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

'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
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.

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.”

Jobs in Sweden