Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek plans to expand the reach of his Brilliant Minds Foundation, even as the nonprofit’s signature annual event—a two-day summit in Stockholm that has attracted attendees such as President Barack Obama, Pharrell Williams, Naomi Campbell, and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon—is on a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
The foundation has hired a new CEO, Annastasia Seebohm, who previously served as CEO of global membership group Quintessentially Group, and Ek quietly has recruited members of some of Sweden’s most prominent families to serve on the Brilliant Minds board of directors. Spotify, a music and media streaming service, is headquartered in Stockholm.
“We started Brilliant Minds because we thought that Sweden and its values of egalitarianism, sustainability, inclusivity, and creativity could play a role in finding solutions to the most significant issues of our time,” Ek says.
Seebohm says the in-person summit, last held in the summer of 2019, will return in June 2022. In the meantime, she says, she is working to broaden the Brilliant Minds community—she’s especially keen to involve academics—and to find ways to bring smaller groups together, virtually and in person, throughout the year.
Ek and music executive Arash Pournouri cofounded Brilliant Minds in 2015 as an event to spotlight the Swedish technology ecosystem. Over the years it evolved into an invitation-only global gathering of leaders in the arts, business, and politics, occupying some of the same “thought leadership” space as the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos or TED—but with music-inflected twists. Guests at past events were treated to morning yoga class with singer-songwriter Usher. Goldman Sachs CEO Solomon was the DJ on a boat ride.
Ek formed the Brilliant Minds Foundation in 2018 with a mission of supporting European founders. A Spotify spokeswoman says Ek supports a number of nonprofit endeavors but characterizes Brilliant Minds as his primary philanthropic effort.
Board member Johan Andersson, CEO of Swedish holding company Mellby Gård, says the foundation board aims to help Ek and Seebohm attract newcomers to the Brilliant Minds platform. “Let me be clear, I don’t think we could add absolutely anything when it comes to music and culture,” he says. “But I think we can bring our international network and expertise.”
He notes that he and the other board members, including Peter Wallenberg Jr. of the Wallenberg Foundations and Caroline Berg, a fifth-generation leader of conglomerate Axel Johnson, will help ensure Brilliant Minds’s longevity. “If there’s one thing we’re good at as family businesses [it’s creating] governance principles and financing to make organizations last for a long time,” he says.
For Seebohm, the move to Brilliant Minds is a deeply personal one. Before accepting the role as CEO—she officially starts next month—she had made many professional connections at Brilliant Minds events. “When I was talking to Daniel about Brilliant Minds he said he wanted to spark connections that were inflections points in people’s lives,” she says. “And that’s exactly what Brilliant Minds was for me. It sparked connections that led to this opportunity.” She replaces Natalia Brzezinski, who resigned last year and now serves as head of strategy at Klarna U.S., a division of the Swedish fintech company.
Even as the foundation expands its community and remit, Seebohm and Ek say the mission will stay rooted in Swedish values, which they describe as openness, transparency, equality, and trust. And the events will remain as eclectic as ever. “Getting people to think creatively is a big part of Brilliant Minds,” Seebohm says. “We sit at the intersection of creativity, tech, music, business, politics, and impact.”