When Karlstad University student Joakim Bank got the idea of starting a store to sell used coursebooks to his fellow students, it turned out to be the first step on a career that would see him named as Sweden’s young business leader of the year within just three years.
Campusbokhandeln (which translates simply as ‘The Campus Bookstore), was inspired by a similar project in Örebro. It started in 2008 with an investment of just 6,000 kronor. Since then, students have earned more than 11.5 million kronor from the sale of books at the company’s five bookshops at universities across Sweden.
This success has turned Joakim Bank into an icon for young Swedish entrepreneurs.
Yet despite winning a string of prizes, Joakim Bank has not rested on his laurels. Rather, he has gone on to broaden his business career, buying iButiken, the Apple Premium Reseller in Karlstad where he had a part-time job during while studying finance at the university. All before his 25th birthday.
The university’s support was a big boost in the early days, he says:
“The most important thing for me was that they believed in me and listened to me. They encouraged my idea and thought it was fun. But they also gave more practical assistance, helping to find premises for the company.
Joakim Bank’s success has inspired him to co-sponsor a grant to the university’s student of the year, rewarding those who have improved the student environment by starting a company or running voluntary projects.
This imaginative approach is often found among students at Karlstad, a modern, career-focused university which offers a large number of courses in English. These include master’s courses in business, engineering, media studies, technology, nano studies and computer science.
Many of these courses involve close cooperation with business. Students often go on company visits, and companies use the students for input and research - something that gives them invaluable experience.
The university runs a project known as ‘Uppdragsbörsen’ or ‘Project Exchange’, which carries out matchmaking between local companies looking for smart ideas and students looking for experience.
In a recent successful bit of matchmaking, students from the university were used by a local company that runs a project to encourage healthy lifestyles among Karlstad residents. They received help from students to present the project’s results in an easily understood and statistically accurate way.
In another example of commercial cooperation, design students were asked by innovative Norwegian puschair maker Nordic Cab AB to help come up with design improvements for their models. The company also asked business studies students to do an analysis of its marketing strategy and its pricing model.
“The result was research into a number of issues that we have been able to apply directly to our daily work,” according to CEO Sebastian van den Bergen.
Working so closely with companies during their studies often inspires Karlstad students to try their hand at going into business. And when they do, there is always help at hand. At Drivhuset, an incubator for companies started by students, a large number of student entrepreneurs have found support.
Independent, but part-funded by a grant from the university, Drivhuset has helped found everything from a communications agency to a company developing iPhone and Android apps. Drivhuset started in Karlstad in 1993, and quickly spread to other universities around Sweden. There are now twelve branches of the incubator at various Swedish seats of learning.
“Students wanting to use their academic knowledge to start new companies are offered free legal and financial advice, among other things.” says Elina Svensson, project leader at Drivhuset.
“The people who come to us have studied all sorts of things, although economics and engineering are over-represented.”
While many of those starting companies at Karlstad are approaching the end of their courses, some run businesses and study at the same time:
“There was one guy who was studying design, and he started a company to offer his services, and did this while carrying on with his academic work,” says Elina Svensson.
An important aspect of Drivhuset’s success is a strong relationship with the university itself.
“We work very well with them - they are keen to encourage what we do,” she says.