Swedish startups are looking to use the country’s traditional engineering expertise in the mobile and telecommunications fields, along the lines of Spotify.

[LeWeb 2013] Swedish engineering skills now “transitioning to the new technologies”

Interview with Robert Wentrup, head of Business Sweden, Western Europe, on the sidelines of the LeWeb 2013 event held in Paris on 10-12 December.

L’Atelier: What exactly is the role of your ‘Talk to Sweden, Talk to Me’ setup here?

Robert Wentrup: Well, it’s basically a business stand run by Business Sweden, which is a government agency that aims to help Swedish firms to export and make a name for themselves abroad. So our objective is to bring Swedish startups together in one place so as to maximise visibility, and that’s why we thought LeWeb would be particularly valuable, particularly promising, given the large number of investors and business people here. Being here at this event basically enables us both to show off the good work being done by Swedish startups and get an idea of what they still need to improve if they want to really get into the European and international markets. What we wanted to do was demonstrate the rich diversity of our entrepreneurial scene. We have some fledgling companies on show here that have just started out with their first applications, alongside more mature firms that are instantly recognisable – such as Spotify and Tradedoubler – which have come here to really lead the way, to show their qualities when it comes to innovation.

Are Swedish startups focusing on any one sector in particular?

Well, Sweden has advanced expertise in the telecommunications and mobile sectors. Ericsson is a company with many suppliers and it has really created an entire ecosystem around itself, of startups in particular. Now while these startups are generally focusing on mobile, behind this label lies a great variety of sectors and emerging companies. Many of these startups have been set up around a particular application, around specific content, but there are others operating on a broader scale in the mobile entertainment sector.

What are the advantages that Sweden can offer, where’s the ‘plus’?

Well, I think Sweden has always been very innovative, in manufacturing for example with our world-class corporations such as Volvo and SKF. The reason behind these winning companies has mainly been their great engineering skills. These days what we’re seeing in Sweden is this expertise, these engineering skills, transitioning from the manufacturing industries to the new technologies. In fact our Swedish system provides these companies with a lot of structural advantages, especially as regards the work ethic: people are highly disciplined and totally committed to their projects. Moreover, Sweden society has really embraced ‘mobile’ – you can see this in the widespread penetration of mobile devices across the population. This makes Sweden, in addition to being a potential hive of innovation, a very useful test market for mobile-based products.

Could you give us an overview of the current startup scene in Sweden?

Over the last few years we’ve seen a new wave of startup creation take off, and today such companies are an integral part of Sweden’s entrepreneurial structure, especially in the region around Stockholm. It’s difficult to estimate, but I would say that startups provide between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs. The issue today is not so much Sweden’s ability to create startups as the huge competition for talent between the existing players. Companies such as [digital music service] Spotify, [girls’ creative online community] Stardoll and [business improvement tool] iZettle for instance are attracting most of the talented people. However, there’s still plenty of room for young innovative companies. And while it’s obvious that not all will survive, the best, like Spotify at the time, will – given Sweden’s flourishing ecosystem – be able to thrive. Today startup creation in Sweden is really bubbling, but we’re also seeing a number of mergers and takeovers directly between startups.

By Quentin Capelle