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10 world-shaping Swedish companies

Sweden is the birthplace of many successful innovative companies. According to British Wired Magazine, Sweden has the most digitally connected economy in the world, and its forward-thinking culture fosters innovation. Here are ten companies of Swedish origin shaping the world.

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Swedish technology company Ericsson is the world’s biggest maker of wireless telecom network gear.

Photo: Ericsson

Electrolux

While people instantly recognise the name Electrolux on their kitchen appliances, many may not know that this Swedish company is the world’s second largest home appliances manufacturer. Started in 1919, the company originally sold Lux vacuum cleaners, and later added refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and a variety of other appliances to its product line. In 2011, Electrolux was named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute, which selected just 110 exemplary companies across 38 industries.

Ericsson

A strong competitor in the telecommunications market space, Ericsson is known worldwide for its mobile technology and networks, and remains at the cutting edge due to the company’s approach to innovation, which involves strong partnerships with various universities and research institutions around the world. Originally started as a telegraph equipment repair shop in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson, this Swedish company has grown to over 104,000 employees worldwide.

French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis is the face of H&M’s Conscious collection.

Photo: H&M

H&M

Bringing Sweden’s quintessential minimalist yet chic style of fashion to the world is Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). Started in 1947 as a women’s clothing store called Hennes in Västerås, founder Erling Persson later bought hunting and fishing equipment store Mauritz Widforss, officially changed its name to Hennes & Mauritz, and added men’s and children’s clothing in 1968. Since then, H&M has expanded to over 2,500 stores around the world selling trendy clothes and accessories at affordable prices. Along with an eco-friendly clothes line, H&M ensures that its 700 or so suppliers are audited to meet its code of conduct in terms of child labour and workplace safety issues among other things.

IKEA

Home furnishing giant IKEA, founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, has grown to over 325 stores in more than 38 countries. Known for stylish do-it-yourself (DIY) home décor and furniture, IKEA continues to bring out the handy craftsman in people and is a must for many college students on low budgets. By introducing its basic ‘flat pack’ concept in the 1950s, IKEA has been able to provide affordable Scandinavia-inspired furniture with best-sellers such as ‘Klippan’, ‘Poäng’ and ‘Billy’.

AstraZeneca

Beyond developing and manufacturing prescriptive medicines like gastrointestinal pills Prilosec and Losec, biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca also facilitates the research and discovery of new life-saving medicines used to fight serious illnesses such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, cancer and a variety of other life-threatening medical conditions. Before merging with UK-based Zeneca in 1999 to become AstraZeneca, Swedish company Astra AB was started in 1913 by 400 doctors and pharmacies in Södertälje.

Spotify, which can easily be installed on a smartphone or tablet, was launched in the US in 2011.

Photo: Spotify

Spotify

Legally sharing and streaming copyrighted music online remains a hotly debated issue, and Swedish company Spotify has been able to bridge that gap by providing online music streaming services as a legal alternative to pirated music file-sharing sites. Started in 2006 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, Spotify allows users to freely listen to, stream and share millions of music tracks to their computers and mobile devices such as smartphones. With its Facebook integration, users can also see and listen to what their friends are currently playing as well.

Solvatten

A child dies every 15 seconds as a result of contaminated water, according to UK-based charity WaterAid. Solvatten’s pioneering portable water treatment unit allows households to heat up and treat contaminated water using solar energy. Sold and distributed as 11-litre containers, the Solvatten unit is placed in the sun for two to six hours to sterilise the water, which can then be used for drinking, cooking and other daily hygiene-related tasks.

Skype

Founded in 2003 by Swede Niklas Zennström and Dane Janus Friis, Skype singlehandedly brought grandparents living on different continents closer to their grandchildren. Skype allows people to make free voice and video calls over the internet through personal computers, laptops and a variety of mobile handheld devices, making it a crucial tool for keeping in touch with family, friends and colleagues around the world. Skype was so revolutionary in its inception that eBay acquired it in 2005 and it was later sold again in 2011 when Microsoft came knocking with USD 8,500 million.

Peepoo is a portable toilet in the form of a bag. It is self-sanitising, single-use and fully biodegradable .

Photo: Peepoople/Camilla Wirseen

Peepoople

Swedish company Peepoople is combatting one of the world’s biggest problems, sanitation, with its ingeniously named Peepoo toilet. The United Nations says roughly 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Peepoo is a self-sanitising single-use and fully biodegradable portable toilet in the form of a bag. Once used, Peepoo remains odour-free for 24 hours, kills bacteria and viruses within two to four weeks, breaks down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass, and can be turned into fertiliser for growing crops.

Wrapp

Touted as a ‘fun and easy way to give free and paid gift cards to your Facebook friends’, Wrapp is a Stockholm-based start-up launched in 2011 that allows users to enjoy their Facebook social networks in more meaningful ways beyond playing games and entering contests. With the Wrapp app, people can now send friends digital gift cards for various celebrations without needing to know their e-mail or postal addresses.

Editors’ note: This list of companies is based on an editorial selection and does not constitute an official ranking of any kind.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC and CNN among others. She's the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm, contributes as a photojournalist to the Swedish Red Cross and has also been Sweden.se’s photoblogger.