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How to start up the Swedish way

Funding possibilities, technological infrastructure and policies have helped make Stockholm one of Europe’s hottest startup hubs. So how do you make it in Stockholm? We asked some experts how to start a startup the Swedish way.

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The Stockholm office of game developer King – one of Sweden’s ‘unicorns’, i.e. billion-dollar startups. Photo: Arantxa Hurtado

How to start up the Swedish way

Funding possibilities, technological infrastructure and policies have helped make Stockholm one of Europe’s hottest startup hubs. So how do you make it in Stockholm? We asked some experts how to start a startup the Swedish way.

Lena Miranda, Chairwoman at Swedish Incubators and Science Parks (SISP).

Photo: @Crelle

Lena Miranda: ‘Get to know the Swedish consensus culture’

‘Sweden ranks highly for being innovative and good to do business in. Swedish organisations are, as a rule, flat and happy. Swedes learn to collaborate from an early age and are united by consensus. Teams tend to be agile and work autonomously. If you’re new to Sweden, this might feel a bit confusing. Maybe you think we talk a lot, not making any decisions. It’s all part of the Swedish consensus culture – that we like decisions to be based on wide agreement. We are also one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, and appreciate both men and women at all levels.

‘One of the challenges is to understand the Swedish welfare system and the employment laws. Costs for running a business may seem high at first, but if you look at the bigger picture – salaries, taxes, the welfare system – it might make more sense. When it comes to laws and regulations, I’d recommend hiring legal assistance to set up your business and for signing agreements.’

Company: Swedish Incubators and Science Parks (SISP)
Does: SISP is a non-profit national association for business incubators and science parks, focusing on stimulating growth in knowledge-based companies.
Founded in: 2005

Read more about starting a business in Sweden.

Kai Hübner, CTO at Gleechi.

Photo: Arantxa Hurtado

Kai Hübner: ‘Test new ideas in Sweden before you go big’

‘The biggest opportunity for startup entrepreneurs in Sweden is that the market here is welcoming and supports innovative ideas. That, in combination with the fact that Sweden is a relatively small market, means it is perfect to test new ideas on a local scale and later scale globally if the product has been received well.

‘The biggest challenge is to attract the talents you need. Stockholm features a concentration of well-established companies that can offer competitive salaries and bonus perks. Housing shortage and high pricing are other problems. This makes it very difficult and challenging to recruit beyond the group of people who already live here and who can afford bootstrapping* both in a startup and in their personal life.’

*The literal meaning of ‘bootstrapping’ is to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’. In the startup world, it means a business financed by the founders themselves, without external funding.

Company: Gleechi
Does: Develops software solutions to enable hand interaction between humans, computers and robots.
Founded in: 2014, by researchers from the robotics research group at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

Listen to our podcast episodes about startups:
Swedishness: ‘Is the Swedish startup scene really as hot as everyone says?’
Sweden and…: ‘Sweden and startups’

Petra Wadström, CEO and founder of Solvatten. Her son, David Wadström, is Head of Information and Campaigns at Solvatten.

Photo: Arantxa Hurtado

Petra Wadström: ‘Don’t lose your passion’

‘Starting up in Stockholm is both hard and easy. It is a very cliquey place. My advice is that you do your research thoroughly before diving in and that you stay passionate about what you want to do and why. Also, don’t be afraid to seek advice. Asking for help is a very important life skill for all entrepreneurs.’

Head of Information and Campaigns at Petra Wadström’s company Solvatten is David Wadström, her son: ‘Be a change-maker,’ he says. ‘Starting a social enterprise is hard, but so worth it. And the sooner one gets going, the better. In our case, it was all about the purpose right from the outset. It was about contributing to a world where fewer people suffer. So when we searched for an impact investor, it was important to us that he or she shared our overarching purpose.

‘No one can change the world alone, so equip yourself with plenty of patience and a strong conviction in doing the right thing.’

Company: Solvatten
Does: Solvatten, a portable water treatment and water heater system designed for off-grid household use in the developing world.
Founded in: 2013, by Petra Wadström

Björn Jakobson, founder of BabyBjörn.

Photo: Arantxa Hurtado

Björn Jakobsson: ‘Benefit from the Swedish business culture’

‘The Swedish business climate is relaxed and casual compared with many other cultures. We don’t have too much bureaucracy in this country and Sweden is also quite free from corruption. And of course the experience of working here, in a culture different from your own, means that you will be inspired. You will surely learn a lot and build new, fruitful relationships.’

Company: BabyBjörn
Does: Products for babies and toddlers, from baby bouncers and carriers to high chairs and travel cribs. Headquartered in Stockholm, but present in 50 countries around the world.
Founded in: 1961

Read more about Swedish business culture.

Maral Kalajian, Head of Marketing and Communications at Watty and co-founder of Peppy Pals.

Photo: Benjamin Cremel

Maral Kalajian: ‘You need to have the nerve for it – startup life is hard’

‘There’s a common misconception that startup life is all play and little work, but there is more to it than socialising, playing table tennis and drinking beer. Yes, networking is important and, yes, starting a company is fairly easy. But turning it into a great one is hard. Not everyone is cut out for it.

‘You need to have the nerve for it – not just the founder, but also those who join the startup in its early days. These people are key to moving your company forward – or backwards. It’s an adventure and definitely worth it, but you need to have an open and positive mindset to enjoy the ride.’

Company: Watty
Does: Technology that tracks energy use in the home, suggesting ways to use power more sensibly. In 2017 Wired ranked Watty as one of the hottest startups in Europe.
Founded in: 2013

Read more about Swedes and business.

Daniel Sonesson, CEO, SUP46 (Start-Up People of Sweden).

Photo: Arantxa Hurtado

Daniel Sonesson: ‘Get out there and network’

‘Help others and they will help you. Talk to lots of people about your idea. Go to relevant events, build your MVP [minimum viable product, editor’s note] and let it see the light of day. Then continue to work on it rather than sit at home building until you feel it is “perfect enough” to be launched. The good thing is Stockholm already has a healthy base of angel investors*, angel networks and international visitors.

‘Quite simply: get out there and network. I personally use LinkedIn a lot in addition to attending breakfast briefings and conferences, where there are great opportunities for interesting meetings and discussions.’

*An angel investor is an individual who provides funding for a startup business.

Company: SUP46 (Start-Up People of Sweden)
Does: SUP46 is a startup hub in central Stockholm, which is home to more than 60 startups who use the hub as a meeting and co-working space.
Founded in: 2013

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Last updated: 1 April 2019

Nathalie Rothschild

Nathalie Rothschild is a journalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. You can follow her on Twitter @n_rothschild and read more of her work at nathalierothschild.com.