In 2020, we’re all spending more time on video calls and digital communications and less on face-to-face conversations. But who should you stay connected with during these challenging times and why?
The Local spoke to Natalia Brzezinski, former CEO of the Stockholm-based tech conference Brilliant Minds and Symposium Stockholm, and Karola Kassai, CEO of KassaiLaw, an innovation and technology lawyer, and business strategist, who does business in Stockholm and elsewhere in Europe.
With their insights into the culture and values of the city, we present six reasons you should definitely include a Stockholmer in your digital circle.
1. To be listened to as an equal!
In a world this busy, it’s easy to feel your voice is drowned out. In many places, high expectations when it comes to equality are not reflected by reality.
So, what’s the international view of Stockholm? “Unlike anywhere else in the world, Swedish culture is radically egalitarian, rejects titles and faux hierarchies, and embraces consensus and collaboration,” says Brzezinski, who lived in the city from 2011 to 2014 while her husband served as US Ambassador to Sweden.
“Teams are empowered over the individual or ‘hero’ founder cult of personality we have in Silicon Valley,” she continues. “Humility is intrinsically woven into the spirit of things.”
Kassai began working in Stockholm in 2017, having previously been based in Germany and her native Hungary. “In life, it’s more common to meet bosses than leaders,” she says. “But in Stockholm, leadership is about encouraging everyone to share their views and making sure they're listened to. In the internet age, competence and skills aren’t necessarily related to your age or how many universities you went to and Stockholm understands this, promoting flat organisational cultures.”
2. To tap into a friendly innovation ecosystem
Before moving to Stockholm, Kassai says she had thought the locals would be difficult to engage with. But she was soon pleasantly surprised. “The atmosphere is really inspiring,” she says. “People are friendly and they want to genuinely understand you and what you’re doing professionally.”
That means once you have an introduction into the ecosystem, one connection can soon multiply into many.
Kassai’s interest in Stockholm was prompted by the city’s thriving tech and start-up scene. Her law firm, KassaiLaw, which offers specialist advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs, now has headquarters in Stockholm as well as Budapest.
“We work with many startups all across Europe,” she says. “The ecosystem for innovation in Stockholm is superb. You get to work on the latest disruptive and cutting-edge ideas and with companies, where 'changing the world' is not just a cliché but can actually happen any day.” Indeed, Stockholm is now Europe’s third biggest fintech hub.
Brzezinski says Stockholm has “evolved a great deal” since she first arrived in the city. “Today, you have an amazing group of founders working actively to share their knowledge, networks, time and financial investment with the next generation of innovators,” she says.
Photo: Natalia Brzezinski
3. To feel the city's invigorating optimism …
Brzezinski is a board member at Norrsken Foundation, the Stockholm-based non-profit impact hub. She describes it as “one of the most amazing epicentres and creative hubs for young entrepreneurs”.
Brzezinski recalls Norrsken founder Niklas Adalberth taking her to the construction site where he planned to build the incubator. “The fire and energy in his eyes to pay it forward with his time and money to help other impact founders was unbelievable!” she says.
Kassai says the city's energy and competitive spirit provides inspiration for ambitious entrepreneurs to keep pushing themselves. “It’s really challenging from a professional perspective and makes you want to constantly do better,” she says.
4. … and its focus on real world impact
Ambition is one thing. But what about results? With a small home market, Swedish companies have an incentive to look abroad and many Stockholm-based companies are having a huge global impact.
Examples include Sana Labs, the education tech startup using AI to enhance learning, and Klarna, the fintech giant, where Brzezinski is now Head of Strategy for the US market.
“In Norrsken, we see the most amazing impact entrepreneurs solving problems across food waste, health, medicine, energy and mental health,” she says. “I think Stockholm is poised to lead the way for the world across many sectors for a long time to come.”
She also praised Swedish families such as the Wallenbergs for their “long-term focus and generosity” in supporting local businesses. “I’ve advised a few other European cities recently and not yet found a place where the major family owners and successful founders invest so much at home,” she says.
5. To help you appreciate what matters most
Feeling inspired in the work you do is a blessing. But life isn’t all about work. This is well-recognised in Sweden, where families benefit from generous amounts of paid parental leave and childcare is highly affordable.
“This allows society to maximise the entire population’s creativity,” says Brzezinski, who adds that she raised her daughter in Stockholm with Swedish values. “I also came into my own as a woman and leader with the values and lessons I learned there.” Remembering Barack Obama’s official visit to Sweden as US president in 2013, she says: “He basically said the world would be a better place if people were more like the Swedes.”
Photos: Karola Kassai/Natalia Brzezinski with Barack Obama
For Kassai, Stockholm offers the chance to share in “a culture of appreciation”. “Coming here has strengthened my belief in how I see things and how I lead my company and team, whereas in my own region my concepts and expectations didn’t really fit in,” she says.
6. To share in a positive vision of the future
Disruption is one of the biggest buzzwords of recent years. But how can we be sure that disruptors are creating a better future?
In an ever more complex world, Kassai admires the emphasis in Stockholm on using disruptive technologies to “simplify people’s lives” – and people’s willingness to move with the times. “Stockholmers are very open to progress,” she says. “It’s a great place to tap into if you’re a business in need of early adopters.”
Brzezinski says this has already been proven true in banking, finance and technology, whereas in the US she says “my husband still writes physical cheques!”
More broadly, she says a commitment to equality, openness, science, and protecting both people and the environment shines through. “Stockholm is the future because of the nexus of creativity and values,” she says.