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Finding its identity: Uppsala and its growing startup scene

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Finding its identity: Uppsala and its growing startup scene
Juvelen, which BASE10 will rent out 3 floors of space in, as seen from Uppsala Central Station. Photo: Idil Tuysuzoglu
15:59 CEST+02:00
Often overlooked in favour of its southern neighbour Stockholm, Uppsala is stepping out of the capital's shadow and fighting for recognition as a vibrant entrepreneurial hub in its own right.

The city of around 150,000 people sitting 60 kilometres north of the Swedish capital is typically thought of as a university town or commuter city for individuals working in Stockholm. In fact, Uppsala can lay claim to the founders of some of Sweden's most successful startups: for example, the video and audio chat application Skype, started by Uppsala University graduate Niklas Zennström. Harvard had Facebook, Stanford had Google, and Uppsala, to some extent had Skype, but the latter is not well-known, perhaps even neglected.

"We've always known that we had startups, but they quite often end up in Stockholm or somewhere else," Cecilia Linder, Uppsala municipality's business developer, tells The Local. 

Linder is tasked with recognizing and working with the city's startup scene. This involves bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, students, and funding from the city where it is deemed beneficial.

One partnership Linder and her team brought together is Jason Dainter, a British entrepreneur who describes himself as an "international doer of things" and investor Kristofer Klerfalk. The pair eventually co-founded BASE10, a coworking space which moved to the heart of the city in 2017.

"We've both been like these facilitators, knowing quite a few people, putting Jason and Kristofer together, knowing the politicians who make decisions here, other politicians at other levels, and the university, so I would say the biggest part has been to connect people to each other to make this happen," says Linder.

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Kristofer Klerfalk, left, and Jason Dainter. Photo: BASE10

For Dainter, who moved to Uppsala in 2010 and spent five years building Uppstart, one of the largest tech startup conferences in Sweden, it was always the plan that he would start a business of his own there. The tech entrepreneur had already established a handful of startups in Great Britain, including EcoMarket, an online platform for eco-friendly businesses to sell their products.

"I remember actually two years [after I moved] – it was quite late actually – I was Googling 'Uppsala startups' and just trying to see [who was out there]," he said.

But those Google searches all pointed him in the direction of Stockholm. Dainter realized there was plenty of talent in Uppsala, but that there was not the same well-defined entrepreneurial community that one could find in Stockholm.

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"The positive side is that I discovered that there were tons and tons of people in the tech space, startup-minded people, smart engineers, entrepreneurs. And there didn't seem to be anyone giving that community a kind of name. No one was kind of ring fencing it and saying 'This is who we are. We are the Uppsala tech community,'" he recalls.

Years later, Dainter is the founder and CEO of BASE10, which has now outgrown its infancy, moving to a new location metres away from Uppsala's central train station. BASE10 and its approximately 600 members will now work across three floors and 1,200 square metres in the Juvelen (Jewel) building. 

The move comes on the heels of a government procurement, or upphandling in Swedish, of 10 million kronor ($1.054 million) from the municipality and region that the pair secured in September 2018.

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The startups will work across 1,200 square metres in the Juvelen building. Photo: BASE10

Investing in startups is not something out of the ordinary for the city of Uppsala.

UIC, or Uppsala Innovation Center, a separate scheme owned by the municipality of Uppsala, region Uppsala, and the university, offers the startup community financial support.

"We support around 40 organizations, and that's from small ones who get a few thousand [Swedish kronor] for doing something every year, and there are some organizations who get up to two million," says Linder.

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Jan Lundqvist, CEO of SoftRobot. Photo: SoftRobot

One of BASE10's members is Jan Lundqvist, CEO of SoftRobot, an AI company that works with machine learning.

Lundqvist attributes some of SoftRobot's success to BASE10. Ten of Lundqvist's employees were hired through connections made in the co-working space. In the shared spaces, he has been able to do everything from drink coffee and chat with neighbours, to find solutions to pressing technological problems.

"I mean all of these are tech companies, so there's a lot of similar problems we face. Everyone is going cloud, so everyone is having these issues." he said.

These simple coffee chat-turned problem solving conversations are crucial to Dainter and his mission as well.

He factored these minute yet crucial decisions into his project, ensuring that his new space had a shared kitchen and an ample source of caffeine. While these might seem like minor details, Dainter says that he has invested a lot of money in coffee to encourage workers to take their fika break within BASE10 rather than head out to a cafe.

"You get to meet a lot of interesting people by the coffee machine." said Viktor Nordmark, chief growth officer at Hubert.ai, another of BASE10's members.

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An artist's impression of what the new office space will look like.

As BASE10 grows, both Nordmark and Lundqvist have also noticed an upward movement in their companies. For Nordmark, that means procuring a greater office space in the new building.

Lundqvist has noticed that his company has grown out of its seed stage, now receiving partnerships with some larger companies.

"It's been a great journey with BASE10, and now as they move along, they have got an investment, we can move with them and feel secure that we can grow as well, and we will have a larger office as well," he said.

As Uppsala's startup scene grows, one then begins to wonder what the city's place in the Swedish business community should be. Dainter acknowledges that Stockholm will "always be the bigger brother" but that his goal is to quell the "brain-drain" issue of losing people to the capital.

But for Linder, there's no reason Uppsala shouldn't compete with the capital.

"I think when it comes to innovations and the students, we are just as good as Stockholm," she says.

 

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