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Malmo: Sweden’s small but sturdy tech ecosystem

While Stockholm is a recognised hub for tech startups, Malmo, in Sweden's south, is attracting increasing numbers of digital entrepreneurs

Sweden’s reputation as a hospitable breeding ground of “unicorn companies” is well documented. However, while the capital Stockholm is, understandably, pinpointed as the leading stable, Malmo’s more humble and understated herd of innovators continue to jump global fences from the south.

There is a consensus that while Stockholm continues to rely on the reputations and talent pools of Spotify, Klarna and Skype et al, Malmo is thriving upon a well-rounded, diverse and feel-good vibe; subsequently generating a startup ecosystem that bridges the best of the Nordics with the rest of the world.

“Stockholm’s tech startup scene may be more mature and it is entrepreneurial, but it’s not as flexible or inviting as Malmo is right now,” said Vedrana Högqvist Tabor, CEO at health-tech company Boost Thyroid, which provides scientific information and tools to support preventive management of Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition causing an under-active thyroid.

“Maybe it’s the smaller city, or southern feel. It also doesn’t have the curse of being a capital. Either way, Malmo is perhaps where Stockholm was around 10 years ago, showcasing its flexible innovation to the rest of the continent, and indeed the world.”

Some of the city’s leading startups are based in Malmo; not because that’s where they were born or where their idea was fostered, but by choice. One leading tech-driven company making waves in the global energy space overlooked London, Berlin and Stockholm in favour of the city.

“Why? Because it’s where the diversity is, it’s where the hardware talent is, and it’s where the best access to the rest of the world – the market we’re targeting – is,” said Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, CEO at Orbital Systems, which developed a digitally powered shower to cut water waste.

The theme of internationality is reflected in the city too, with a large propotion of its population made up of non-Swedish natives thanks to the number of corporates headquartered there, like Ericsson’s, and indeed the port being situated there.

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It therefore makes the recruitment of different nationalities, genders, ideas and outlooks on life “very easy”, said Boost Thyroid’s Tabor.

“These entrepreneurs and talented individuals all know each other well, and there’s very little competitiveness between them,” said Tabor, who, as a champion of the Fast Track Malmo accelerator programme, and as a woman in her early 40s, is very thankful for the openness and diversity the city exudes from its startup ecosystem.

“It’s not a demographic you’d expect a startup to be associated with, but it’s never been an issue here,” she said. “Everyone’s seemingly in this together, enthusiastic about the diversity of skills and outlooks available, wanting to push the ecosystem to another level.”

Notions of collaboration, inclusivity and friendliness naturally align with many of the tech-driven startups emanating from Malmo. Eco solutions and healthcare propositions are joined by science and education as prime environments to channel digital innovation in the city.

“People in Malmo just really want to solve things,” said Tabor. “I’ve lived in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Berlin before, but Malmo thrives from being smaller, and by having all of the startups practically on top of each other.”

Sharing knowledge

The resultant sharing of knowledge, resources and experience is achieved almost entirely within walking distance and through word of mouth.

And this goes beyond digital-focused startups with wider business networks. “We’ve had to eat humble pie on this front,” joked Nils Lekeberg, co-founder of Enjay, another business looking to channel its digital innovations towards energy savings by converting polluted air into heating.

“We were initially based out in the countryside and were really sceptical about joining a Malmo incubator. We eventually agreed, though, and we’re so pleased we did.

“We’ve been extremely impressed with the networks that have been formed, the business coaching that’s been provided and the general personality of the startup culture here. It’s such a tightknit ecosystem which has enabled us to develop our product and service, and now launch it into the market.”

European leaders

Malmo has always been an industrial city, but as this sole sector reliance has dissipated, its ingrained culture and personality has ushered in the era of the tech startup, often with social implications as the main driver.

Talented engineers or tech-savvy talents are no longer striving for conglomerate opportunities, instead wanting to play a part in the city’s positive digital journey.

From her experience with Fast Track Malmo, Tabor said: “As well as big industry, there’s also been a shift from the gaming sector; all towards areas like education, health and the environment. People at Fast Track Malmo want to apply their tech talents in areas of engineering and science to do good things.”

The talent is eager, diverse, social-minded and, most importantly, right on each other’s doorsteps. It’s the reason why Malmo is number four in the world at present when it comes to patents per capita, ahead of Stockholm in ninth and Gothenburg in 11th.

“I hope Malmo continues to profile itself for things like health-tech, ed-tech and tech-driven environmental startups,” said Tabor. “It will turn the people involved into strong European leaders in these spaces. We have a critical mass of right-minded people, while continuing to encourage new international skills to the city.

 “As such, Malmo can go on to rival Tel Aviv and even San Francisco in the future.”

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