In 2013, a group of entrepreneurs, investors, evangelists, and enthusiasts gathered at the Hilton Slussen in Stockholm and voted to create the hashtag #SthlmTech to describe the coalescing of Stockholm’s innovation ecosystem around a collection of social networks and public and private organizations and infrastructures that professed to facilitate the creation of innovative businesses by entrepreneurs. In so doing, they joined a global network of ecosystems, including Silicon Valley, London, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and hundreds more, that have responded to calls for innovation with support for entrepreneurship and venture capitalism. With more billion-dollar unicorn startups per capita than anywhere but Silicon Valley, SthlmTech has gained an international reputation as a unicorn factory and as one of the most innovative places on Earth. SthlmTech is perceived as a neutral clockwork of experts, infrastructures, and organizations that facilitate “innovation” for positive social change. I spent twelve months conducting anthropological fieldwork in SthlmTech that consisted of participant-observation, collecting archival materials, and conducting interviews with startup founders, employees, investors, evangelists, ecosystem executives, state employees and bureaucrats, and other stakeholders. I asked, “What is innovation?” and found that ambiguity in the concept was the key to understanding growing concerns about the promises of innovation promoted by SthlmTech.

I propose that innovation ecosystems are not neutral platforms but rather curricular systems that via innovation culture generate standardized and optimized forms of innovation that accelerate and escalate venture capitalist forms of entrepreneurship—disarticulating and distributing VCs’ values and logics beyond their purpose. Innovation culture takes advantage of the ambiguity in the concept of innovation to co-opt the aspirations of entrepreneurs to generate positive change and via hype, education, and the guidance of experts redirect them toward other aims. I propose that innovation culture must be identified and abandoned in order to disrupt our understanding of innovation for more flexible, diverse, collaborative, and impactful approaches to social change.


Angela (she/her) is an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University with a PhD in anthropology from Binghamton University. She has additionally worked as an applied anthropologist in design, branding, and information technologies since 2008—both within organizations and as a freelancer. Broadly speaking, her work sits at the intersection of business and design anthropology and science and technology studies and focuses on how ambitions for better futures by states, citizens and entrepreneurs are co-opted and reformed by innovation culture and its infrastructures. She's conducted research in Stockholm Sweden’s startup and innovation ecosystem (#SthlmTech) and will be starting research among entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas in 2021. She is also the web producer for the Committee for the Anthropology of Science Technology and Computing (CASTAC) in the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association and a leader for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Apply Club in the Applied Anthropology Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists.