“I am CEO of Elonroad, where we are working to change how people transport themselves, so not an easy challenge”, explains Karin Ebbinghaus at the start of our digital interview. Karin is a Lund law graduate who has chosen to depart from the traditional career path of a lawyer to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to changing the transport and communication sector of the future. Karin describes her own career as an effect of what she calls “bananskalsprincipen” – her version of a Swedish proverb, which means that sometimes in life you get opportunities based on pure coincidence.
But let us start at the beginning. Why did a law degree, specifically, attract Karin to Lund?
– If I am completely honest, there were not that many options for me to choose from after upper secondary school. I had opted for the humanities stream and was lacking a maths course required for admission to many university degree programmes, Karin reveals.
When Karin finished upper secondary school, in the financial crisis of the early 90s, her parents thought she should choose a degree with good prospects. So her choice fell on the law degree programme in Lund. In 1992, Karin left her home town to step into what were the premises of the Faculty of Law at the time: Gamla Kirurgen, or the Old Surgery, in Lund. She would spend all her time as a student there, interspersed with active involvement in the Kalmar Student Nation.
When Karin is asked to look back on her law studies and tell us how they have benefited her in her career, she says:
– As a law student, you learn the art of quickly absorbing a lot of information and operating within a fixed set of rules. In addition, you get a lot of practice in analysing different alternatives and perspectives, a good foundation in critical thinking.
At the turn of the millennium, Karin had just graduated with a law degree and started her professional life at the legal firm Linklaters (then Lagerlöf & Leman). Her career continued at another legal firm, Vinge, where she was Business Development Lawyer. After that, she was taken on as manager of the E&Y Law division in Skåne. Karin says that her time as legal counsel gave her many valuable insights into problem solving:
– One of the most instructive aspects of working as legal counsel is that you learn to see patterns. A company may experience what they perceive as a unique problem, but in fact it is the same problem many others are facing. And there are solutions.
After just over two decades, Karin felt it was time to step away from the traditional legal career to meet new challenges and new people.
– Many of my colleagues were happy to focus on, and analyse in depth, the problems that they encountered in their advisory work. I felt I wanted to be more solution-based and see more of the people behind the companies I encountered.
Working to make the future more sustainable also attracted Karin. She got the opportunity to do so as Investment Manager at Almi Invest Greentech. At Almi Invest, Karin worked with investments in climate-focused companies and got to meet entrepreneurs and companies that aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on a global level using disruptive technology. One of these companies was Lund-based electric road company, Elonroad. They hit it off and in early 2020 Karin received an offer she couldn’t refuse – the opportunity to lead Elonroad as its CEO.
– Elonroad stands for Electricity On Road and it’s about as simple as it sounds: electricity on the road. We create smart technical solutions to charge electric vehicles on the road as they travel, Karin explains about her new workplace.
Elonroad is described as a successful Triple Helix Model of Innovation in which academia, in this case LTH and Lund University, industry and the public sector work together for economic and social development. Elonroad’s test track, Evolution Road on Getingevägen in Lund, was inaugurated this year and is essentially fully functional. The next stage is to build a thirty-kilometre electric road.
When asked to look into her crystal ball for our future modes of transport, Karin is mainly focused on the role of cars in our lives.
– When I was small and wanted to call someone, I had to use a telephone that was attached to the wall by a cord. This is a completely unreal image for my teenage children, who are used to always having a smartphone available within arm’s reach. I believe it will be the same thing in the future when we explain to younger generations that we had to drive to a petrol station to fill the tank before we could transport ourselves anywhere by car.
Karin predicts that future cars will not be used as a product but rather as an on-demand service. We will not need to drive somewhere to get fuel before doing our shopping or travelling. Instead, goods and services will come to us. Means of transport will be adaptable to our needs, so perhaps the same vehicle that delivered your food will drive your children to school.
What plans does Karin have for her own future and what happened with the successful “bananskalsprincipen”?
She expects to continue her career together with Elonroad’s expansion worldwide:
– In ten years, Elonroad will be a Swedish and international industrial company that revolutionises the transport sector. And in my own career development, I will continue to use “bananskalsprincipen”, but this time I want to do it within my work with Elonroad.
Best Lund memory: definitely as an active contributor to the Lund Carnival of 1994. It was a wonderful apparatus in which many people volunteered for three days and generated so much joy.
Best life-hack: I am smart-lazy. I can step over an enormous pile of laundry to watch my favourite TV show. Do the fun stuff first, quite simply.
An ordinary day at work: There are really no ordinary days in this job. And that is what is so great. But just now it’s non-stop Teams meetings. A friend described it well: “my calendar looks like Tetris, just before you lose”. And that’s exactly what my calendar looks like right now, too.
Photo by Peter Westrup and Elonroad