Silicon Valley, USA
Five original corporate sponsors including Google and NASA
Mission: To teach and inspire leaders to use exponential technologies to address humanity’s greatest challenges
Offer teaching in e.g. artificial intelligence, robots, blockchain and biotechnology
www.su.org

SingularityU Copenhagen Chapter
Founded in 2015 by Laila Pawlak and Anders Hvid, among others.
Is a Danish initiative that gathers Danish SU alumni and ensures local anchoring and ongoing dissemination of SU’s mindset and ideas. Hosts around 10 salons per year consisting of three hours of inspiration and networking that are free and open to all.
www.singularityucopenhagen.com

Digitalisation
The Confederation of Danish Industry has launched an extensive action plan that is meant to turn Danish companies into digital beacons.
Among the initiatives is a digital mentor corps. The mentors will be business leaders with experience with digitalisation and will be able to offer feedback and new knowledge to other companies who are not as far along in the process.
If you would like to know more about the Confederation of Danish Industry’s Digitalisation Action Plan, please contact Head of the Danish ICT and Electronics Federation Christian Hannibal at 3377 3349 or chhndi.dk
See more at www.di.dk/digitalisering

 

Singularity University is a very skilled consultancy firm with practically religious inclinations. When people come home from California, they’ve seen the light.
PROFESSOR JAN DAMSGAARD FROM COPENHAGEN BUSINESS SCHOOL (CBS)
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PUBLISHED: 2/22/2017 LAST MODIFIED: 3/7/2017