Editorial note: This is a guest post by Kristoffer Lawson, the Travelling Salesman. He’s on a 10 000 kilometre drive to meet Nordic startups. ArcticStartup is supporting the project, by covering his travels and findings. This post was originally posted in the Travelling Salesman blog.
When pondering my travel plan I was told by a number of people, even Swedes, that there would be very little in places like Karlskrona. That I should stick to the big centers: Stockholm, Lund, Göteborg, etc. They were wrong, but proving that was to be a challenge.
I was in Lund on Sunday, with the new knowledge that there would be a Venture Cup awards ceremony on Monday evening. One I definitely wanted to attend, but to do that meant I would have to drive 200km all the way to Karlskrona on Sunday, and then back the next day. After all, I did not want to cop out on my plans to visit all the universities. So off I went into the dark and very snowy night for yet another adventure, all while being stuck for the whole motorway behind two gritters (why exactly did they have to drive side by side?).
After complimentary dinner(!) at the hotel in Karlskrona, and a quick sleep, I set out to find the Blekinge Business Incubator, which was supposed to be located in Karlskrona. The address on the website says Fridhemsvägen, which I casually punched into the satnav. It came up with two locations in Karlskrona with that address. OK, I’ve sometimes seen this and it usually just means two different post codes for the same street, so I selected one and drove off. After all, it was only around 20 kilometres.
As I closed onto the address I found myself weaving between wooden houses and gardens. Either this was the coolest incubator ever, or I was in totally the wrong location. No worries, it was probably the other one then, which I punched in. Aha, 20 kilometres or so away. Must be that then.
I drove off and eventually arrived at yet another area full of wooden houses. It looked peaceful and not at all like an incubator. This can’t be right. So I pulled up my laptop, which thankfully still had the BBI website open. Hm… it said “Ronneby” as the city there, even though it also said this is the incubator for Karlskrona. So maybe I should enter Ronneby as the area. Success! Fridgemsvägen exists there as well, but it’s over 30 kilometres away.
The drive was great, though. The satnav decided to take me via the scenic route with snowdrifts, country houses and proper snowy roads (and no salt). Joy, joy, joy. Except I was in a hurry. Finally I approached Ronneby and the satnav got confused. The roads had apparently been altered since the last map update, so I was on my own. I spotted a building called ‘Soft Center’, which was either a place for IT stuff, or a company making pillows. I decided to give it a go. There were no pillows.
The receptionist told me that a lot of the activities had moved out to … Karlskrona.
At this point I was already getting really tight on time, as I desperately wanted to make Lund. In fact, I had wanted to reach Malmö again, to meet some startups there that I had missed on Saturday. That was beginning to look more and more unlikely. At this point I could have given in and just continued onwards back down the road to Lund, but I hadn’t come this far just to hear an “ei oo”, as we say in Finnish. I wanted to prove there are startups in Karlskrona. So I drove to the location given to me by the receptionist at Soft Center. Turned out it was a couple of blocks away from the hotel I had stayed in. Argh!
But the story did not end here, at this entrepreneurship center, for there I got a recommendation for a place called Telecom City and also, as it turned out, where the Blekinge Business Incubator was. At this point I definitely should have driven off to Lund, as it was my last real chance of making it in time. I’d have done it too, if it was not for the pure stubborn nature I was born with. So instead it was off to search for this place that I am sure sagas will sing about.
You know what? I made it. It exists. I’m not saying where, as pilgrims must discover it themselves to reach true enlightenment (although a deeper look into the BBI pages may help…), but with perseverance all is revealed.
Telecom City is a cool place. There were endless numbers of companies huddled together in a sprawling series of buildings. You could feel the innovation in the air. Or perhaps it was the salt from gritters.
Anyhoo, after knocking on some doors, as I’ve learnt to do, I ended up talking to Veronica Söderström, who is the Marketing Manager of the place, and where I also met the CEO. The truth is there is a strong history of telecoms in that region.
It started off with Ericsson running a factory there for mobile phones. But times were tough and unemployment for Karlskrona had reached 15% in the early 90s due to recession and big industry pulling out. They wanted to set up a university and there was some debate over whether it should be one focusing on fishing, or one in telecoms. The locals wanted fishing, Ericsson wanted telecoms. Luckily for Karlskrona, the latter won. Now 30% of the industry is in IT and even the Swedish head of Telenor is located there. Don’t forget that Karlskrona is not a central location by any stretch. I think there’s a lesson here, for some of the locations I’ve visited.
I then went over to BBI to check out whatever startups I could find within my ever-tightening window, as well as talk to Staffan Ottosson, who is the business developer with BBI. Even one startup would have been enough to fulfil the goal I had set out for myself — and disprove the belief of no startups existing outside the big hubs. There were loads.
My first startup was minafynd.se, which is building on the hot trend of mobile coupons with strong Swedish partnerships and soon to be nationwide coverage. My gut has yet to be convinced about the mobile coupon business, as I have yet to use one on my mobile phone. There would need to be some super compelling reason for me to jump there, but maybe in a couple of years I’ll be talking about nothing else.
The next one, adduse, was a more sobering affair. Their business was in user surveys, but the office was one full of silent Macs. They were closing down. I wanted to learn more, but I know it’s a tough place to be, and didn’t want to push the issue. But, guys, don’t lose faith. Your next startup will be better for the lessons you have learnt. I know it’s not much consolation for dreams that are lost, but it’s how life is sometimes.
Finally I very briefly popped in to say hi to Inquso. They are building ways for companies to control and manage their mobile phones, providing safety and security. Check them out.
All in all I was left increasingly impressed by what I had found, and ended up dearly wishing I had discovered this earlier in the day. It certainly outstripped my expectations by a sizeable margin. It was like this most incredible gem, found only after tearing days through thorny jungle and surviving heat, hunger and monsters. It was the stuff of legends. But now time had run out and I was forced to leave so many welcoming people behind, and drive as fast as possible back to Lund, in anticipation of a night of Venture Cup glory.
And the buildings BBI and Telecom City was spread out across? They were wooden.