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走进瑞典:欧洲的独角兽工厂

互联网经济国际资讯

走进瑞典:欧洲的独角兽工厂

今年早些时候,两个瑞典最大初创公司的退出,足以傲视任何一个地区的创企生态系统。 Spotify以270亿美元进行了IPO,iZettle以22亿美元的价格被收购,这两笔交易无论放在哪里,都算得上是规模可观了。

但这两个引人注目的退出绝不是例外,它们正是证明瑞典长期以来创企中心地位的最好例证。

瑞典现在可以说是欧洲最大的企业家中心。虽然从人口和经济实力来看仍然很小,但特别是斯德哥尔摩,但其产生退出的速度令其他欧洲创企之都羡慕不已。

收购和IPO的狂潮标志着瑞典已经从一个主要被视为爱立信、沃尔沃和宜家的发源地,成为了一个国际投资者和企业家都看重的创企引擎。这一成功引发了一个良性循环:这些退出的回报正在导致天使投资和连续企业家的激增,也有望将生态系统推向更高水平。

虽然欧洲许多新兴创企经济体仍然渴望得到验证,但瑞典的退出机制可能会给它一个不容置疑的权利,让其在未来几年里成为欧洲大陆创业资本的集中地。

瑞典是初创企业的温床,几乎算不上什么启示。北欧国家总体上已经建立了一个以瑞典为首的一流声誉。 瑞典风险投资公司Creandum的一项研究指出,2000-2014年,瑞典产生了263个退出,估值累计达到237亿美元。沃顿商学院在2015年的创企经济研究中称瑞典为“独角兽工厂”。2016年,TechCrunch宣布瑞典是“来自北方的科技巨星”。

作为北欧最大的投资者之一,Index Ventures声明:“斯德哥尔摩如何成为欧洲‘一流’科技中心的证据并不难找到。”

但是尽管如此,瑞典在过去两年里已经积累了更大的势头。

根据Tech.eu的数据,2017年共有120家瑞典公司退出,高于2016年的55家。2017年的数字超过了德国(112家)、英国(77家)和法国(44家)。而德国的增长与去年大致持平,英国的退出相较去年下降了26%,法国下降了31%。鉴于这些国家的人口相对于瑞典990万居民在6到10倍之间,所以瑞典的人均成功率看上去很不可思议。

2017年,这些瑞典退出包括电子商务初创公司Boozt的3.4亿美元IPO和金融科技公司Bambora以17.4亿美元被法国的Ingenico收购。而美国公司则收购了十多家初创公司。这些退出来自一系列市场的初创公司:金融科技、安全、电子商务、物联网、游戏,B2B和移动。

这种创业能力的典型因素包括大学里强有力的技术培训,鼓励独立思考和创造力的学校系统,一个迫使初创公司必须进行国际思考、对基础设施进行大量投资和拥有强大设计精神历史的小型国内市场。

但实际上,几十年以来,瑞典一直都是这样。这并没有完全解释最近的爆炸式发展。

然后,经过稳定、有条不紊的建设,获得了一些成就,这又反过来刺激了瑞典的生态系统。

瑞典浪潮正在形成

iZettle的故事说明了瑞典积累的优势。该公司由Jacob de Geer和Magnus Nilsson于2008年创立。

十多年前,当de Geer开始了他的职业生涯时,他是2005年上市的瑞典营销初创公司TradeDoubler的首批员工之一。后来,他创办了一个名为Ameibo的比特种子电影文件共享服务,并于2010年出售。与此同时,Nilsson在成为Wayfinder Systems的CEO之前,已经在科技行业活跃了十多年,他所创办的一家初创公司于2009年被Vodafone所收购。

凭借他们丰富的简历和经验,iZettle的联合创始人们很容易激起他们对新企业的兴趣。

“这一代瑞典初创企业和科技公司正进入他们真正准备进入下一阶段的时代,”iZettle首席战略官Johan Bendz说,他是该公司的第二名员工,也曾在TradeDoubler工作过。

对于iZettle来说,在早期阶段融资从来都不是问题。与上一个十年相比,当时瑞典经历了起起伏伏的几年振荡周期,Bendz表示,许多欧洲风险投资公司增加了专注于北欧的合伙人。由于以前投资的回报,瑞典本土的风险投资业变得更大,融资也更好。

iZettle于2011年在由来自伦敦的Index Ventures领投的种子融资轮中获得了近1000万美元的投资。Index Ventures之所以看好该地区的公司,是因为其早期对斯德哥尔摩社交游戏创企King的投资,该创企已于2013年上市。最终,iZettle继续融资超过3亿美元。

Bendz说,从一开始,iZettle就对其支付服务有很大的野心。它相信自己能够在全球范围内竞争,但也觉得建立公司可能需要时间,而不是在早期寻求快速退出。这导致了今年早些时候普遍预期的IPO申请,而当PayPal提出22亿美元收购要约时,这一计划突然被取消。

虽然这笔交易尚未正式结束,但最终将会席卷瑞典生态系统。该公司已经有一些员工离职去创办其他公司。现在更多的人将拥有自己创业想法的资源,或者支持其他人的项目。

Spotify的经历与iZettle有些类似。Daniel Ek和Martin Lorentzon于2006年共同创办了这一音乐流媒体服务,Daniel以前是游戏初创公司Stardoll的首席技术官,而Martin Lorentzon是TradeDoubler的联合创始人。但是在向IPO进军的过程中,它创建了自己的小型员工生态系统。

其中最突出的是Soundtrack Your Brand,这一自2013年成立的B2B音乐流媒体服务,已经获得了3900万美元的融资。

Soundtrack的联合创始人兼董事长Andreas Liffgarden曾在Spotify工作了四年,然后于2012年离开,创办了自己的公司。另一位联合创始人Ola Sars将他的音乐流媒体初创公司Let’s Mix出售给了后来成为Beats Music的公司。Spotify早在2015年就直接投资了Soundtrack,他们之间有一个重要的伙伴关系,从而为Spotify业务提供动力。

像King、Spotify和iZettle这样的成功故事,正在创造巨大的人才库,而年轻的公司也正在利用这些人才库。其结果是企业家不仅有更大的野心,而且还拥有在全球范围内成功扩展公司规模的经验。

“我认为这对生态系统的真正意义是,我们看到了比以往任何时候都更好的初次创业者的素质,”The Nordic Web的创始人Neil Murray说,该组织曾于去年启动了一个专注于该地区的天使基金。“他们从当他们是另一家有规模的公司时就有这种经历,即使他们不是自己亲手经历的。”

天时地利人和

虽然瑞典保持着国际视野,但它的企业家拥有在自家后院建立全球公司的一切必要条件。

自从首席执行官P?r Hedberg于2002年创立加速器和孵化器网络Sting以来,Sting已经在斯德哥尔摩接待了200多家初创企业。在那个时候,Hedberg在各种初创公司担任首席执行官已经超过十年了。多年来,Sting已经扩展到为业务发展、招聘、融资、产品开发和海外扩张提供帮助。

去年,这些努力扩大到包括启动自己的风险基金——Luminar Ventures,用于早期阶段的融资。Sting推出了第四个天使基金——Propel Capital IV,该基金包括一个由40个商业天使组成的网络和一只两倍于前人的基金。

Hedberg说,Sting每年都被瑞典企业家的申请所淹没。随着像Spotify、King和“我的世界”这样的本土独角兽获得更广泛的认可,他说,他看到年轻一代对成为企业家的渴望越来越深。

“现在它更像雪球效应,速度不断增加,”Hedberg说。“来自皇家理工学院的孩子不想进入公司,而是想创办一家公司。我们的公司很难招聘员工。”

两年前,法国企业家Lisa Gautier被Sting所接受。她的初创企业TPH Marketplace仍然只是一个概念,因此,她很惊讶能够成为从170份申请中选出的8位企业家之一。虽然是居住在斯德哥尔摩的法国侨民,但她说Sting帮助她迅速融入当地生态系统,找到联合创始人,并最终在今年早些时候进行了种子融资。

“我对生态系统的了解有限,”Gautier说。“所以被录取对我来说很重要。它给了我关系。现在我已经从生态系统中获得了很多支持。”

Sting也只是迅速成长的天使环境的一部分,这一点多亏了这些退出所带来的意外收获。2015年,King前首席执行官Riccardo Zacconi联合创立了天使投资基金Sweet Capital。第二年,一群瑞典和丹麦企业家创立了种子阶段投资基金Nordic Makers。

“大约有50个人在斯德哥尔摩生态系统中赚了1亿多美元,”北欧风险投资公司Northzone的瑞典合伙人P?r-J?rgen P?rson说。“这是我们以前从未见过的规模。人们以前开一万到两万美元的支票。现在我们有10万美元的天使投资。”

天使投资者的临界数量对于帮助Greta的创始人快速推出他们的服务概念至关重要,该服务将帮助媒体公司提供更好的数字和流媒体体验。Anna Ottosson在2014年与另外两个联合创始人Victor Ginsburg Müller和Dennis M?rtensson相识,他们都曾是斯德哥尔摩创企Storytel的开发人员。

几周之内,他们从令人印象深刻的天使投资者手中筹措到了一些种子资金。这其中包括Jan Erik Solem,苹果2010年收购的面部识别初创公司Polar Rose的创始人。Solem现在是Mapillary的联合创始人。

Greta还获得了Hampus Jakobsson的支持,他曾是一名企业家,在2010年将他的移动用户界面初创公司TAT卖给了RIM,从此成为瑞典最活跃的天使投资人之一,也是BlueYard Venture Capital的合伙人。最后,Greta获得了Sophia Bendz的投资,她是Atomico的高管,也是Spotify的前全球营销总监。

除了资金,天使投资者们还提供建议,以及雇佣和会见合伙人制定策略的联系。Greta的创始人很快将他们在硅谷的时间分配给更多的开发人员。当他们在今年早些时候做出关键决定时,他们求助于这些天使: 关闭公司。虽然拥有最初的热情和吸引力,但很快他们就发现,像谷歌和亚马逊这样的科技巨头也正在进军同一领域。

尽管有这样的结果,但是作为第一次创业的人,Ottosson说,与天使投资者的关系给了他们一个关键的信心,这对于说服他们首先尝试是至关重要的。

“瑞典现在正处于第二轮或第三轮创企成功的阶段,”Ottosson说。“这里有一个非常强大的人才生态系统。他们参与了建立强大的公司,并看到了这种可能性。如果你相信某件事是可以做的,那就是朝着实现它迈出了一大步。”

投资的成功让Northzone进一步向上延伸。大约十年前,Northzone对Spotify和iZettle这样的公司做了一些精明的赌注。它还支持了Klarna,另一家瑞典金融科技初创公司,该公司预计将于今年晚些时候申请IPO。这些巨额回报帮助Northzone在2016年完成了3.35亿美元新基金的募集。

“我们需要确保斯德哥尔摩生态系统利用这一巨大成功,培养下一代企业家,”P?rson说道。

当然,该地区也受益于Atomico的推出,该风险基金是由Skype前首席执行官Niklas Zennstr?m于2006年创建的。这位瑞典亿万富翁不仅在瑞典,也在整个欧洲成为了一位杰出人物。

所有这些都意味着当地和地区资本不短缺,这也有助于吸引国际投资者。根据瑞典投资公司Industrifonden的一份报告,2017年,442家瑞典初创公司融资12亿美元,是上一年的两倍多(不包括Spotify 2016年的大规模融资,上一年共记录了402次融资)。

令人难以置信的是,虽然国际融资总额增加了,但来自瑞典投资者的总百分比增长更快。这种能力是《经济学人》情报部门将瑞典排在“未来五年投资最佳地点”第一位的原因之一。

“北欧的风险投资业已经成熟了很多,”瑞典连续企业家Patric Palm说,他去年共同创立了敏捷开发创企Favro。Palm说他开始做一些天使投资。“我不会说这里是硅谷。但是我们越来越接近了。”

未来的挑战

虽然成功确实能孕育成功,但硅谷的一个重要教训是,它也能孕育出自己的麻烦。瑞典,特别是斯德哥尔摩,正在经历一些副作用,这些副作用听起来对长期居住在硅谷的居民来说很熟悉。

虽然今年情况有所好转,但自2012年以来,平均房价已经上涨了50%。自2015年以来,商业地产价格飙升了55%。这促使初创公司在斯德哥尔摩以外的地方寻找一些价格较低的选择,特别是马尔默市,该市已经成为越来越受企业家欢迎的目的地。

“我们有一个糟糕的住房市场,”Bendz说。“在寻求人才和招聘的过程中,让人们搬到这里可能很困难。”

即使在瑞典面临住房短缺的时候,它也面临着限制性移民政策的挑战,这使得一些工程师和企业家获得签证变得更加复杂。虽然创业社区一直呼吁改革,但是该国正在处理近年来困扰欧洲大部分地区的反移民右翼问题。

另一个常见的抱怨是股票期权的处理,在瑞典可能很难发行,而且税收很重。一些人担心移民和选择问题仍然使该地区在招聘方面处于劣势。

“瑞典是一个非常小的国家,”Palm说。“如果你正在建设世界一流的公司,你需要从国外招聘。”

事实上,在2017年的红热过后,情况有所缓和。Tech.eu在2018年上半年仅追踪到26起退出,不过Spotify和iZettle交易的规模掩盖了这种下降趋势。Nordic Web报道称,与一年前相比,2018年上半年瑞典的风险投资交易减少了30笔。

尽管如此,这里没有人在恐慌。生态系统的整体数量和基础是稳固的,即使数字逐年变化。该国企业资产的实力,以及它在国际投资者和收购者中的声誉,仍然让它拥有一个显著的优势。

“现在是向瑞典生态系统投入资金的好时机,”来自Atomico的Ljungman说。“因为在三到五年内,我们将会看到另一轮大型独角兽的退出浪潮。”

The exits earlier this year by two of Sweden’s biggest startup names would be enough to swell the pride of any regional ecosystem. Spotify’s $27 billion IPO and iZettle’s acquisition for $2.2 billion were big deals no matter where the companies were based.

But far from being exceptions, these two headline-grabbing exits are just the latest evidence that Sweden, long recognized as a dynamic startup hub, has somehow shifted into an even higher gear. It is now arguably Europe’s top entrepreneurial hub. Though still small in terms of population and economic might, Stockholm in particular is producing exits at a pace that is the envy of other European startup capitals.

The frenzy of acquisitions and IPOs cap a remarkable decade that has seen Sweden transformed from a place known primarily as the home of Ericsson, Volvo, and Ikea to a startup engine that has international investors and entrepreneurs banging on its door. That success has triggered a virtuous circle: The returns from these exits are causing a surge in angel investing, serial entrepreneurs, and other critical ingredients that promise to push this ecosystem even higher.

While many startup economies across Europe are still hungry for validation, Sweden’s exit machine may give it an unassailable claim to be the continent’s entrepreneurial capital for years to come.

“Success breeds success,” said Mattias Ljungman, the Swedish cofounder of Atomico. “I’m more excited about Stockholm than I was at the beginning of last year. These exits create a next generation of founders who will go out and get funding from other successful founders.”

That Sweden is a startup hotbed is hardly a revelation. The Nordics in general have developed a stellar reputation with Sweden taking the lead. A study by Swedish venture capital firm Creandum noted that between 2000 and 2014, Sweden produced 263 exits valued at $23.7 billion. The Wharton School of Business called Sweden a “unicorn factory” in a 2015 study of its startup economy. And TechCrunch proclaimed in 2016 that Sweden was a “tech superstar from the north.”

Index Ventures, one of the largest investors in the Nordics, declared: “Evidence of how Stockholm has indeed become one of Europe’s ‘tier one’ tech centres isn’t hard to come by.”

But for all that acclaim, Sweden has gathered even greater momentum over the past two years.

According to data from Tech.eu, there were 120 exits of Swedish companies in 2017, up from 55 in 2016. That 2017 figure topped Germany’s 112, the U.K.’s 77, and France’s 44. While Germany was roughly flat year-over-year, U.K. exits dropped 26 percent last year, and in France they fell 31 percent. Given that those countries have anywhere from 6 to 10 times the population, the per capita success rate of Sweden’s 9.9 million inhabitants is just basically ridiculous.

Those Swedish exits in 2017 included the $340 million IPO by ecommerce startup Boozt and the $1.74 billion purchase of fintech company Bambora by France’s Ingenico. More than a dozen startups were acquired by U.S.-based companies. And the exits came from startups in a range of markets: fintech, security, ecommerce, internet of things, gaming, B2B, mobile.

The factors typically cited for this entrepreneurial prowess include strong technical training in universities, school systems that encourage independent thinking and creativity, a small domestic market that obligates startups to think internationally, heavy investments in infrastructure like blazing-fast broadband, and a history of strong design ethos.

But that has been true for decades. It doesn’t fully account for the more recent explosion.

To understand the source of this adrenaline rush, observers say it’s critical to look past recent events and gaze back about a decade when many of the companies now exiting were founded.

It was then, after a steady, methodical build up, that several pieces clicked into place which in turn have turbocharged Sweden’s ecosystem.

A Swedish wave builds

The story of iZettle illustrates the advantages that Sweden has been accumulating. The company was founded in 2008 by Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson.

More than a decade earlier, de Geer began his career as one of the first employees at a Swedish marketing startup called TradeDoubler that went public in 2005. Later, he founded a bit torrent movie file sharing service called Ameibo that he sold in 2010. Meanwhile, Nilsson had bounced around the tech industry for more than a decade before becoming CEO of Wayfinder Systems, which he grew from a startup to an acquisition by Vodafone in 2009.

With their robust resumes and experience, the iZettle cofounders had little trouble stirring interest in their new venture.

“This generation of Swedish startups and tech companies are coming into the age where they are really ready to go onto the next stage,” said Johan Bendz, iZettle’s chief strategy officer, who was its second employee and also formerly at TradeDoubler.

Raising capital in iZettle’s early days was never a problem. Compared to the previous decade, when Sweden would go through cycles of up and down years, Bendz said many European VC firms had added partners who focused on the Nordics. And Sweden’s homegrown VC industry had become larger and better financed thanks to returns on previous investments.

iZettle raised almost $10 million in a 2011 seed round led by London-based Index Ventures, a firm already bullish on the region thanks to such early investments as its backing of King, the Stockholm-based social gaming startup that went public in 2013. Eventually, iZettle would go on to raise more than $300 million of venture capital.

Bendz said that from the very beginning, iZettle had big ambitions for its payment service. It was confident it could compete on a global scale, but also felt it could take its time building the company rather than looking for a fast exit at an early stage. That led to a widely anticipated IPO filing earlier this year, which was abruptly canceled when PayPal made its $2.2 billion acquisition offer.

While the deal has not officially closed yet, the eventual windfall will shower money across the Swedish ecosystem. The company has already seen some employees leave to start other companies. And now many more will have the resources for their own entrepreneurial ideas, or to back others’ projects.

Spotify shares some genetic links to iZettle. The music streaming service was cofounded in 2006 by Daniel Ek, formerly CTO of gaming startup Stardoll, and Martin Lorentzon, cofounder of TradeDoubler. But along the way to its IPO, it’s created its own mini-ecosystem of employees who have left to found their own startups.

One of the most prominent is Soundtrack Your Brand, which has raised $39 million in venture capital since its 2013 founding for its B2B music streaming service.

Soundtrack cofounder and chairman Andreas Liffgarden spent four years at Spotify before leaving in 2012 to start his own company. Another cofounder, Ola Sars, sold his music streaming startup Let’s Mix to the company that became Beats Music. Spotify invested directly in Soundtrack back in 2015, and they have a major partnership that powers Spotify Business.

When Sars talks about the Stockholm scene, he sees an accelerated network effect taking hold, one where people who have worked together in previous startups are constantly crossing paths and launching new companies, leveraging their experience.

“There’s a lot of talent coming out of places like Spotify,” Sars said. “The conditions for seeding and really doing something here has become quite good. A lot of pieces have really come together.”

The big success stories, like King, Spotify, and iZettle, are creating huge pools of talent that young companies can draw upon. The result is entrepreneurs who not only have much bigger ambitions, but the experience to successfully scale companies on a global basis.

“I think that what it really means for the ecosystem is that we see a better quality of first-time founder than ever before,” said Neil Murray, the founder of The Nordic Web, who launched an angel fund focused on the region last year. “They have that experience from when they were another company that scaled, even if they didn’t do it themselves.”

All the right stuff

While Sweden retains an international outlook, its entrepreneurs have all the necessary pieces to build global companies right in their backyard.

The accelerator and incubator network Sting has hosted more than 200 startups in Stockholm since CEO P?r Hedberg founded it in 2002. At the time, Hedberg had spent more than a decade as CEO at various startups. Over the years, Sting has expanded to provided help with business development, hiring, fundraising, product development, and overseas expansion.

Last year, those efforts expanded to include the launch of its own venture fund, Luminar Ventures, for early stage rounds. And Sting launched its fourth angel fund, Propel Capital IV, that consists of a network of 40 business angels and a fund roughly double the previous one.

Hedberg said Sting is overwhelmed with applications from Swedish entrepreneurs each year. As local unicorns such as Spotify and King and Minecraft gained greater popular recognition, he said he’s seen a desire to be an entrepreneur take a deeper hold among younger generations.

“Now it’s more like a snowball effect, with increasing speed,” Hedberg said. “Rather than going into corporations, kids coming out of the Royal Institute of Technology want to start a company. Our corporations are having a hard time hiring.”

Two years ago, French entrepreneur Lisa Gautier was accepted into Sting. Her startup, TPH Marketplace, was still just a concept, so she was surprised to be amongh the 8 entrepreneurs selected out of 170 applications. Despite being a French expat living in Stockholm, she said Sting helped her quickly plug into the local ecosystem, find co-founders, and eventually seed funding earlier this year.

“My understanding of the ecosystem was limited,” Gautier said. “So getting accepted was big for me. It gave me the connections. And now I’ve gotten so much support from the ecosystem.”

Sting is also just one part of a rapidly growing angel scene, thanks to the windfall from all those exits. In 2015, former King CEO Riccardo Zacconi cofounded angel investment fund Sweet Capital. The following year, seed stage investment fund Nordic Makers was founded by a group of Swedish and Danish entrepreneurs.

“There are some 50 people that have made more than $100 million personally in the Stockholm ecosystem,” said P?r-J?rgen P?rson, a Swedish partner at Nordic VC firm Northzone. “That is at a scale that we haven’t seen before. People were writing checks for $10,000 to $20,000 before. Now we have angels investing $100,000.”

The critical mass of angel investors was critical to helping the founders of Greta launch quickly their concept for a service that would help media companies deliver better digital and streaming experiences. Anna Ottosson connected in 2014 with two other cofounders who were previously developers at Stockholm-based Storytel, Victor Ginsburg Müller and Dennis M?rtensson.

Within a few weeks, they had stitched together some seed funding from an impressive roster of angel investors. Their ranks included Jan Erik Solem, the founder of facial recognition startup Polar Rose that was acquired by Apple in 2010. Solem is now a cofounder of Mapillary.

Greta also got backing from Hampus Jakobsson, a former entrepreneur who sold his mobile UI startup TAT to RIM back in 2010, and has since become one of Sweden’s most active angels and a partner at BlueYard Venture Capital. Finally, Greta received money from Sophia Bendz, executive in residence at Atomico and previously global marketing director at Spotify.

Beyond the money, the angels provided advice, as well as the connections to hire and meet partners and to set strategy. Greta’s founders were soon splitting their time in Silicon Valley to connect with more developers. And they turned to these angels when they make a pivotal decision earlier this year: to close down. Despite initial enthusiasm and traction, it quickly became clear tech giants like Google and Amazon were playing in the same space.

Despite the outcome, as first-time founders, Ottosson said the connection with their angel funders gave them a critical shot of confidence that was essential to convincing to try in the first place.

“Sweden is now on the second or third round of successful startups,” Ottosson said. “You have a very strong talent ecosystem here. They have been part of building strong companies and have seen it’s possible. And if you believe something can be done, it’s a big step toward making it reality.”

That investment success extends further up the ladder, where Northzone sits. Going back a decade or so, Northzone made some savvy bets in companies like Spotify and iZettle. And it has backed Klarna, another Swedish fintech startup that is expected to file for an IPO later this year. Those massive returns helped Northzone raise a new $335 million fund in 2016.

“We need to make sure the Stockholm ecosystem takes advantage of this tremendous success and fosters the next generation of entrepreneurs,” P?rson said.

Of course, the region has also benefited from the launch of Atomico in 2006, the venture fund created by former Skype CEO Niklas Zennstr?m. The Swedish billionaire has become a towering figure not just in Sweden, but across Europe.

All this means there is no shortage of local and regional capital, which also helps attract international investors. In 2017, 442 Swedish startups raised $1.2 billion, more than double the previous year (not counting a massive fundraising by Spotify in 2016) when there were 402 fundraising rounds recorded, according to a report from Swedish investment firm Industrifonden.

Incredibly, while the total amount of international funding increased, the overall percentage that came from Swedish-based investors grew faster. This prowess was one of several reasons the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Sweden No. 1 on a list of “the best places to invest in the next five years.”

“The VC industry in the Nordics has matured a lot,” said Patric Palm, a Swedish serial entrepreneur who cofounded agile development startup Favro last year. Palm said he’s started doing some angel investing himself. “I wouldn’t say it’s Silicon Valley. But we’re getting closer.”

The challenges ahead

While success can indeed breed success, one of the great lessons of Silicon Valley is that it can also breed its own forms of troubles. And Sweden, particularly Stockholm, is experiencing some side effects that would sound familiar to longtime Valley residents.

Though things have cooled a bit this year, average housing prices have jumped 50 percent since 2012. Commercial property rates have soared 55 percent since 2015. That is motivating startups to look at some less pricey options outside of Stockholm, particularly the city of Malm?, which has become an increasingly popular destination for entrepreneurs.

“We have a terrible housing market,” said iZettle’s Bendz. “In the quest for talent and recruiting, getting people to move here can be difficult.”

Even as Sweden struggles with a housing shortage, it’s also challenged by restrictive immigration policies than can make getting a visa for some engineers and entrepreneurs more complex than it should be. While the startup community has been calling for reforms, that seems unlikely given that the country is dealing with its version of a right-wing, anti-immigrant backlash that has plagued much of Europe in recent years.

The other common complaint here is the treatment of stock options, which can be difficult to issue and are heavily taxed. Some worry that the immigration and option issues still leave the region at a recruiting disadvantage.

“Sweden is a very small country,” Palm said. “And if you’re building world-beating companies, you need to recruit from abroad.”

Indeed, there has been a slight cool-down after the red-hot 2017. Tech.eu tracked only 26 exits in the first half of 2018, though the size of the Spotify and iZettle deals have overshadowed that dip. And The Nordic Web reported that Sweden has seen 30 fewer VC investment deals in the first half of 2018 compared to a year ago.

Still, no one here is panicking. The overall numbers and the foundation of the ecosystem are solid, even if the numbers vary from year to year. The strength of the country’s entrepreneurial assets, and its reputation among international investors and acquirers, still give it a remarkable advantage.

“It’s a good time to be putting money into to the Swedish ecosystem,” said Ljungman of Atomico. “Because in three to five years, we’re going to see another round of these big unicorn exits.”


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