Did you know that every time you open a milk carton, you're experiencing your own little bit of Skåne magic? The first milk carton, the first artificial kidney, and even the first portable phone trace their roots back to southern Sweden.
And the region's trend for ground-breaking ideas doesn't show any signs of stopping. Recent inventions include the invisible bicycle helmet, touchless cameras, and pyjamas which protect against bed-wetting.
So what does the future hold for this dynamic region? The Local talked with ten up-and-coming start-ups – all from Skåne, all ready to change the world.
Click on the company name to jump ahead, or scroll down.
The founders of eDiabeat. Photo: eDiabeat.
eDiabeat is an app designed to make life easier and more fun for those with diabetes – and although it's still in development, the start-up has already won Venture Cup – Sweden’s largest competition for those trying to start businesses.
The app uses game mechanics to make learning about diabetes fun. Verified by doctors and packed with all the information a diabetic could need, eDiabeat encourages diabetics to interact and support each other, all while learning about their condition and how to live with it.
In other words, eDiabeat is the diabetes doctor of the future.
"Diabetes is growing very quickly, particularly in developing countries," co-founder Annica Carnbring Belfrage explained.
"In some of those areas people may not have access to a doctor – but most people nowadays have a phone."
Belfrage, who has a background in behavioural science, created the company with diabetic and economist Richard Laurits and entrepreneur Martin Bråkenhielm. Together the Malmö-based trio decided to make every-day healthcare more engaging.
“When you get that diagnosis your life changes overnight,” Belfrage said. “We want to make it more fun to learn about diabetes, and thus improve quality of life.”
And the process of starting up in Skåne has been truly exciting, Belfrage said.
“The entrepreneurial atmosphere here is very strong,” she explained. “You get a lot of help here, from other entrepreneurs, incubators and so on.”
A beta version of eDiabeat, in Swedish, will be released in November for testing. But Belfrage said that international editions will be in development simultaneously, and by early 2015 the app may be on the global market.
Founder Pernilla Elmquist. Photo: Peter Erlandsson
The street food movement is taking over the world – and one woman decided Sweden was going to be part of it.
After coming in sixth place on Swedish Master Chef in 2011, Pernilla Elmquist decided she wanted to work full-time with food.
“It changed my life,” Elmquist told The Local. “I couldn’t afford to open a restaurant, and I realized that food on wheels is perfect for me.”
Elmquist and her fiancé bought a trailer in 2013 and premiered Nordic Street Food at the Malmö Festival.
As both developer and cook, Elmquist came up with dishes to sell from the trailer, using only Nordic ingredients. Her first creations included a pulled beef wrap and a wrap with chanterelle mushrooms.
The couple sold 5,000 portions of food in just eight days – and the company was on a roll. Elmquist attended the British Street Food Awards at the end of September, and went back home proudly bearing an award for Best Overseas Trader, as well as a nomination for best dish.
“Everyone loved it,” Elmquist recalled. “People were very curious, as most of the street food was American or Asian-inspired. Some people had never even seen chantarelles or lingonberries before.”
Originally from Västerås, Elmquist said that Malmö was the perfect location to start up her business.
“We have an amazing amount of fantastic produce down here, for one,” she said.
“It’s like living in a pantry. And Malmö has a lot of confidence and a lot of different cultures. It’s a great place to be.”
After blood, bone is the second most-transplanted tissue in the human body. Whether it’s due to a motorcycle accident, a gym-class fracture, or a broken hip, hundreds of thousands of people need bone surgery each year.
And with those kinds of numbers, infection is a very real risk.
“The whole mission of BoneSupport was to develop a bone substitute which could be used in surgical procedures, but which could also be combined with different types of drugs, for instance antibiotics,” CEO Lloyd Diamond explained.
The company BoneSupport was officially started up in 2001, but has had its share of growing pains. The research behind its technology has taken decades, with operations focused on development, studies, and regulatory approvals until 2011.
The substitute used, designed by BoneSupport, is called Cerament.
“It’s a synthetic form of bone to replace whatever was lost in actual surgery, but incorporated with antibiotics for patients at risk of infection,” Diamond explained.
The company has only been commercial since 2012, when Lloyd Diamond, an American, came onboard. But it’s clear the company has filled a much-needed gap.
“We’ve been growing at over 100 percent a year since 2011,” Diamond said. “Close to 10,000 patients have already benefitted from the technology.”
And those numbers do not include children in Rwanda. The company is a strong believer in corporate social responsibility, and in 2013 the team spent time at the University Teaching Hospital of Butare in Rwanda, using Cerament to help patients with bone infections.
Back home at the company headquarters in Lund, Diamond said such life-changing innovation isn’t unusual in the region.
“Skåne has a rich history of pharmaceutical development. There’s also a very close link between industry and the universities here, a close link between academia and product development.”
CEO Magnus Friberg and the app Zaplox. Photos: Zaplox
The idea for Zaplox was born in 2010, and although the path hasn’t been a short one, the company is now on the way to international success. The goal? Free the world from physical keys.
“It’s strange that you can now fly from Sweden to the US with your ticket on your phone, but you can’t check in at a hotel without standing in line to get that piece of plastic,” Zaplox CEO Magnus Friberg told The Local.
The solution, of course, is mobile keys. In 2011 Zaplox began working with SkiStar, a company offering apartments and cabins in the mountains, offering mobile keys for customers to access their rental cottages.
After a two-year trial period with pilot customers, the company was ready for a wider audience.
“The technique worked, the customers were satisfied, and we decided to start the expansion,” Friberg explained.
During the past year Zaplox has taken off, and now the company has operations in Sweden as well as various other European nations, with plans of expansion in North America. There has even been interest from Asia.
That the company began in Lund, Skåne, was incidental, Friberg said – but that they stayed was intentional.
“The company thrives here,” Friberg explained.
“There is tonnes of competence in this region. Not just competence in a certain trade, but people with international experience. There’s wonderful accessibility to an international labour market.”
Currently Zaplox runs on a business-to-business platform, selling its systems primarily to hotels and conference centres – but Friberg said the company has not eliminated any possibilities.
For now they will keep expanding throughout the world, “Offering a greener and smarter way to open doors.”
Ever been tired of the way your backpack cuts into your shoulders and drags down your body?
Well, so was Claes Bergkvist.
“I started thinking about it way back when I was a scout,” Bergkvist told The Local.
But he didn’t just think about it. For the past six years Bergkvist has been searching for a solution to backpack problems. It began as a hobby, but today Bergqkvist is CEO of CoxaCarry – a company designing patented, ergonomic backpacks.
“When I got the patent in January 2012, I realized I really might be on to something,” Bergkvist recalled. “I’ve been to events and fairs but there’s really nothing like this.”
The coXacarry backpack moves 80 percent of weight from the back and shoulders down to the hips – thus inspiring the name; coxa is Latin for hip.
The design frees the arms and allows for a much wider range of movement, while also making the weight more manageable. It also features a patented buckle and a special design distributing weight more equally across the body, all presented in a thin, compact design.
Bergqvist said that the design will be a huge asset for athletes, as well as commuters and those with shoulder and back problems.
With the design process scheduled to be finished within the next couple of weeks, preliminary production in China will begin in November.
CoXacarry will be tested in its production market, and then promoted in Norway – and, soon after, globally.
But as global as the company becomes, Bergkvist said he plans to keep its headquarters in Åhus, a municipality near the eastern coast of Skåne.
“It may be a smaller area, but there are lots of creative people in Åhus,” Bergkvist explained.
“We’ve wondered why so many new ideas are created here. It must be something in the society. An openness, perhaps. It’s an incredible environment.”
Co-founder Ingemar Pettersson. Photo: Kvittar
The story of Kvittar actually began in 2009 – and there have been a few turns along the way.
“It was the first way to handle receipts digitally in Sweden,” Ingemar Pettersson, one of the company's four founders, told The Local.
“Everything already exists digitally, and yet we have to print it out on paper, wasting time and money,” Pettersson explained.
So the team created the app Kvittar – a witty name combining kvitto, the word for receipt, and the phrase det kvittar, meaning it doesn’t matter. But what is it, exactly?
At stores using Kvittar – a handful throughout Sweden – customers can receive their receipt digitally instead of on paper.
And for book-keeping in general, Kvittar lets users create digital versions of their own paper receipts, as well as creating expense reports, travel reports, and other documents to simplify every-day accounting.
“One of our proudest accomplishments is that the tax authority has made the rules for digital receipts clearer, and gave us the green light,” Pettersson said.
Before Kvittar there were no digital receipt systems deemed secure enough for use by the tax authority.
But as separate receipts become more obsolete due to the rise of mobile payments, Kvittar has had to evolve. And indeed, it is the tale of a survivor.
“We focused on the expense reports and other features, and that has gone very well,” Pettersson said. “We’ve become experts when people talk about product development.”
Pettersson, who is originally from Stockholm and has also lived in Sweden’s north, moved to Skåne in 2006 and said he immediately felt at home.
“This area is so dynamic, and the quality of life is so high,” he explained. “There’s a belief here that things are possible. Why shouldn’t you be able to change the world?”
An Ekolution shed med of hemp. Photo: Ekolution
It’s no secret that Sweden, like its other Nordic neighbours, is keen on being green. The environment and sustainability are top concerns for many Swedes
Which is why Remi Loren started building houses from hemp.
“I’ve always been very interested in sustainable materials and social responsibility,” Loren, whose background is in economy and marketing, told The Local.
After reading a book about hemp and textiles, Loren’s interest for the material kept growing. He read that the plant could be used as a building material – and began learning how at a hemp conference in 2012.
Irish "pioneer of hemp building" Steve Allin held a course, and Loren was inspired more than ever.
“We built a 10 square metre shed from hemp in just three days,” Loren recalled.
“It’s easy to build with, and also safe for your health, works for those with asthma and allergies, it’s sustainable, mold and fire resistant… there’s a whole checklist.”
Today, Loren is the founder of two companies – Ekolution, which has developed hemp-building techniques and materials, and HampaHus, which employs engineers and architects to create actual housing designs using hemp construction.
“All of the companies in the world have the same supplier: nature,” Loren explained. “So our goal is to work with nature, not against it. We are aiming for a sustainable, durable, circular economy.”
Loren said that the support his company received from incubators in the region was priceless.
“Skåne’s economy is very focused on innovation,” he said. “You get a lot of support and a lot of room to grow.”
Everyone knows about Minecraft and CandyCrush, two Swedish games which instantly captured the world.
But Sweden's – and Skåne's – influence on the gaming world may be much larger than you think. Warner Brothers, Square Enix, and Microsoft are just three of an impressive lineup of companies which has chosen to rely on LocalizeDirect for translating – or “localizing” – their games.
“I have a long background within the gaming industry, and was actually one of the first game developers in Sweden back in the early 90s,” founder Christoffer Nilsson, based in Helsingborg, told The Local.
Nilsson explained that one of the final steps in producing a game was localization, or translating the product for other markets. But it was always a stressful process, as it happened simultaneously with testing, debugging, and putting on the finishing touches before the game hit the market.
“It was quite painful, and there were no good tools to do it,” Nilsson said. “We wanted to start localization at an earlier stage so it wouldn’t hit developers at this bad time.”
In the beginning of 2010, Nilsson and a colleague kicked off LocalizeDirect – the localizing tool they never had.
Translating a Batman game for Warner Brothers was their pilot mission – a two-year process which they pulled off with flying colours.
Today the company consists of a service side, which helps companies to translate their assets, and a set of tools, a control system of sorts, to help companies manage localization throughout the process.
“Now we’re trying to reach smaller and indie developers,” Nilsson said. “It’s more of a long-distance run than a sprint, because a lot of these tools we sell on recommendation from previous users, and it takes two or three years to make a large console game.”
Nilsson added that the company would never have gotten off the ground without the support of various incubators in the region.
“It’s a very supportive area. We were working with Connect network first, and then Almi which provided us with loans, and then finally got investments from Teknoseed. So it’s great to be in this area.”
Indeed, Skåne is a confident region – and Watersprint is a confident startup.
“The company was started based on the idea of disinfecting tap water everywhere in the world," CEO Anders Ruland told The Local.
Founded in 2013, Watersprint has quickly made an impact. The company purifies water using unique patterns of UV light and nanotechnology – and no chemicals.
"We give both the environment and health the utmost priority, so no chemicals are used in the cleaning process," Ruland said.
The company designs, manufactures, and sells products which make drinking water safer for both people and the environment. The company's Dis4Tap design can be installed on standard water pipes for use at hotels, restaurants, or even throughout entire villages or towns.
"It's both environmentally friendly and energy efficient," Ruland explained.
And as for Skåne, the home of Watersprint’s ground-breaking technology?
"It has a great mix of competence and entrepreneurship, a mix needed to be successful," Ruland said.
Founder Anders Hedberg assisting a farmer. Photo: Sensefarm
Can you measure the temperature of sugar beets with your mobile phone? What about monitoring the humidity of your potatoes to avoid disease? Indeed you can, thanks to Sensefarm – the second generation of temperature sensors.
“We use sensors connected to our own GSM device that transfers the signals up from the field, data is then stored in the cloud and you can view it on the mobile phone,” founder Anders Hedberg explained.
Hedberg, formerly an engineer at Ericsson, started his company with Johnny Nilsson who had produced web sites for sugar producers.
While they were doing a mobile app for Nordic Sugar, Hedberg was asked if he could make sure sugar beets wouldn't freeze during winter storage.
Then the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciencies (SLU) asked him for assistance measuring data.
“First it was just making sure things wouldn’t freeze. Then it was having the correct moisture in the soil. Then it was humidity measurements,” Hedberg said.
Today Sensefarm, based in Lund, lets farmers monitor various factors through their mobile phones, giving them the future potential to avoid over-fertilisation, disease, and dehydration, and making sure that circumstances are ideal for their crops.
But it’s not just for farmers. The technology is perfectly suited for other sectors as well, and Hedberg is in the middle of discussions with Stockholm city council about how Sensefarm can be used to monitor and maintain the city’s flora.
“By really measuring all of these factors, you can eliminate unnecessary chemicals and environmental damage,” Hedberg told The Local.
“If you measure the humidity outdoors you can predict when certain diseases will come, and only use pesticides at those times. It’s not only beneficial for farmers and cities, but also for the environment.”
Hedberg described the atmosphere of Skåne’s business scene as social and supportive.
“At least once a month there is some sort of meetup where you can present your ideas to others,” he said.
“You can meet other entrepreneurs, and there are plenty of resources to help you get in contact with other people and incubators. Skåne is an open community of entrepreneurs and startups.”