Powerful trio to boost Smart Innovation Norway's sustainability expertise

Brita Staal and Manuela Freté triple the national and international experience and expertise in sustainability work when they join Mikael af Ekenstam in Nordland.

- "With Manuela and Brita on board, we have a dream team up here. I am incredibly pleased to have them on the team," says Mikael af Ekenstam, Senior Advisor at Smart Innovation Norway.

Brita Staal and Manuela Freté
Brita Staal and Manuela Freté are among the newest additions to the Smart Innovation Norway family. PHOTO: Mikael af Ekenstam

He is a Swedish immigrant to Narvik and has been working in Smart Innovation Norway since 2019. Manuela is French and originally from Romania, but considers herself European since she has studied, worked and lived in many different EU countries, while Brita is Norwegian with many years of experience from sustainability work in Sweden and Denmark.

What all three have in common is that they are passionate about and experts in sustainability and climate. They see the enormous potential of Smart Innovation Norway to bring the EU and Norway closer together through green transition projects, and they want to contribute to the major societal changes that will come in the future.

With Smart Innovation Norway as their employer, they believe they are best placed to do just that.

From Paris to Harstad

With her diverse background, Manuela Freté brings with her six years of experience as project manager for sustainability in the Paris office of the global firm Deloitte. She led the process of establishing and anchoring the then newly created department, during which time the number of staff increased from 30 to 120 people.

- It was fun and educational to be part of that journey. The department still exists today and is here to stay," she says.

Another task at Deloitte was to lead a working group on an EU project. That experience came in handy after Freté and her family moved to Harstad in 2019 when her husband was hired as project manager for the Arctic Race of Norway cycling race, the EU experience came in handy.

- I got a job in Harstad municipality, where one of my responsibilities was the municipality's only EU project so far. I also worked in the innovation department of the power company Nordkraft, including start-up projects in the energy sector. One of the things we did was to develop mobile charging stations for electric cars in the region, develop mobile battery solutions for other sectors and mobile charging solutions for the electric vehicles for the Arctic Race of Norway," says the 34-year-old.

Outside work, Freté has established Link Harstad, a network that creates meeting places for young workers in the region.

Working in Europe

For Brita Staal, it is a great motivating factor to work in a company where the work you do leads to concrete results and creates innovation in societal processes. She has been following Smart Innovation Norway for some time and has been impressed by the company's business model, which combines research, innovation, incubation and municipalities in real projects.

Mikael af Ekenstam, Brita Staal and Manuela Freté
Mikael af Ekenstam, Brita Staal and Manuela Freté have many plans for sustainability work that they will focus on. PHOTO: Private

- It gives me the willies to think about what's going to happen in the energy markets in Norway. Firstly, we have to go through an enormous efficiency drive. Secondly, the goal is to double energy production in Norway. If we are to export mainland production and build the green industrial adventure that we hope for, there is an awfully big job ahead of us. And it's very exciting to be part of an environment that has expertise in this area," she points out.

For the last four years, Staal has only worked on international projects. Even though his place of work is Kabelvåg in Nordland, his field of work is European, and climate is his major field of interest both professionally and personally.

It is therefore fitting that the employer is the actor in Norway with the most EU projects in the field of green energy, and that works specifically on the topic in community development projects.

- The European Commission aims to decarbonize Europe and they are starting with all types of buildings. They want to free themselves from dependency on Russian gas, and I think it's really exciting to see how innovative and strong the EU is in this situation. Moreover, the war in Ukraine shows that this is not just an energy issue," says Staal.

- Great potential

Mikael af Ekenstam is well acquainted with several conditions in Northern Norway, having been Smart Innovation Norway's link to the Smart Narvik agreement since 2019. The region has both similar and completely different types of energy challenges than Southern Norway, and the competence enhancement and exchange in the company will increase in accordance with the potential that the two new hires represent.

Together with Staal and Freté, he has a huge network and unique experience and expertise. Ekenstam is now looking forward to implementing "his" part of the company's growth strategy.

- A lot is happening up here, especially in industrial development and the green shift, and the east-west axis from Narvik and Lofoten and into Sweden is very interesting. Smart Innovation Norway can play a major role here with our expertise in energy," he says.

The number of EU projects will also increase. Smart Innovation Norway has contacts throughout Europe, and these will now be linked to a greater extent with North Norwegian pilots and partners. Knowledge about writing applications and implementing projects is one of the Halden-based research company's areas of expertise.

- There are several obvious opportunities here in the north that we look forward to exploring and realizing," says Mikael af Ekenstam.

Mikael af Ekenstam and Manuela Freté are employed in Smart Cities and Communities, which is part of the Smart Innovation Communities business area. Brita Staal is Climate Lead and employed partly in Communities and partly in Social Innovation, which is part of Smart Innovation Research. Bernt Bremdal is also employed in Smart Innovation Research and is part of the North Norwegian department since he works at the University of Tromsø's Narvik campus.