Spotify CEO wins backing of business families for ‘creative Davos’

Daniel Ek, Spotify co-founder and chief executive © Bloomberg

The chief executive of Spotify is teaming up with some of Europe’s leading business families to finance an annual conference they hope could be a “creative Davos” with a focus on technology and innovation. Brilliant Minds, an event set up by Daniel Ek of music streaming company Spotify and Ash Pournouri, the ex-manager of the recently deceased DJ Avicii, is now owned and financed by a group of Swedish families including the Wallenbergs, Stenbecks and Olssons, whose companies include Ericsson, Electrolux, Kinnevik, Zalando and Stena.

“Daniel Ek would like to put Sweden on the map more in this new world and the new economy. This is not about one family or one entrepreneur — it’s about Sweden,” Marcus Wallenberg, the chairman of bank SEB and defence group Saab, told the Financial Times. This year’s event will take place over two days next month and feature a variety of events including a keynote speech from David Solomon, the favourite to become the next Goldman Sachs chief executive and an electronic dance music DJ, and a focus on female and creative business founders. Mr Ek and Mr Pournouri launched Brilliant Minds in 2015, featuring speakers such as singer Wyclef Jean, Prince Daniel of Sweden, and Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom. They wanted to secure its future without resorting to commercial sponsors.

Natalia Brzezinski, chief executive of Brilliant Minds, said the idea was to bring together two worlds — technology and traditional business families — that did not often mix. Leading Swedish business figures now financing the event include Caroline Berg, the fifth generation of the Ax:son Johnson family, Fredrik Rapp, the owner of investment group Pomona, and Mr Ek himself. Other families have been approached, with Karl-Johan Persson, chief executive of retailer H&M, sitting on the advisory board. The families are backing the event for five years for an undisclosed investment. “It is important that Brilliant Minds promotes and supports the transformative environment we have, which isn’t well known outside of the Nordics,” said Mr Ek.

For all their backing of Sweden, however, both Mr Ek and the Wallenberg family have warned the government to take action to avoid start-ups and bigger tech groups leaving the country due to problems with housing, taxation of stock options and so on. Spotify listed recently in New York while payments company iZettle was bought by PayPal of the US last week instead of floating. “It is fair to say that one of the big challenges for Sweden is to keep its entrepreneurs so they want to stay here and develop their companies. [The Wallenberg cousins] think it would be very sad if entrepreneurs of this time and age decide to develop their companies somewhere else,” said Mr Wallenberg.