IT entrepreneur awarded KTH Great Prize

KTH Great Prize
Stina Ehrensvärd 

Ehrensvärd is best known as the creator of YubiKey, a small, highly secure USB and NFC device that has been described as “a hacker’s nightmare.”

The device supports multiple authentication and cryptographic protocols. Some of the world’s largest organizations — including the U.S. Department of Defense, Google and Facebook — are among the 100,000 customers of her company, Yubico. The solution’s users number in the millions.

“At a time when data breaches are increasing, Stina Ehrensvärd developed a company with a vision to create a more secure digital universe. Through genuine entrepreneurial passion and expertise, she has achieved great success in a short time with a groundbreaking password solution for a protected internet,” the university’s citation reads.

The Great Prize, (or “Stora Priset” in Swedish) includes a cash payment of SEK 1.2 million, or about EUR 130,000.

Peter Gudmundson, President of KTH, says: “Stina Ehrensvärd is a very worthy recipient of the KTH Great Prize. A combination of innovation and entrepreneurship is key to meeting society’s challenges, for both Stina and for KTH. IT security is absolutely critical in our digitized world, and this is why Stina’s effort is significant.”

Ehrensvärd, says she is happily surprised, but also stressed that the credit for Yubico’s success is not hers alone.

“It is a very nice prize. I would have liked to share it with my husband because we’ve developed everything together. It has been said that behind every successful man stands a strong woman. In our case it is the opposite, and that is Jacob Ehrensvärd, who developed most of the technology. We run the company together, however, and it was I who took the initiative to move to the United States and to woo Google.”

That move made the business really take off. Ehrensvärd notes that it is difficult to pursue cooperative projects with major IT companies with office located in Stockholm.

Google, Facebook and Microsoft have sales offices and some development in Sweden, but the main developers are located in the United States. And in Yubico’s case, it was those developers with whom the company needed to have a good relationship.

She says that joining a list of honorees that includes Elise Ottesen-Jensen, Assar Gabrielsson, Robyn and Hakan Lans is exciting and a little unreal.

“They are all fantastic Swedish models. It will take a few more years before the new Internet security standard that my company, Yubico, has been developing is as well known, but I thank you very much for your confidence. What we all have in common is we carried out the ideas that we are passionate about, even though we met a lot of resistance along the way, and we did not give up,” she says.

What advice does Ehrensvärd offer for young innovators?

“Inspiration and hard work are the secret. Find a solution to a real problem. If makes you so happy that the idea of devoting several years to implement this solution, product or service makes it hard for you to sit still, then you’re probably on the right track. Surround yourself with a really good team that complements you. Think big. Listen to your gut.”

Peter Larsson

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About the prize

The prize is taken from the proceeds of a donation made in 1944 and which now stands at one million two hundred thousand Swedish kronor. According to the donor, who wished to be and has remained anonymous, the prize shall be awarded to:

A person who, through epoch-making discoveries and the creation of new values and by ingenious applications of findings gained on the practical aspects of life, promotes Sweden‘s continued material progress, or a person who by means of scientific research has discovered particularly valuable principles or methods which are useful for applications, which promote the above purpose, or a person who through artistic activities “exerts a powerful influence particularly on the spiritual life of her own people.”

The recipient must also be a Swedish citizen.

You can find the full list of award winners