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Swedish hardware hub pairs big businesses with IT startups

Swedish hub pairs hardware-focused startups with businesses to tap into opportunities such as the internet of things

Startups are often associated with fun and games, but a new Swedish co-working hub is drilling into something deeper – hardware. The hub, called Things, aims to create a collaborative environment between industry giants and hardware-focused startups.

Opened in Stockholm in late March 2015, Things is targeted at hardware product-driven startups working on areas such as the internet of things, 3D printing and health technology. 

“We are neither an incubator nor an accelerator; we do not provide coaching, do not invest in the companies and do not take any equity,” said Things CEO Linda Krondahl. “Instead, we try to connect our members to other players depending on their specific situation and industry – be it incubators, design and development, recruitment, capital and so on.”

Like any typical co-working space, Things offers a working environment, meeting rooms, events and networking opportunities, but what makes it interesting to hardware startups specifically are the facilities to develop and test prototypes. 

Its in-house workspace is equipped with tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers, while access to specialised equipment is offered through academic partners, including KTH Royal Institute of Technology and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

“At Things, you have access to workshop facilities to build your first prototypes, and a strong network to get feedback and input from other members and industry partners to improve your offering and secure market fit,” said Krondahl.

These are the selling points Things hopes will attract 30-45 startups to fill up the its 2,000m² space. So far the hub has 20 startup members and five big industry partners – ABB, Assa Abloy, SEB, NCC and Husqvarna.

Funding comes both from member fees and partners who are looking to benefit from strong startup ties.

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“We think Things will become the most important meeting place for new and innovative companies in software and hardware integration, and can’t allow ourselves to miss that opportunity,” said David Sonnek from SEB Venture Capital.

He believes startup co-operation is necessary for all corporations to understand not only how the world is changing but how to reinvent themselves. Things evangelist Magnus Melander shares the sentiment. 

“We believe large organisations will have to master internal and external innovation to stay competitive, and entrepreneurs need to develop their solutions with customers in mind and preferably involved," he said. "Most companies understand this today but it is genuinely difficult to practically collaborate with very different types of organisations.”

Although Things is the first Swedish startup hub to take a hardware focus, it is tapping into a wider trend. The city of Shenzhen, China, has been dubbed by some as the “the Silicon Valley of hardware" and is also home to hardware startup accelerator Haxlr8r.

In the US, the hardware approach has been adopted by accelerators such as Highway1 and Lab IX, to name but a few. 

However, Krondahl and her colleague Melander believe they are offering something unique in terms of the collaborative environment.

“We believe it’s unique since entrepreneurs and industry players are invited to Things with this collaboration as a clear objective and with all details aligned to it. Our partnership with KTH and SP adds a relevant research component which is essential,“ explained Melander. 

“Sweden’s quite informal way, the small size of the country, and our engineer and design legacy are some of the things that help make it possible to execute.”

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Wonderful idea and sorely needed. As IoT expands far beyond curiosity and convenience, it stands to impact every part of the enterprise.

The potential for cost-savings and efficiency seems enormous. But, as with any small, under-funded, under-staffed company, knowing WHAT and WHERE and WHEN to upgrade is a huge mystery.

We're working on it, of course, but we could really use an outside source to help us move beyond the frivolous to the essential. Nice to know they're out there when we're ready.
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