The prize, awarded since 1945 and now worth one million Swedish kronor ($142,000), is awarded to the Swedish citizen who, “through era-defining efforts, or discoveries and creations of new value, especially in the technological realm, but also within science and the arts, promotes the prosperity of our our people”.
The 43-year-old entrepreneur, who also founded the Kazaa file sharing service, is to receive the 2009 edition of KTH’s Great Prize (Stora pris) for his “singular exceptional entrepreneurship and technical knowledge”.
“For Niklas, global communication is as much a a vision of uniting the people of the world as it is a good business idea. He is an excellent example for Sweden’s young technology buffs and an international poster child for high quality and accessible Swedish engineering,” read the citation accompanying Monday’s announcement of the award.
Despite his many achievements, Zennström was humbled by the award, which has previously been awarded to astronaut Christer Fuglesang, songwriter and musician Evert Taube, and inventor Håkan Lans.
“It’s a great honour for me to receive KTH’s Great Prize,” said Zennström in a statement.
He added that he has always had a passion for helping society advance and for trying to reduce the distances between people.
“It’s my hope that through my entrepreneurship that I can inspire today’s young Swedes to take a step in the world of an entrepreneur and together create a better society,” he said.
Zennström studied at Sweden’s Uppsala University before he, along with Dane Janus Friis, started the Kazaa file sharing website in 2001.
In 2003, the pair started Skype, a free, downloadable software programme that allowed free voice communications over the internet between users of the programme.
Skype was later acquired by eBay in September 2005 for $2.6 billion. Since then, Zennström and Friis have launched Joost, a web-based service for viewing television and videos online.
According to Time Magazine, Skype was ranked as one of the 50 best internet services of 2009.