How Stockholm's cold climate boosts creativity

Published October 2016 in collaboration between Invest Stockholm and The Local.

Picture the scene: Dusk begins to settle on Stockholm, magnifying the glow from the candle-lit windows that warm the city. Frost invades the Swedish capital as quickly as the sun fades, the vicious bite of the ice ushering people indoors. It’s dark, it’s cold and (this is the best part) it’s only 3pm!

Welcome to winter in Stockholm. 

As soon as those telltale signs of autumn start to appear, tingeing the city a crisp, golden shade of brown, preparations for winter truly commence. Boats are lifted from the harbours, thermals are dug out of the basements, and winter tyres are readied for the vehicles.

But no matter how harsh or relentless the winter here may be, Swedes don’t go into hibernation, and Stockholm does not do long winter naps.

On the contrary: it’s during these long, dark winters, that Stockholm arguably makes its name as the Creative Capital of the World.

Sure, summer in Stockholm is beautiful, but it’s when the sun disappears for half a year that the Swedes stop dawdling around the archipelago and spend more time, attention, and energy on other activities...like launching startups.

The impressive startup scene in Stockholm turns heads around the world, and for good reason too. The Swedish capital is home to five of the biggest unicorns around the globe, including tech giants Spotify, Skype, Klarna, Mojang and King (the Candy Crush folk).

So what’s the secret behind Stockholm’s startup success?

“Creative people tend to be night owls, and in Sweden we get two nights per day for half of the year,” claims Kaj Drobin, co-founder of the e-commerce Stockholm startup Tictail.

Kaj co-founded the company in 2012 alongside Siavash Ghorbani, Birk Nilsson and Carl Waldekranz. Now, according to Kaj, “Tictail is the go-to destination for emerging designers, with a sprawling marketplace of 100,000 independent brands from 140 countries around the world.”

A key ingredient to Tictail’s recipe for success, however, is the cold and dark climate of their Stockholm roots.

“Since the dark and cloudy climate mostly keeps us indoors, we put focus and energy into finding unique solutions to complex projects to keep the days from being mundane,” Kaj explains. “Our minds are constantly moving. We never get stuck, even if we're stuck inside all day”.

And Tictail aren’t alone in this theory. Victoria Bastide, CTO of Stockholm-based startup Lifesum, also believes the bitter Swedish climate can aid the creative process, and subsequent success of startups in Stockholm.

“As so much time is spent indoors because of the cold, it leaves a lot of time to come up with creative and exciting ideas,” she says.

“We spend a lot of time with our family and friends in the winter, which means that any ideas that we do come up with can be discussed in plenty of detail, with constructive input from others. This usually means that the idea is not only good, but a lot of thought has gone into its execution, increasing its chances of success.”

Speaking of spending time with family and friends, there are few better ways to evade the frosty outdoors than with a fika in a warm and welcoming café with good company. This winter, startups will come together for an invigorating coffee at Sup46’s brand new Startup Café. Sup46 – a startup hub launched to bring startups together (genius!) – is at the very heart of Stockholm’s thriving startup community.

Jessica Stark, CEO and co-founder of Sup46, agrees that the harsh Stockholm climate makes for an excellent startup environment.

“What more is there to do between October and May than letting your brain work in mysterious ways?” she asks.

“The climate encourages you to be creative with your time… Also, too much cold and darkness is bad for the brain – best to stay in front of the luminous screen of your laptop making time pass by building something extraordinary!”

But it’s not just about what the Swedish climate makes us do, it’s also about how we do it. Over at podcasting platform Acast, Karl Rosander, co-founder and President, and Måns Ulvestam, CEO and co-founder, consider the cold and dark Swedish climate to be beneficial for the character of budding entrepreneurs.

“It [the cold and dark climate] makes us tenacious,” they say, “Which we think is the most important skill or talent for entrepreneurs.”

So embrace the ice this winter in Stockholm, appreciate the absent natural light, and applaud the subzero Baltic breeze. Because somewhere in the city, someone – a young, tenacious entrepreneur – is sheltering from the cold, directing all their time, energy and focus towards the next startup from Stockholm.