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Ten Swedish start-ups you haven't heard of

Ten Swedish start-ups you haven't heard of

The Local · 23 Feb 2015, 14:25

Published: 23 Feb 2015 12:40 GMT+01:00
Updated: 23 Feb 2015 14:25 GMT+01:00

Time and time again, Sweden has been ranked among the most innovative nations in the world, with dozens of game-changing start-ups from all across the country. The tech scenes are booming from Skåne in the south to Stockholm to Luleå in the north.
And the most amazing thing about Sweden’s start-up scene is that it’s always changing. So here they are – the ten companies you should know about this year.
In no particular order. Click on the company name to jump ahead, or scroll down.



1. HappyTail

The team behind HappyTail. Photo: HappyTail

Social networks are nothing new. But what about a social network for man's best friend?

HappyTail markets itself as a "social community app for active dogs and dog lovers," where users can book playdates for their dogs, share images, find dog-sitters, and find dog-friendly places on a map.

“I’ve had the idea for several years,” co-founder and CEO Katharina Welin tells The Local. “I grew up with dogs, and I know how it can be a dilemma when travelling and you don’t want him to be sitting in some cage for a week.”

With friends and fellow dog-lovers Olle Stenborg and Maja Magnusson onboard – “I was thrilled they believed in the idea enough to quit their career jobs and take a chance on this” – Welin started developing her idea, and now the company is part of start-up collective and co-working space SUP46.

“Together we are a very strong team, and that is crucial in making a business idea come to life and become a success,” Welin says. “And with niched social networks at the forefront, it’s meant to be a win-­win-win situation, for the dog, the dog owner, and also the dog lover who gets to enjoy the company of a dog.”

HappyTail’s beta app will be launched this spring, and it has already received a flood of positive responses.

“We haven´t even launched yet but hundreds of people have signed up to try it out,” Welin says. “It’s obvious that there is a need for this kind of product on the market, an app that makes the life of dog owners easier and the life of dogs happier.”

After a period of testing and user feedback the app will be released, and a new version of HappyTail should be released later this year. For now the app will focus on Stockholm, but Welin said the team has big plans for the future.

“Of course we hope to go global eventually,” she exclaims. “There are more than 500 million registered dogs globally.”

2. Peepoople

Photo: Peepoople/Camilla Wirseen

Peepoople may be considered a start-up, but it’s already changing millions of lives.

“Sanitation isn’t something we even think about in a country like this,” founder Anders Wilhelmson tells the Local. “It’s such a normal thing.”

But 2.6 billion people in the world don’t even have access to the most basic toilet, Wilhelmson says.

“That’s about 40 percent of the population, an extremely tragic figure,” he exclaims. “And in that dense environment it means everything gets infected, and 2 million children die each year of diarrhoea from infected water.”

Wilhelmson, an award-winning architect who has worked on many buildings in central Stockholm and also drew up plans for moving the mining town of Kiruna, was teaching a postgraduate course in architecture when the idea was born.

“We were doing research on urban global development,” he explains. “And in particular that means informal slum development, since about 60 percent of the total global population consists of slum dwellers.”

As part of the course, Wilhelmson met with women in Bombay in 2005 – “pavement dwellers” who were among the very poorest in the society.

“And they were very clear about not needing architects,” Wilhelmson recalls. “They said they could manage that.”

What they couldn’t do was take care of personal hygiene.

“They posed the problem in a very clear way and I was shocked, struck, by the clarity of it. And I decided to engage myself.”

In other words, he created Peepoople.

“It’s the world’s only single-use, self-sanitizing toilet,” Wilhelmson explains. “It’s a bag which kills dangerous bacteria and parasites in the feces; it’s hygienic. It cleans naturally and quickly.”

Not only is the single-use toilet bag something that people can use in the safety of their home, but it also creates business opportunities for local micro entrepreneurs, who sell the Peepoo toilet but who also buys back the used Peepoo and sells it as fertilizer to community farmers.

“It’s a small, simple high-tech solution to one of the largest global problems.”

The company has just invested in a production line and hopefully will be able to produce half a million “toilets” in under 24 hours.

“We delivered one million toilets to the Phillipines after the typhoon, and now we are sending them to the big aid organizations refugee camps in South Sudan, Ukraine, and it is sold every day to the slum dwellers in Nairobi, Kenya and Goma, DR Congo,” Wilhelmson says.

“People all over the world are very happy using it. We’ve had tremendous results.”

3. BokaDirekt 

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Perhaps in a decade when the technology has evolved.

That’s the lesson of BokaDirekt, a now-successful booking company which has actually been around in some form since the 1990s.

“Back in the late 1990s they tried to use one of those automatic voice systems where you speak into the phone, saying what you want and when,” BokaDirekt CEO Christian Fricke tells The Local. “But it didn’t work, not back in those days, and it failed miserably.”

The startup was reborn in 2009, when Fricke joined the team. And this time it’s here to stay.

“Nowadays just about anyone has internet access on a daily basis, with smartphones and things like that,” Fricke says. “And the market is more mature. That wasn’t the case before.”

But what is it exactly?

“We are a booking service and a marketplace for services within the health and beauty sector,” Fricke says. “These kinds of service providers can’t really take any phone calls or answer emails while they’re with customers, but they need to secure the next appointment. So that’s where we come in, to help them get that next appointment without even picking up the phone.”

The online system has a consumer side as well, and provides a search engine where users can view and compare services.

“So if you’re an expat who recently moved to Stockholm and you don’t know where to get your nails done, you can use BokaDirekt to search for the nearest nail salons and the next available time slot,” Fricke explains. “And you can compare them to each other, compare prices, browse pictures, read about them, and book an appointment.”

So far the results and responses have been extremely positive – and the service is particularly popular among young new providers, beauty startups, trying to break into the market.

“We have a lot of people who went to beauty school and are now starting a company, and they just use social media in combination with BokaDirekt, and suddenly they have a thriving business,” Fricke says.

With more than 700,000 visitors to the site and more than 375,000 bookings each month, the company has just translated the site from Swedish to English to expand services to expats, and are launching right now in Finland as well.

“I’m not sure what’s next, but we have another eight or nine international markets we are currently negotiating with,” Fricke adds. “We have options.”

4.  Auddly

For most people, issues of musicians’ royalties and rights are confined to discussions of piracy and Taylor Swift shunning Spotify.

But for Niclas Molinder, it’s a little more personal.

“I have been writing songs and producing music for 17 years, and started a music publishing company seven years ago,” Molinder tells The Local. “And I realized quickly that there is a huge lack of information and communication in the music and publishing industry.”

Song-writers and publishers don’t communicate well, he says, and neither do performance rights organisations (PRO).

“There’s this debate that music writers and producers don’t get paid properly, and some of that is because we don’t keep track of the data and communicate,” Molinder explains.

Typically, a song hits the market a full year after it is written, and dozens of people may be involved.

“When the song is finally released, everyone goes chasing the information about what happened in that little room, who wrote what,” Molinder says. “And the creative heads have already written a hundred new songs since then. It creates huge problems for the industry to pay the money to the right person.”

That’s where Auddly comes in.

“Auddly is a database and interface for music creators, where they can track the important data in the creative process before the song is released,” Molinder says.

Using Auddly, producers and song creators all across the world have the same access to the same data, so there are no mix-ups about who did what.

“As soon as that information doesn’t match for everyone, there’s a dispute,” Molinder adds.

Clearly, Auddly filled a much-needed niche. Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus, Swedish mega-hit song writer Max Martin, and Avicii’s manager Ash Pournouri have all joined the company.

“It’s proof that this solution is needed, on a high-level but also for up-and-coming writers and amateurs,” Molinder says.

Well, Sweden did it again – revolutionized the music industry on yet another level.

5. PicHit.Me

Speaking of artist rights, photographers have a similar problem.

“My colleague Mathias Björkholm and I found out that 85 percent of photos used online are stolen, just taken from Google or Bing,” co-founder Henrik Bergqvist says. “And what we saw was a huge gap on the market.”

The answer was a new photo marketplace, a crowd-sourced image bank targeting multiple platforms and channels.

Sound familiar? It’s not.

“We found out two years ago that one of the biggest reasons for image piracy is the use of images in programs like PowerPoint and Word,” Bergqvist explains. “So we contacted Microsoft. They thought this was a great idea, and since then we have been working very closely with them.”

Enter PicHit.Me, “one channel for all the photos you could ever want”. With millions of photos and collaborations with Shutterstock as well, the service will be integrated into upcoming versions of Microsoft programs, making legal photo content accessible and easy – and free.

Indeed, PicHit works on a freemium model, meaning that those who sign up get photos for free.

“We’ve been called the Spotify of photography in that sense,” Bergqvist says. “You get legally cleared content, but we have other revenue options and a paid version for an enhanced experience.”

So how does it stay afloat?

“We take 40 percent of the revenue, and give 60 percent to photographers within the market,” Bergqvist explains.

Within that 60 percent there are two sections: one third is given to active users, meaning those who upload a certain amount of photos every month or curate, tag, and index photos.

“So by being active, even if your photos don’t get used, you get paid,” Bergqvist says.

The other two thirds of that revenue is based on an index like Spotify, so that the more a photo is used, the more the respective photographer gets.

“But everyone who is active each month is getting paid,” Bergqvist adds.

6. Melaud

Have you ever fallen asleep with your earphones in and woken up in pain – either from the headphones themselves or a blaring rock song?

Melaud hopes you’ll never have to experience that again.

“Basically, Melaud is a pair of in-ear earphones which measure the user’s activity and can adapt the audio,” founder Sammy Pergament tells The Local.

“So for instance, we can identify when the user is falling asleep and the volume will gradually decrease, or the audiobook or podcast will be paused.”

Or if you’re out jogging, Melaud can choose the appropriate playlist to help hike the pace until you reach the desired BPM.

Oh, and they’re also super comfortable – even to sleep in.

But the idea wasn’t born overnight.

“After studying marketing in Lund, I was working in Shanghai together with Amir Adlouni, and we figured it was a good opportunity to try something by ourselves.”

Of course, the two had no idea what they actually wanted to start.

“We asked for a six-month absence and moved out to Amir’s parents’ cottage in the middle of the woods in Småland, and started brainstorming,” Pergament says.

The duo trimmed down 70 ideas to 30, and then asked friends and family to vote.

Melaud was the winner, and for the past year the new product has been in development with support from business booster Springfield and SUP46.

Neither Pergament nor Adlouni – who is currently a passive minority shareholder – had an engineering background, which made the project a challenge.

“We’re both from the business world, and it’s a jungle out there,” Pergament says. “I was totally new in this entrepreneurial world and had to learn the hard way.”

But it all paid off, and with a team of technicians in Gothenburg and designers in Stockholm the first prototype of Melaud will be ready in just a few weeks.

With a little luck, the earphones will hit the market by Christmas, Pergament says.

“That might be too optimistic, though,” he added with a grin.

7. MinFarm

Sweden has a reputation for being green. They have green meatballs, an abundance of beehives, and even cancel construction plans when rare toads move in.

So it’s no surprise that Swedes also are concerned about what’s in their food, and where that food comes from.

Swede Anna Lynam and her Irish husband Stephen are two consumers who decided to step up to the plate – and change what’s on their plates.

“We have a summerhouse outside of Umeå, and we were trying to grow what we could ourselves,” Anna Lynam tells The Local. “We also wanted to be aware and sustainable consumers, and to make good choices when buying food.”

Easier said than done, the couple found.

“It’s just unnecessarily hard,” Lynam exclaims.

With Stephen’s background in IT, the two decided to try to bridge that gap, creating a more sustainable system for both farmers and consumers.

“There’s a desire from private consumer to buy good, local food direct from farmers, and there’s also a need from the famers to sell to these customers,” Lynam says. “The two just need to meet.”

The couple started MinFarm (My Farm), which helps consumers to buy food products directly from farmers in the region. Eggs, lamb meat, beef, honey, wheat, potatoes, and vegetables are just a view of the products available. Users can select their farm and objects online, place an order, and meet the farmer to receive the order when it is ready.

 “We have been overwhelmed with positive responses, both from farmers and consumers,” Lynam says.

“And it makes us feel that this is very important, too. Small scale farms are slowly disappearing from Sweden, and if we don’t make it easier for local farms to be profitable, they won’t be able to stay in business much longer.”

Currently the system is only open to consumers in Jämtland and Västerbotten, but MinFarm will be launching in Stockholm at the end of March.

“We already have 3,000 Stockholmers who have signed up,” Lynam says. “Our communities are always growing and developing.”

8. Apotea

More than 75 percent of Swedes over age 16 use smartphones, six year olds are learning HTML, and now Swedes are starting to insert microchips into their hands.

So putting your pharmacy online seems like a relatively small step – but a positive one for the Swedish market.

Apotea.se is Sweden's first full-scale pharmacy which has no physical stores - just online operations.

Story continues below…

 ”The company was actually started much earlier as Familjeapoteket (Family pharmacy), but it wasn’t going well,” Apotea CEO Pär Svärdson tells The Local.

That all changed when Svärdson got involved. Svärdson was one of the key figures behind online bookshop Adlibris when it started in 1997. His team sold the successful site to media company Bonnier in 2011, and then they turned their eyes to other ventures.

“The old gang from Adlibris took over, and we changed the name to Apotea,” Svärdson says. “Our idea is to apply our knowledge and ideas from selling books online to selling pharmaceuticals.”

So far it’s working. With prices about 18 percent lower than at physical pharmacies, as well as a large assortment of products, the company is growing quickly.

“The response has been fantastic,” Svärdson says. “We get about 10,000 new customers every week and tonnes of positive reviews.”

In fact, the market is growing so quickly that the company has to struggle to keep up.

“When a company is growing as quickly as Apotea, you  have to constantly think about the future and what the next challenge will be,” Svärdson explains. “For example, we had problems last autumn when our warehouse wasn’t big enough.”

But the company made it over that hurdle and is still growing.

“Our next step is to get really good at delivering prescription medicine,” the CEO says. “That sector is growing very quickly and there’s incredible potential there.”

9. Sticky

You may have heard of eye-tracking hardware, and the somewhat uncanny debate of eye-tracking on the internet.

But did you know it’s Swedish?

Sticky markets itself as "the next generation in ad accountability" which "gets inside the eyes of a consumer showing you whether your ad is actually seen or not".

Don’t worry, it’s not actually inside your eye – but chances are it’s already in your computer or mobile.

“The Sticky idea was to create a platform to do broad, quantitative eye tracking studies online, without using anything other than the respondents’ own hardware,” Magnus Linde, Head of Production at the company, explains.

Eye tracking studies have traditionally been associated with high costs and long lead times, Linde says – much due to the fact that the people you want to study need to be seated in front of a physical eye tracker.

“We spun out of Swedish technology company Tobii Technologies, the largest hardware eye tracking company in the world, in 2009,” Linde says. “Our cloud-based AutoGazer eye-tracking algorithm allows accurate eye tracking from webcams at any scale without the need for other hardware.”

But it’s not like someone is watching you through the web cam – “the process is entirely automatic”.

“We know that every successful story starts with good content,” the company website states. “That’s why our solution gives insight into what your consumers actually see and engage with, through any webcam.”

Essentially it’s nothing less than an ad marketing revolution.

“The main focus of the application has been on digital media in general, and online display advertising specifically, providing the tool for marketers to drive and maximize visual impact.”

The company now has offices in Stockholm, New York, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai, and the future looks bright.

“Responses have been very positive all along,” Linde says. “Eye tracking is really useful and intuitive to most people.” 

Worried about people spying on you? Don't be. The software is entirely opt-in.

"When people opt in, they give Sticky permission to turn on their webcam for specific web pages only; when they leave the designated test page or pages, the camera automatically switches off," Linde says. 

10. Yanzi

The “internet of things” is a phrase which has been tossed about for a few years now – but what is it?

”We’ve been talking about Internet of Things for a long time and been working on this since 2008,” Marie Lassborn, one of Yanzi’s founders, tells The Local.

“We were early, when we started working with it no one really knew what Internet-of-Things was. But now there is a market and we are one of the companies that have a ready-to-use solution.”

 “Yanzi is a way of connecting whatever you want to the internet. You have an app in your phone and can monitor and manage temperatures, alarms, when your kids get home from school, humidity, and things like that in your home.”

Sounds nice, right? Until Yanzi, the only problem with the Internet of Things was setting it up.

“Previously the solutions on the market have been complicated to install, use, and upgrade,” Lassborn explains. “We got rid of all the complexity for the users and made it so simple that anyone now can install it, use it, and add new things.”

Yanzi Networks is an IT platform and software programme which simplifies everything about the Internet of Things and home automation, both for private consumers and companies.

“We have a patented process for super-simple installation,” Lassborn says. “The technology is still very advanced, but it feels simple.”

Once the app is downloaded, the Yanzi gateway device will automatically find all other devices online in the house, and users can monitor and modify objects from their phone.

So all the user has to do is download an app, insert batteries into Yanzi meters, and insert Yanzi plugs into electrical outlets, Lassborn adds – something anyone should be able to handle.

“It is for anyone to use, anywhere, anytime,” she says.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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