Innovation nation: How does Sweden produce so many start-ups?

Innovation nation: How does Sweden produce so many start-ups?
Photo: Simon Paulin/
SI News spoke with Head of Communications at start-up hub SUP46 Georgina Varadi to find out how Sweden has managed to breed so many stand-out start-ups.

Start-ups hubs are at the forefront of Swedish innovation providing an opportunity for fledgling businesses to accelerate their growth. Start-up hub SUP46, founded by Jessica Stark, Sebastian Fuchs and Nathalie Nylén in 2013, was Sweden’s very first startup hub. To this day, it has housed more than 160 start-ups including global exports Fishbrain, Karma and Natural Cycles.

“SUP46 was created to be a meeting point for startups to share knowledge, learn from others, get inspired and grow their network,” Varadi tells SI News.

Despite a small population of just 10 million people, Sweden has become something of a start-up factory. But many factors have come into play to shape Sweden into the country with the second most unicorns per capita in the world.

“The international success of Swedish startups really inspires other entrepreneurs to start businesses,” says Varadi.  

“It changes people's attitude if you see someone not too different from yourself succeed in building companies such as Spotify, Skype, Klarna or King, this, of course, creates a feeling of ‘If they can then so can I.”

Varadi credits Sweden’s small market size for the fast development of its start-ups. The market is limited, so Swedish start-ups often plan to sell internationally from the beginning of their journey.

“Given the small size of users, companies are forced to think global from day one, which is also an important factor,” she says.

The market size combined with an ‘early-adopter’ mindset makes for a fast expansion.

“We are a relatively small country filled with early adopters and tech-savvy people with a great design and engineering culture – the perfect test market,” says Varadi.

She emphasises that the welfare system provides a safety net that helps start-ups to flourish.

“We have a social security system that catches you, should you fail. Knowing you won’t end up on the streets means more people are prone to test their ideas.”

But, above all, the Swedish mentality plays a significant role in the expansion of small businesses.

“The fact that we have flat organisations, realise that great ideas can come from anyone and have a design and engineering heritage helps and is the reason why we today see a number of success stories coming out of Sweden,” she concludes.

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