City Focus - Stockholm
Stockholm's role as the tech centre of Scandinavia may be surprising, but what's really astonishing is everything this Swedish city has to offer.
Located at the point where Lake Mälaren enters the Baltic Sea, Sweden's capital boasts the highest urban population in the Nordic countries at 2.3mn in the greater metropolitan area.
Accounting for a third of the country's GDP, Stockholm stretches over 14 islands, making it a great location for water-lovers everywhere. Sporting the second-highest number of tech startups in the world, the city has been recognised as one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Europe. But that's not all that the city has to offer its residents, both now and in the future.
This leader in worldwide innovation has brought us new technology that is now everyday expectation, including the three-point seatbelt and the pacemaker. Over the last century, it has risen from being one of the world's poorest countries to an innovative leader in the worldwide tech market. Companies such as Volvo, IKEA and many more were founded in and have called Sweden home. Is it really so surprising that the country has become a world leader?
Life beyond the office
The absence of heavy industry makes the city one of the cleanest in the world. With 30% of the city covered in waterways and another 30% dedicated to parks and greenways, Stockholm provides a wide range of beautiful areas for nature lovers.
Between public transportation, train, air and water travel, residents enjoy everything the surrounding area has to offer without worrying about how to get home. Sweden's subsidised daycare, universal healthcare, generous 480-day parental leave policy, five weeks of paid vacation annually and limited 40-hour workweek means there's plenty of time to enjoy the finer things in life.
Stockholm delivers a surprisingly mild climate for its high latitude location, which also provides 18 hours of nightlife in the winter and long, lazy days in the summer. Many major multi-nationals also call Stockholm home, including IBM Svenska, Ericsson and a number of other tech companies, proving that the city's investment in the world's longest fibre-optic network at 1.2mn km was a sound one. But don't think that Stockholm is only a tech giant. As Sweden's capital, it has a wide range of arts, culture, education, sports and much more. Whatever interests you may have, you'll be able to find an outlet in this urban smorgasbord.
Employing over 2,600 people in Stockholm alone, it can be difficult to imagine IBM, or International Business Machines, in the early computing years. In the 1960s, their 7090 mainframe was less than user-friendly, took up an entire room and had computing power far less than the average smartphone. By comparison, the IBM labs in Stockholm give us a glimpse into the not-so-distant future, where digitisation, analytics, automation and the Internet of Things reign supreme.
Based out of Stockholm, this networking and communications giant was estimated in 2012 to own 35% of the market share of the world's 2G, 3G and 4G infrastructure. Founded in 1876, the telecom has grown to employ over 100,000 people worldwide, including over an estimated 8,400 employees in its headquarters. It holds over 42,000 patents, many of which have come into play in wireless communication, disruption and digitalisation, giving this company a strong hold on worldwide progress and efficiency of business.
Originally founded to provide a free music streaming service, Spotify quickly grew to rival Apple's iTunes in terms of selling digital copies of songs, albums or user-generated playlists to consumers. Supported by advertising, the company moved to its new base last December into Stockholm's Urban Escape, a recently renovated city block that includes offices, apartments, restaurants and hotels. With its October 2008 Series A fundraising round, the company raised $21.7mn, virtually nothing compared to last year's revenues of over $5bn.
Among the big financial institutions in Stockholm is SEB, or Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB, which has helped the giant tech industry in the city to flourish.
It was formed in 1972 at the merging of two smaller financial organisations in the interest of better servicing corporate clients. Expanding to serve as a universal bank serving all segments of the population, the company currently serves 3,000 corporate and institutional clients, over 400,000 SMEs and over four million individual customers. It has also launched a division focused on providing venture capital for tech companies, with a solid view that innovative thinking requires innovative funding.
Stockholm's business beat
As one of the most innovative regions of the world, Stockholm has its share of unicorns, or startups that were founded after 2003 and have almost magically created over $1bn in value.
With eager investors ready to put money on the next Apple, Microsoft or Ericsson, it's easy to see why Stockholm led foreign investment in the EU, taking in 15% of total foreign investment in 2014 alone. It's estimated that Stockholm hosts over 22,000 technical companies with over 18% of the city's population keeping the digital machine moving.
Compared to other EU countries, Sweden enjoys a relatively balanced budget, healthy low-level inflation and a relatively low national debt. This stability has allowed the country to grow into a technical incubator, with many initiatives to help bring entrepreneurs, IT professionals and investors together. Seed funds, technological infrastructure investment and social safety nets are only three of the many programmes Sweden has put in place to keep Stockholm's place near the peak of the tech world secure. Add to that the general approach of fiscal conservatism in the country and it's easy to see why Stockholm's tech-industry edge will last for many years to come.
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