The artist Ai Weiwei and CEO of Brilliant Minds standing together in front of the art piece Arch in Stockholm
Photo: Jean Lapin

What brings the world’s brilliant minds to Stockholm?

There's something in the sauce in Stockholm, and it’s not much of a secret. The city has long been recognised worldwide as a creative hub, admired as the birthplace of trailblazing behemoths from ABBA to Spotify.

An innate flair for creativity is central to Stockholm's success, believes entrepreneur Ash Pournouri, who among other ventures was the former manager of Avicii and founded Stockholm-based management and bookings company At Night. It's the fuel that has turned the relatively small capital into a global contender, second only to Silicon Valley in terms of unicorns per capita.

"Creativity seems to be one of the main ingredients for achieving global supremacy, whether that be in music, fashion, business, or industrial and technological innovation - and Swedes are the world's best at just that," says Pournouri.

While Swedes might be among the world's top creatives, they're not always the best at shouting about their achievements. Humility is a distinctly Swedish trait, and sometimes they need a little push to spread the word of their wins.

The Brilliant Minds conference, first hosted in Stockholm in 2015, set out to raise the city's profile as a creative hub. Co-founded by Pournouri and Spotify founder Daniel Ek, the two-day leadership summit has since drawn the world's most influential leaders and thought leaders to Sweden's capital. Past speakers have included President Barack Obama, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus.

"I feel proud that one of the things Brilliant Minds has accomplished is that a lot of world leaders and massively influential people now have a relationship to Sweden,” says Pournouri.

This newfound awareness benefits everyone, he adds. Creativity is one skill that even the smartest tech can’t emulate. Stockholm’s aptitude for creative thinking gives the city a unique edge. It challenges people to find new solutions and create opportunities out of problems. It’s these qualities that define the local innovation ecosystem’s mentality and that lie behind its many tech success stories.

Gathering the world’s luminaries in a creative hotspot like Stockholm acts as a springboard for further innovation, says Pournouri. “Rather than waiting for the ideas to be exported as already mature successes, the world would benefit from starting to pay attention at ground level and establish some sort of presence here early.”

Stockholm makes sense

In the seven years since its founding (a two-year pause during the pandemic aside), Brilliant Minds has become one of the year's hottest - and most exclusive - tickets. It's an arena to discuss and seek solutions to today's most significant issues in a city that shares its mission of generating positive impact.

Change is the fitting theme of this year's event, which will see speakers including contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, activist Malala Yousafzai and Northvolt founder Peter Carlsson take to the stage.

Big names draw attention, but emerging thinkers are just as integral to the Brilliant Minds community. Founded in 2018, the Brilliant Minds Foundation supports founders with transformative ideas that make the world more sustainable, creative and inclusive - goals inspired by Swedish values and which are the bedrock of the Stockholm mindset.

While Pournouri has now stepped down from the Brilliant Minds board (in a move planned from the start and that felt right after securing Obama as a speaker in 2019), he remains confident in the organization and new CEO's ability to continue bringing his and Ek’s original vision to life. That is, by assembling a unique and diverse set of pioneers we accelerate the speed at which change and positive impact can happen across the world.

The core gathering still takes place in Stockholm each year - and it always will, says Pournouri. The event and the city have evolved together and are more closely aligned in their vision and values than ever. Stockholm is as prolifically creative today as it ever has been, and the natural home to a catalytic event like Brilliant Minds.

"We've had offers since the third year to do it in every corner of the world, but we pushed through a lot of obstacles to set Brilliant Minds in Sweden and get the world to come here. The conference was and still is very much about Sweden, so it's safe to say that it will always make sense to host it here."