‘Swedes in the startup scene are way more forward. If they want investment, they can’t just sit back’

Just over a month after moving to Sweden from the other side of the world, Australian Sonia Kaurah is already trying to make working culture more social in her job as Community Manager for startup hub SUP46.

'Swedes in the startup scene are way more forward. If they want investment, they can't just sit back'
Sonia Kaurah moved from Australia to Sweden in 2017. Photo: Private

Though Stockholm has an internationally-renowned tech scene, Kaurah didn't plan her move around career opportunities, instead moving for a reason that has attracted many others to the Swedish capital. 

Her connection to the country started with a Swedish boyfriend in Melbourne: “He was doing an exchange at a university there, and my flatmate was on the same exchange, so that's how we met. He stayed longer in Melbourne than he was meant to, and we started living together, so we had to decide if we were going to stay in Melbourne or move here”.

The “where to live” decision is one many international couples have to face. Luckily Kaurah always wanted to live in Europe, and had several friends here. Then there is the appeal of being so close to a number of different countries and cultures.

“Being from Australia, you're in the middle of nowhere. So I think being in the heart of Europe is insane, you fly for an hour and you’re in a different country”. It takes longer to fly from Sydney to Perth than to fly from Stockholm to Tel-Aviv.

But moving still raised some concerns, which is natural for someone who had never visited Sweden before and therefore didn't know enough about the country to make such a big decision.

“I said 'Okay, I need to go to Stockholm to see if I can get a decent job, to see what the startup scene is like, and if I like the city, if the language a barrier'.”

Kaurah came to Sweden's capital on a scouting mission and spent ten days meeting people and networking. Through her previous work in Melbourne she was put in touch with three people in Stockholm, who in turn introduced her to more, who then referred her further forward still. An invite to an after-work event meant meeting Lukas Gräf, membership manager at SUP46.

She told him she was moving, and he invited her in for a chat the next day. “And that’s how that happened! So once I figured out that I could get a good job here, and that language wasn’t a barrier, and that I like the city, I was like, sweet, this is perfect!”

Although the Australian only knows “about 20 words” of Swedish, she says English is crucial for her work, as it is the language of the startup world. Members of SUP46 must also have the desire to expand internationally, so everything they do – the meetings, the pitches – must be in English. It also helps that Swedes are so fluent in English and willing to converse in the language.

“There are definitely emails that are forwarded to me in Swedish, and then I have to translate. But I can always go back to the person and say ‘Hey, I’m so sorry I don't speak Swedish, can we converse in English?’ and they’re always fine with that.”

Sonia Kaurah at work. Photo: Private

After just over a month in Stockholm Kaurah has hit the ground running with her job as community manager for SUP46. That means taking care of members, partners, sponsors, and investors. It also means organizing events, bringing in keynote speakers, putting together pitch sessions and mentoring pools, as well as simply getting everyone together.

Even as a community manager in her previous job in Melbourne at a different co-working space, and someone with a startup back in Australia, coming to Stockholm still blew her away.

“Melbourne has more than double the population of Stockholm, but there's way more funding here, way more help, and way more spaces than I thought there would be. I came here thinking there would be five co-working spaces, or five hubs, and when I started checking it out I was like ‘whoa, this is insane!’”

Stockholm has an impressive start-up network, being the home of many unicorns (startup companies valued over $1 billion) such as Spotify, Klarna, King, and Mojang, and frequently appearing in rankings as among the best startup hubs in the world.

READ ALSO: Stockholm second best in Europe for startups

Although that means a myriad of career opportunities, the community manager misses the social aspects of life back in Melbourne. There, colleagues would go out together after work for a drink or a meal. Although not everyone stayed out every night, these social gatherings after work brought people closer together. In Stockholm it's not the same.

“Here, it’s social, but not to the point of going out and grabbing a meal or a drink together – not even lunch, it’s not that common to go have lunch together here. Sure, you have a chat with people in the kitchen, but I find that the community isn’t as connected as I’d expected. And that’s something I want to change.”

Some of the companies who work at SUP46. Photo: Private

Her explanation for the difference is that people in the Swedish startup industry are particularly focused and put a lot into making their business grow. Starting a new company and making it succeed requires a lot of work, a lot of energy – and a lot of time. Rather than being a consequence of Swedish culture, people working that much to make their company thrive might not be willing to go out and socialise at the end of the day.

“You know, people say that Swedes are reserved – which is true, to an extent – but I think in the startup scene they are more forward, because they have to be. If they want to get investment, they can’t just sit back and not talk to anyone; they have to go talk to people in meetings and events, and go up and introduce themselves. So they're way more forward than other Swedes you meet.”

As part of her work as community manager, she wants to create more opportunities for people to get to know each other:

“What I want to do is just put on drinks and lunches where they actually have to meet each other. I’m going to come up and say: okay, the first question you ask someone cannot be 'what do you do'.”

But Kaurah admits she too has been focused on business, and should have given herself some more time in Stockholm before starting to work. That means no tourism – yet.

“I've just thrown myself into work and organising the apartment, but the next couple of weekends I definitely want to explore more.”

For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”