Stockholm: finding solutions to global challenges

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

Stockholm has a long history of innovation and global engagement – a tradition that’s finding new expression through the city’s dynamic tech startup scene and elsewhere.

It’s no secret that Stockholm is serious about sustainability. The Swedish capital is on track to be fossil-fuel free by 2040, and six Stockholm-based companies were included in the 2016 Sustainability Yearbook produced by sustainable investing firm RobecoSAM.

Thus it seems natural that many of Stockholm’s emerging startups are also looking to make the most of the opportunities that come with a sustainable, solutions-oriented approach to their businesses – a phenomenon exemplified by the Solutions Summit held in Stockholm.

Organized in connection with STHLM Tech Fest, considered one of the premier platforms for knowledge sharing and inspiration among the Swedish capital’s dynamic tech startup scene, the day-long Solutions Summit focused specifically on solutions to help society meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“We’re about to experience a massive paradigm shift,” Niklas Zennström, Skype founder and head of venture capital investment firm Atomico, told the audience during Tech Fest Solutions Summit.

“I think of sustainability like an entrepreneur. I believe that economic sustainability and environmental sustainability can go hand in hand. So, the stage is now set for entrepreneurs and technologies to shape the world like never before.”

The Solutions Summit also gave companies working to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals an opportunity to discuss the issues while at the same time pitching their ideas to investors.

Stockholm start up Ignitia, for example, pitched itself as the world’s first weather forecasts tailored specifically for tropical countries. Ignitia’s work focuses on small-scale farmers in West Africa, sending out weather updates via text to farmers so they know when to plant, avoiding tropical rains and droughts and maximizing their harvest. The project launched in Ghana this summer and is scaling up in Nigeria, Mali, and Senegal.

Or take Watty, an energy company based in Stockholm that claims it can reduce a country’s energy usage by 20 percent.

Watty is a platform anyone can use to push energy data, or to request that data in the first place. It can identify what appliances are on in a home, at what time, and how much energy they are using.

“Some have called it the ‘Shazam of energy data’,” CEO Hjalmar Nilsonne says. “We use raw data and figure out what’s going on.”

The company has yet to launch full-scale but already has a customer base in Germany and the UK, consisting mostly of energy companies who in turn offer the technology to their customers.

“We want to reach every single home in the world. The way to do that is partnering with energy companies and rolling out with them in different markets,” Nilsonne says. “To be in every home in the world within five years… well, it’s not crazy. The infrastructure is already there.”

This sort of energy-saving solution is no anomaly in the sustainability-minded Stockholm tech scene. Indeed, the annual PwC Cities of Opportunity Index, released just this month, gave Stockholm first place in the category of sustainability and the natural environment.

Nilsonne adds that sustainability, at least for many Swedish companies, is a way of life and a way of business, not some sort of sales ploy.

“I don’t believe there’s a difference between sustainability and business,” he says.

“Saving money and saving energy, it’s all kind of the same thing. It’s a combination. If you’re launching a new product of course it should be more efficient – otherwise what’s the point?”

And sustainability-driven startups in Stockholm will soon have a new place to gather, thanks to a massive investment from Klarna co-founder Niklas Adalberth, who recently announced he’s investing 170 million kronor to convert an old warehouse in central Stockholm into "Europe's biggest hub for social impact".

The project, known as Norrsken House, is one of the most high-profile expression of philanthropy by stemming from the success of one of Stockholm’s ‘unicorns’, demonstrating that Stockholm tech entrepreneurs have a keen yet toward sharing the benefits of the their success to help foster the next wave of innovation.

Indeed, Zennström forecast a bright future for the Stockholm and European tech scene.

"I also believe that Europe will produce a company on the scale of Facebook within the next ten years,” he said during the Solutions Summit.

And for those who want to get involved in solving some of the world’s biggest problems with sustainable tech, the door is wide open.

“Every single company I know here is looking for talent,” Nilsonne remarks.

“There’s not enough to go around. So come on – the city is beautiful and the water is great.”