How Stockholm University helps shape Europe's startup hub

With more tech ‘unicorn’ companies per capita than any other city other than Silicon Valley, it’s safe to say Stockholm is one of Europe’s most important tech hubs.

Published: Tue 28 Mar 2017 09:19 CEST
How Stockholm University helps shape Europe's startup hub
Photo: Clément Morin
And it just keeps growing. The Swedish government makes it easy to start your own company, and veteran entrepreneurs are eager to give back and help the new generation.
Sweden also ranks second in the Global Innovation Index, where it has been a key player for many years.
And then there’s Stockholm University: connecting the brightest minds in the world and executing cutting-edge research with the potential to change all of our lives.
“Stockholm attracts people from all around the world – and one reason is because we offer a lot of high-quality university programmes,” says Fredrik Blix, researcher and associate professor at Stockholm University. “That’s one thing that makes our tech scene so strong.”
Blix teaches the Master's Programme in Information Security - one of many English-language programmes at the school. Stockholm University pioneered academic research and education in the field in the 1960s, but in today's digital era, it's more relevant than ever.
“If you look at the world around you, everything that’s important for our safety as human beings – food, water, heating, payment systems – is controlled by IT systems these days,” Blix explains.
“Without cybersecurity, we can’t function.”
The programme is entirely in English and is open for anyone with a Bachelor’s degree, which means students from all walks of life find their way through the door.
Photo: Eva Dalin
“We get students from many different backgrounds, and the programme approaches cybersecurity in a multidisciplinary way,” Blix says. “We look at it from a technical point of view, a managerial point of view, and a societal point of view.”
The real-world applications of an education in the field have far-reaching impact. Researchers at Stockholm University work with the International Organization for Standardization, developing the cybersecurity standards that much of the world will follow.
“We also work with government agencies in Sweden, and develop cybersecurity methodologies for businesses to follow,” Blix says. “We publish our research for free so everyone can use these methods to increase their own cybersecurity.”
And that's just one of many examples of Stockholm University's remarkable tech prowess.
Another Stockholm University researcher, Mats Nilsson, has developed a 3D-printed, smartphone-based microscope which can analyse and potentially diagnose samples of tumours and bacteria - potentially helping fight cancer and antibiotic resistance.
Photo: Clément Morin
The school is also home to the Mobile Life Centre, which does research in mobile services and ubiquitous computing, and has partnerships with Ericsson, Microsoft, and Stockholm City. About 30 researchers there are exploring how mobile devices can have a positive impact on our quality of life in new, innovative ways that nurture communication.
Barry Brown, a Scottish researcher living in Sweden and working at the Mobile Life Centre, studies interactions between humans and robots of all kinds - such as autonomous cars and why their lack of
"social skills" is a problem.
“My specialty is finding out how computers change people’s lives – and making them less irritating,” Brown remarks. “Recently I have been looking at how self-driving cars work, and how they might disturb other drivers. I’m really excited by the possibilities of autonomous cars, but there are problems that need to be solved. I enjoy getting companies in Sweden to work on these problems.”
Brown, who has previously been a researcher at the University of California San Diego, visited Sweden multiple times and fell in love with the country, deciding he wanted his daughter to grow up there. The quality of life, he says, is stupendous.
“One thing that attracted me to Sweden was how equal it is. There’s not much hierarchy,” he explains. “And then there’s fika culture. I know it’s a cliché, but you can’t undervalue the importance of fika for good research!”
And while cinnamon buns certainly may boost brain activity (we haven’t actually researched that), Brown is equally as impressed by the city’s bustling tech scene.
“Stockholm has a very active tech scene, and it is also an incredibly creative city in terms of music and culture. And being in a creative city is really important for the kind of work we do,” he explains.
Photo: Eva Dalin
“A lot of students come out of programmes at Stockholm University and go on to start their own companies.”
Blix agrees.
“Researchers frequently start their own companies,” he says, adding that the university and the city have a symbiotic relationship where new and experienced entrepreneurs and researches can make connections and share ideas.
“After all, Stockholm has a lot of brain power.”
This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Stockholm University


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