Jason Dainter talks quickly and excitedly about how the Swedish startup scene has expanded in the six years since he moved to Uppsala from the UK, describing seeing its booming success story first hand.
“The startup landscape has changed really quickly in Stockholm in that time. In London it was already quite established when I left, with plenty of investors and co-working spaces. Today I would say Stockholm is thriving and within a short space of time Sweden has built a strong reputation globally,” he says.
Referring to himself as a self-confessed love refugee, he first moved here to set up a base with his Swedish girlfriend in Uppsala, a university town some 40 minutes north of Stockholm. Close enough to tap into the big city business scene, far enough to avoid the worst of the Swedish capital's housing crisis.
“I've definitely got the long straw, but I have seen it through friends: my Facebook feed is packed with 'I need help finding a place to live' posts,” he says about the city's eight years' average wait for a rental apartment.
The 31-year-old entrepreneur today works as head of brand relations for Stockholm-based Universal Avenue, a startup platform that helps online brands grow on new markets across the world, and runs one of Sweden's largest technology startup conventions in Uppsala, called Uppstart.
“My experience moving to Sweden was pretty smooth. I'm an entrepreneur so finding a job was all about networking for me. I joined Universal Avenue after meeting the CEO for a coffee,” says Dainter.
“Swedish companies tend to think globally from day one and within a few months of starting, at least half of Universal Avenue's workforce was made up of non-Swedes. All written and spoken communication was in English and this certainly made things easier, though my Swedish is getting better by the day.”
But while he himself found it relatively easy to relocate and set up shop in a new country, he is worried that other international workers following in his footsteps may not find the ride quite as smooth.
Dainter is a strong advocate of making it easier for startups, who may not have the funds to pay their employees a competitive rate in the early years of the company, to instead offer stock options for staff, allowing new talents to become part-owners in emerging businesses.
He also plans to join a protest next month organized by the Sthlm Tech Meetup group, led by US entrepreneur Tyler Crowley and initiated after the co-founders of Spotify suggested that growing startups would be forced to leave Stockholm if its rental housing shortage continues.
“We have to be able to attract global talent. They're certainly not coming to Sweden for the weather, so what do we have to offer? I think to some extent it's caught the government off guard, because the startup culture just exploded. In a way they helped create it, now they need to embrace it,” says Dainter.
Jason Dainter. Photo: Private
However, on the flip side of the coin, he argues that while Stockholm works to solve its problems, the debate could provide an opportunity for other cities across Sweden to step in to take up part of the mantle.
“Uppsala is interesting for startup growth because we don't have the same accommodation problems as Stockholm, but it is still close to the capital,” he says.
With Uppstart, a yearly event to help students, entrepreneurs and investors meet, mingle and make new contacts, Dainter hopes to put the town on the map as Sweden's next startup hub.
“Uppsala is my baby, really. I started Uppstart two years ago in a small bar and maybe 200 people came to the first event. Last time we had more than 800 people mingling at Uppsala Castle.”
“Starting it was a personal challenge of mine, but I also did it for Uppsala. We have huge talent in the city,” he says, rattling off a range of the startup scene's hottest names, including Skype founder Niklas Zennström and Klarna's Sebastian Siemiatkowski, who both studied in the town.
“But we haven't really built a strong startup brand yet, and that was part of Uppstart's mission.”
Just like many other entrepreneurs, Dainter admits to occasionally finding it difficult to switch off and relax, but he does still appear to have adapted to some of the famed Nordic work-life balance routine.
“I live in the countryside in Uppsala near a lake, so I'm into fishing. One of the best things about Sweden is that the nature is always right at your doorstep. I spend most of my time in front of my computer so I like the outdoorsy stuff,” he laughs.
Now firmly settled in the Nordic country, he says he sees himself staying in Sweden for good.
“I feel lucky to have witnessed the country go from a startup underdog to a global player in such a short period. I just hope that over the coming years the right decisions are made by policy makers to ensure that the eco-system can become stronger and stronger.”