There are more unicorns per capita in Sweden than anywhere else in the world besides Silicon Valley. Sweden has incubated household names such as Spotify, Skype, Candy Crush and True Caller to name a few. With a population of just 9.5 million, this country has certainly made their mark in the world of innovation.
Statistics have shown that Sweden on a per capita basis is producing $6.3B companies per million people, compared to Silicon Valley's 8.1. There are three reasons the Swedes are pumping out some serious startup masterminds and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Free Education: Regardless of your financial means, college is an affordable option for all Swedish citizens due to their free tuition policy. Sweden has made it a priority to make sure no matter your social economic status, if you want to attend college you can. Most college students are given a stipend of approximately 9,900 Swedish kronor (around $1,150 USD) per month to pay for rent, food, school necessities and other miscellaneous expenses. Eventually you will pay roughly 70% of this money back but you will never find yourself in the same black hole of debt you find in other countries, especially the United States.
Because student's financial needs are met they don't have to work a job or two in order to survive and pay their way through school. Having that extra bit of time allows for pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors on the side. It's even common for students to take a break from school to take a stab at the startup world.
Safety Net: A safety net doesn't just mean money. From the financial benefits to those who crank up the motivation that drives the startup scene, Sweden provides an atmosphere that welcomes and encourages entrepreneurship. Between inexpensive health care, secure pensions and free education, the stress of being able to afford this as an entrepreneur isn't' comparable to that of an entrepreneur in most other countries. Taxes may be high, but the social benefits set a calmer tone for those entering the 12 hour stress filled days of the entrepreneurial life.
"Sweden definitely provides more of a basic safety net. If I were to live in Silicon Valley, money would certainly have a higher burn rate. On top of paying my regular bills, I would have to worry about monthly cost for childcare and healthcare which can end up draining your bank account quickly if you aren't bringing income in." says Sam Manaberi, CEO/Co-Founder of Gothenburg startup TRINE, and also a board member to Startup Grind Gothenburg.
"Another part of this safety net, aside from the financial aspect is the strong passionate community. There's a lot of driven and grounded individuals in the startup scene. There isn't too much prestiege involved which makes for a better workplace. I believe startups can grow because of higher loyalty that stems from a lack of hierarchy, assuming that you have a good relationship with your boss. Changing jobs solely for the purpose of a higher salary/benefits would be strange if you have established a good relationship with the team."
Tight-Knit Startup Community: The success of a community derives from the driven and zealous individuals who make it thrive. Both Stockholm and Gothenburg have created tight-knit startup communities that have truly made an impact on the Swedish startup scene. While all of Sweden's unicorns thus far have come from Stockholm, Gothenburg has made notable headway in producing some greatly successful startups, particularly in the life science sector.
Together, Stockholm and Gothenburg have several accelerators, incubators, startup hubs and startup networking organizations scattered throughout both cities that help create an environment for growth and productivity. "The Stockholm startup community is super tight-knit and most folks know each other really well. There are many serial entrepreneurs with big networks and there's a great pay-it forward culture. People help each other with intros and share learnings." says Johan Attby, CEO of FishBrain, the world's fastest growing mobile app and social network for sport fishing.
Attby's company FishBrain is a member to Stockholm's leading startup hub SUP 46. "SUP 46 is home to Sweden's digital startup stars and serves as a middle man to connect businesses with investors and contacts that will help their business grow. Our inspiration comes from the leading incubators, accelerators, networking groups and investors around the world. Over the course of 2015 our members drew in $31M of venture capital. We can't wait to see what 2016 has in store." - Sebastian Fuchs, Co-Founder of SUP 46.
Gothenburg, the country's second largest city and only a few hours away from Stockholm, is known as an industrial city due to being home to Volvo and the thousands of engineers that work there and for other manufacturing companies. Within the past five years, the startup scene has quickly picked up its pace and continues to rapidly build the Gothenburg startup community.
The city's most popular network for startups and entrepreneurs is Startup Grind which originated in Silicon Valley and has now spread across 175 cities in 80 countries. "The mission of Startup Grind is to educate, inspire and to connect aspiring entrepreneurs and those who support them. In Gothenburg this means bringing the brightest and most ambitious of the startup scene together in order share ideas and contacts to turn concepts into new businesses. Startup Grind is a place where entrepreneurs find like-minded people that want to make their dreams a reality. Our ultimate goal is to help these startups reach an international audience and to educate the world that Gothenburg has become an innovation hub in this small put powerful city of 500,000 creative strong individuals." says Filip Askviken, Director of Startup Grind Gothenburg and CEO/Founder of Metapic.
With a respected history of such global brands such as IKEA, H&M and Tetra Pak, the Swedish government has made a point to invest heavily in the country's technology infrastructure. This is a significant contributing factor to Sweden's impressive and growing entrepreneurial community. In the first nine months of 2015 alone, investments in Sweden's tech sector reached nearly $960M. As 2015 comes to a close, it will be interesting to see the final numbers. Will 2016 be as lucrative for Sweden? Keep an eye out on this Nordic nation, looks like there's more to Sweden than meatballs.