Inclusion, accessibility and diversity are the main building blocks for a bright future

Interview with Sari Stenfors, Scientific and Industry Boardmember of LUMO Labs

From the Airstream travel trailer parked in San Francisco she calls her “Covid bubble,” Sari Stenfors has a prediction: The future will be good.

That outlook and her background in social-impact startups drew Sari to LUMO Labs Founding Partner Andy Lürling: “Andy is a charming personality who believes in saving the world and a positive future. A beautiful soul who’s so kind and loving but he’s also a shrewd businessman.”

Saving the world is not just a cliché for her. It’s what Sari does for a living, describing herself as a futurist who does research to help people imagine a positive future.

Sari comes from the academic background of modeling using data tools to visualize how we’ll live and work, “the negative as well as the positive because both have value. But at some point in my life, I let go of the negative.”

The rest of us find that hard to do because through the millennia, humans have had a magnetic attraction to dystopian futures. “I think Hollywood tells you that,” Sari said. “We’re somehow drawn to that scary scenario.”

Here’s where it gets weird. When asked to imagine the near-future – to predict what’s going to happen in, say, a week – people are overly-optimistic, predicting outcomes more upbeat than what actually happens, Sari said. The opposite happens when people project into the future.

“When you think about long-term – let’s say five years – your prediction is always on the negative side. Our brains are set, and I have no idea why … I’ve looked at the research and everyone has their theories – I don’t know how it has helped us to think long-term negative. Maybe as cavemen we needed to be scared to be agile…” Which everyone who’s ever been part of a startup knows.

Before joining the LUMO Labs Scientific and Industry Advisory Board, she visited Eindhoven and met with many of the startups.

At LUMO Labs, Sari sees her role as providing advice to Andy, Sven and the teams.|
“My role is to bring in whatever I think they need,” she said. “I look at it like they’re cooking something, and I maybe have some ingredients they need. ‘I tasted your soup. It needs saffron and I’ve got it. Or I know someone who has it.’ ” Her role is to bring points of views, ideas and people into the soup “and Andy and Sven are there cooking the soup.”

Sari draws from her dual-track life – an academic and a serial entrepreneur who started out working as CFO for her father’s company. Since then, “it’s been startup after startup,” with Sari
founding more than 20 companies.

“All my startups are social impact startups because what I think is important, I want to try it out,” she said. “Being part of a (startup) team, you really learn what’s possible in that field …
what you can change. What you can’t change.

“It’s interesting to be a startup person because you learn so much.”

She currently has a food-safety startup, Phenium, with her husband Martin “And I swore I’d never do that.” She’d had startups with friends and found it took a toll on friendships. “I vowed to never, ever do anything with friends and family.”
Phenium hasn’t changed the dynamic between her and her husband. But it has changed how people from the outside started looking at her.

Her role had always been as the “tech guy,” her words. But with Phenium, she’s now “the wife.” For example, her husband was supposed to pitch at an event but he had an important meeting. So, Martin told the moderator he was sending Sari in his place. “It’s my turn, so (the moderator) says, ‘The next is Martin Stenfors, but he couldn’t make it, so he sent his wife.’

“The next sentence was, ‘His wife is pitching for the first time.’ How do you recover from that? First, I had to prove I didn’t just come here from washing the dishes. I had to figure it out really fast … the first minute went into telling about me. “I came in second.”

On the topic moving beyond stereotypes, Sari believes that multifaceted inclusion, accessibility and diversity are the main building blocks for a bright future for our society.

“It makes me very happy that LUMO Labs embraces these thoughts in practice,” she said. “For LUMO, inclusion, ethical values, empathy and diversity are embedded in everyday organizational life. From the beginning, it has been very important for LUMO Labs to actively include people from all walks of life to embed different cultural, gender and value perspectives.

“Andy and Sven have harnessed these values to create a friendly community that has an ability to reach significant results.”

Finally, some good news. No … great news.

If you believe in a positive future, the minimum you get is a life extension between five years and 25 years, Sari says. “When you tell people that, who wouldn’t want to have more great years in your life?”