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'I invest my own money, take my own risks'

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'I invest my own money, take my own risks'
Shea Wilson moved to Sweden as a student and is now an entrepreneur. Photo: The Local
06:38 CET+01:00
Shea Wilson, 34, fled the US financial crisis to study in Gothenburg. Six years on, he works and lives at a tech hub in Stockholm, which also provides an innovative solution to the city's housing shortage.
It was a postcard of the Swedish capital that first drew Shea Wilson away from the sunny beaches of California to chilly Scandinavia.
 
"I had never been to Sweden before I moved here," he laughs.
 
But he says he got inspired to explore masters programmes in the Nordic nation after receiving the memento from a friend who was away travelling, while he was stuck at home considering his next career steps amid a tough job market.
 
"I was working as a mechanical engineer in the US but it wasn't looking very good in a lot of industries, so it felt like a good time to study.
 
"My good friend Naureen sent me this postcard (...) it read 'it's really cool, I met some people from this university called Chalmers, you should check it out' (...) Up until then I had not thought of Sweden as a place to go."
 
Wilson scored a place studying product development at the prestigious university in Gothenburg, before being hired as a consultant by one of Sweden's biggest engineering firms, Scania.
 
He found his way to the picture-perfect Swedish capital on a nine-month assignment, working in the city during the week, while keeping his base on the west coast.
 
It was a move that would lead to the American's full immersion in Stockholm's tech scene.
 

A postcard of Stockholm drew Wilson to Sweden. Photo: Ola Ericson/Image Bank Sweden
 
Nestled in the cobbled back streets of Stockholm's old town (Gamla Stan) is a five storey building that dates back to the 14th century. Consisting of both shared dormitories and double bedrooms, it hosts 12 long term residents and short term tenants when there is space. Most work in the city's tech industry, although current housemates also include a lawyer and an actress. They work, eat and sleep on the premises.
 
The co-living space is called Hus24 and Wilson first stayed there as a temporary resident during his project for Scania, after spotting it on Airbnb.
 
"It's a good environment being around people you can brainstorm with or who just get what you are doing," explains Wilson.
 
In fact, he loved it so much that it helped inspire him to quit his job and set up his own consulting business. He later moved into the house full time.
 
"I had always wanted to start my own company and Stockholm felt like the place to do it," the Californian explains.
 
"I started out in the six-person crazy shared room (...) which is not as bad as it sounds," he smiles, adding that he has since graduated to a twin room, which he shares with a platonic female friend.
 
"If you're around people that you like, you don't need as much privacy," argues the 34-year-old.
 

Shea's bedroom. His roomate lives on the other side of the chest of drawers. Photo: The Local
 
 
Alongside his consulting work, Wilson has also launched his own software business since moving into the collective.
 
"I guess you could say I got bored with the nine-to-five very structured world of Swedish business," he says.
 
"Now my consulting is a steady income and it keeps me connected to industry and networks and the corporate world. But by working on my own I have a lot more flexibility and the chance to invest my own money in other projects, take my own risks."
 
Hus24 was devised by Swede Lisa Renander, 33, who stayed in a similar startup home on a visit to Silicon Valley and wanted to recreate the creative and entrepreneural atmosphere she'd experienced while avoiding "anti-social apartment life" in Stockholm. She found an investor for the project and the house opened its doors in 2013.
 
"There's a lot to do to make it all work," she says, listing everything from asking people to label food in the fridge to a rule which means guests must not approach other housemates if they are wearing headphones "as a sign that they want their own quiet private time".
 
She says tenants are also asked to find temporary alternative accommodation if they want to spend the night with a date or new partner.
 

Lisa Renander (centre) and Shea Wilson (far left) chat to two prospective tenants who have been invited to dinner. Photo: The Local
 
Wilson argues that such sacrifices have been manageable, although he's looking forward to experiencing what he calls Renander's "more grown up" next project.
 
The Swede is currently courting investment for a "tech farm" housing development in the Swedish countryside, designed for both singles and families who want to put down roots and be closer to nature, while remaining part of the startup community.
 
Renander is exploring a number of locations within an hour from Stockholm, with the farm also set to include a "tech hotel" for entrepreneurs seeking a temporary base while they source accommodation in the city's notoriously competitive rental market.
 

Lisa Renander (far left) and early tenants back in 2013. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Image Bank Sweden
 
Wilson says he plans to "stick around" in Sweden in order to be part of the project, although he hopes to mould his business in a way that will also allow him to spend time back home in California.
 
"I am so excited about the tech farm," he tells The Local.
 
"Hus24 has been perfect for this time in my life and I would definitely recommend it to others, but I am transitioning to wanting something a bit different, with some more space."
 
In the meantime, he plans to continue making the most of living in the heart of his adopted "beautiful, compact and accessible" city.
 
"I think that Sweden is the most amazing country. And you know I found that postcard from my friend the other day when I was cleaning and it made me really, really happy."
 
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