Friday, 8 April, 2016
Sofie Allert is 25 years old, born and raised in Skövde, daughter of a preschool teacher and a carpenter. With that description, she could be a very ordinary young woman. It’s just that Sofie is the CEO of Swedish Algae Factory and has set out to change the world, and she started that journey at Chalmers Ventures.
Well, to be perfectly honest, it started in high school when she chose the natural sciences program and quickly understood that she had a talent for those subjects. A surprise to her parents who thought she would become a writer, and where overwhelmed when she started bringing home great grades. Sofie says she knew after one year of high school that she wanted to become an engineer. She saw it as the way to try new things and invent tomorrows technology. So she left Skövde for Chalmers in Gothenburg and started her studies in biotechnology, only to realise that the amount of patience that the long lab sessions required was not really what she wanted to spend her time on.
- I spoke to a lot of students who had studied at Chalmers school of entrepreneurship and got a very good impression of what I would learn there, and it would allow me to focus on what I really wanted to do; taking products that can solve societal problems to the market, says Sofie.
So she applied, got accepted, and when time came to choose a project to work with in the Encubation process (then called Encubator) she was already clear on what she wanted to do.
- I was doing my Bachelor thesis on how to produce biofuel from algae one year before I met Angela Wulff, who had discovered algae that would withstand both the cold temperature and darkness of the Nordic countries. I was so excited that I convinced Angela to bring the idea to Encubator and let me start working on a business around it, says Sofie, smiling at the memory.
Swedish Algae Factory has developed a new kind of algae cultivation and wastewater treatment system. After harvesting the algae, the silica frustule is removed for further use in e.g solar cells and thermal insulation and the organic algae biomass is separated into an oil and a nutrient rich fraction. The oil can later be used as a substitute to fossil crude oil.
Sofie in Almedalen
She made a long term commitment to Swedish Algae Factory, and is still planning to stay with the company until it’s up and running with factories and all. The team now consists of herself and three full-time employees. She is eager to point out that the team is what makes it all happen, four different personalities creating a balance between her own impatience and others more critical thinking. They also help take a lot of the burden off the young CEO’s shoulders.
- In the beginning I was working, or thinking about work, almost 24/7. I Identified myself with my role in the company and couldn’t really keep it separate from my own person. But I have really learned to take it a bit more easy and set apart more time off from work.
The time off she chooses to spend with her friends, the people that has seen another side of the driven and ambitious entrepreneur. Calm and caring, but also absent-minded and clumsy are words that they would use to describe Sofie. The one that scared her parents by wandering off and getting lost while being caught up with her own thoughts.
- My friends are constantly pulling my arm to save me from being run over by a tram, laughs Sofie.
But all jokes aside, she is not the extrovert one might think when reading about her as one of Veckans affärers ”Super talents of the year” or the winner of Niklas Zennströms Green mentor award. When I ask her personal questions, she often turns the conversation into company matters. Not to avoid being personal, but just because she feel much more passion for her cause rather than her own fame.
"I believe it is important to try to be a positive role model being a woman in a tech-heavy industry"
- I never choose the spotlight unless it’s an event when I am supposed to speak or something. I do however try to participate in events because I believe it is important to try to be a positive role model being a woman in a tech-heavy industry. We need to be out there, showing young girls that they can take this road and not be intimidated by traditions.
To be mentored by Niklas Zennström is of course a dream for many entrepreneurs but Sofie tend to seek advice from as many different angles as possible, whether it’s from her mom who refers to her work as ”an environment company” or Chalmers Ventures latest business coach Johan Sköld. She admit to learning the most from people who have built a company themselves, those who have also seen the road ahead suddenly tangle into a knot and tell her how to take a step back and make smart decisions.
- There simply is no management book that can be applied to the journey of an early-stage venture, says Sofie, raising her eyebrows ironically.
Niklas Zennström, Sofie Allert and Linnea Wikman
So what lies ahead? Looking to Swedish Algae Factory, Sofie has a very clear plan. But for herself, nothing is written in stone. She is looking forward to launching the first 100 algae factories, but after that she is open to new challenges.
- I don’t see myself as a long-term manager of something that is already running smoothly, so as long as I can stay in the environmental sector I’m sure there are many exciting things for me in the future. I’m all about the circular economy, bringing us back to the natural state where there is no ”waste” or ”emissions”, just products that are used and re-used for different things, says Sofie with a light of strong belief in her eyes.
Want to read more about Sofie and Swedish Algae factory:
Text: Szofia Jakobsson
Images: Swedish Algae Factory