Why collective living is growing in Stockholm

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

Home is where the heart is – and just because you pack your bags and hop on a plane doesn’t mean the emotional move is easy. Stockholm’s Tech Farm is a unique project showing how collective living can help expats and Swedes alike feel “at home” in Sweden’s capital – or anywhere else around the globe.

It’s Monday evening in Gamla Stan, and most of the tourists have cleared out in search of supper. The cobblestone streets are dusty and calm, and the rusty-hued facades of the 16th century houses are made even more vibrant by the evening sun.

But just behind the door of house number 24, another world awaits. Hip, young entrepreneurs, some in heels and some in sweatpants, are eagerly grabbing plates of take-out Thai food and sitting down to regale the successes of the day.

The vibe is decidedly international, with at least five nationalities represented and English as the common language.

It’s a bit like falling down the rabbit hole – only the narrow, creaky staircase inside winds upwards, not down, and the décor is pragmatic, not psychedelic.

The term entrepreneur is flexible, though.

“We have a lawyer, artists, consultants…It’s more about the mind-set than the actual field,” explains Lisa Renander, founder of Hus24 and its parent company, Tech Farm. “An entrepreneur, for us, is someone who is driven, open-minded, and at the front of their field.”

Renander, herself an entrepreneur, is from Sundsvall, northern Sweden. But she struggled to find her place there.

“I always felt drawn to the city,” she confesses. “I wanted to be challenged, and to be around like-minded people.”

But Stockholm didn’t feel like home, either. In fact, Renander didn’t find that sense of belonging until she was invited to Stanford.

“I went to Stanford as a resident entrepreneur, and stayed in a collective called the Blackbox Mansion,” she says. “We were 30 entrepreneurs living together, and that was the first time I ever felt I was home, with people who understood me.”

At first she didn’t want to return to Stockholm – but then she realized she could create the same sort of system there.

“I found this big house in Gamla Stan listed online,” Renander recalls. “I had to call them a few times to make them show it to me because they didn’t think I sounded serious enough. But when I got a venture capitalist on board, they said okay.”

Most of the residents at Hus24 come from outside of Stockholm, and Renander says they’ve really become like family. As everyone gathers on the mismatched furniture in the communal living room, one can’t help but be reminded of a college fraternity – except this co-ed group includes some of the biggest names in Stockholm’s tech scene.

And although they’ve never done any marketing, Renander says the house gets an application each week.

And it’s only the beginning. Hus24 was the seed that has blossomed into Tech Farm, with the mission to create these co-living communities across the globe.

“It’s hard to get to know people in a big city,” Fredrik Forss chimes in. Forss came on as development officer, CDO and co-owner of Tech Farm in 2015. “But when you live at a place like this you enter the community straight away.”

Tech Farm's next house is opening in November, with 50 beds in 30 rooms located in Östermalm, central Stockholm. The house will also feature a spacious common kitchen and a large, lively living room, as well as a smaller, quiet social room. Potential residents can fill out an application online.

Forss’ goal is to make future Tech Farm houses not just some of the hippest places to live, but also the smartest.

“There’s also a sustainability aspect. Collective living reduces the number of square metres each person needs,” explains Forss, who has a background from real estate and construction.  

While the 16th-century house in Gamla Stan is beyond charming, Forss has more advanced goals for Tech Farm’s development.

“When people live in micro-apartments you can add services and still have a smaller environmental footprint than in a normal house,” he says. “We want to build houses with gardens, a café, a gym, maybe collective cars and even a chef. And by growing plants and using solar panels we want to create energy instead of using it in these communities.”

Forss and Renander are working on sketches now, and while it’s a long process, they say there’s lots of support in the community.

“Cities, real estate companies, property owners; they all love it because there are so many benefits,” Renander explains.

After all, it’s a sustainable solution to two of the biggest problems for international talent in Stockholm: housing and loneliness. A sense of belonging, literally and metaphorically, can change everything.

“The biggest threat for startups right now is finding housing for their international employees,” Renander says. “And when they do come to Sweden, we want to create a sense of home here. That’s one of the most important competitive advantages we have.” 

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