International schools: Meet Sweden’s next-gen impact entrepreneurs
Sweden is internationally recognised for its technology-driven start-up scene – and the education system plays a crucial part in making it possible. Schoolchildren today aren’t just asking themselves which jobs might suit them; many are actively exploring how to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality.
The Local spoke with Grade 9 students from the new Entrepreneurship and Young Business Leaders programme at Futuraskolan International Kottla in Lidingö, to find out more. The school is part of Futuraskolan's network of 13 pre-schools and schools in the Greater Stockholm region.
The power of impact entrepreneurs
“With the climate crisis, everyone wants to do something,” says Mauritz Cato, CEO of Chashmal. “But it’s not easy.” The crucial thing, according to his colleague Adam Simonsson, the product developer and coder, is to “make things simpler, faster and easier” for people.
With the energy crisis making global headlines, the two friends wanted to help people save money by cutting electricity usage. But how?
Their answer is a user-friendly app that connects with household goods, such as lamps, washing machines, and dishwashers, via bluetooth. It will empower householders to turn off unnecessary consumption and schedule usage for off-peak hours.
Offshore wind has become an important power source but Adam says much of what it produces at night is wasted. “How many people are willing to get up at 2am to put on their dishwasher? Not many. But how many will take five minutes to set up a system that can save them money and help Sweden control this energy crisis?”
Raising awareness to save lives
“It’s about creating something new and helping other people in the process,” says Felicia Lejon, joint CEO of CEFEA, which she formed with Evelina Åkerlund, Clara Hellman and Aylin Irvanian.
Together, they're working to develop upper body mannequins that educate people about breast cancer by mirroring the changes the disease causes in the human body. A combination of silicone and hard plastics will be required – along with an immense amount of hard work!
Like Chashmal, CEFEA began in autumn as the teenagers formed small groups within the entrepreneurship programme.
A smaller version of the programme, consisting of a unit from the International Middle Years Curriculum, part of Futuraskolan’s framework for teaching 21st century skills and lifelong learning, had run in previous years. But this is the first academic year with the expanded project, which also incorporates learning goals from the Swedish National Curriculum, as well as requiring students to take into account the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“I know a lot of people who have had breast cancer and they usually discover it later on,” says Evelina, joint CEO and lead designer at CEFEA (the name comes from the initials of the founders’ first names, plus an extra E). “If people learn what the changes feel like in the early stages, it wouldn’t be as dangerous. We want to spread awareness and potentially save lives if we’re lucky.”
Coding is crucial
Both projects benefit from a school support network that includes teachers who act as mentors and an ICT team that gives students the means and know-how to thrive. It all begins with an introductory talk by Shaun Shilton, ICT development leader at Futuraskolan, about entrepreneurship and the tools that can turn ideas into reality.
“The school helps us to understand code,” says Adam. “ ICT also helps show us how to scale and have product plans, so we don’t run around like headless chickens.”
“We’ve used programmes and apps the school showed us to design the prototype app and we think it’s great,” adds Mauritz. They also get training in how to use a 3D printer at Futuraskolan, which they’ll use to make their hardware prototype.
Students have also had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to parents in the school community who are themselves entrepreneurs, and who provided practical advice and constructive feedback. Several projects are contesting entrepreneurial competitions for young people with backing from the school.
“The school built a very good foundation for us," says Evelina of the support system.
How tech fuels imagination
Using digital technology to support creative problem-solving and make learning fun is hugely important at Futuraskolan, starting from pre-school, says Shilton. “We have a red thread from the pre-schools up to grade 9 and having the ability to code in Python is where it’s going,” he says. “All our schools also took part in Hour of Code, which is about involving students you wouldn’t usually expect to be interested to see what happens.”
But could children today get too much screen time too soon? “Our use of technology is planned, thought out and integrated into a theme,” explains Shilton. “In our pre-schools, we use Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Green Screen as an extension of imaginative play. It’s exciting to see how the kids respond.”
The first time he used such technology in a pre-school was after hearing children discussing their newfound love of skiing following a winter break.
“We made skis and ski poles out of cardboard and found a 360 degree VR video on YouTube,” says Shilton. “The kids wore goggles as they used their cardboard equipment to re-live going down the slope.”
At Futuraskolan, even pre-schoolers can start coding with the codeSpark Academy app. One popular game recreates a water balloon fight. “You put your line of code in to get the character to go left, right, throw or jump,” says Shilton. “It’s a good marriage between the fun of the game and learning.”
Both sets of entrepreneurs face tricky decisions about how to limit costs while finding the right materials for their prototypes and hardware. But the challenge isn’t capping their ambitions.
“In one year, we’d like to get our first customer,” says Mauritz. In three to five years, he hopes Chashmal will be saving people lots of money and making a profit “so we can ‘escape the Matrix’”.
Evelina says CEFEA hope to be reaching out to clinics and hospitals a year from now, as well as selling their product to schools. The team are also developing a fact book about cancer to be published in multiple languages, including Braille, and want to produce a male mannequin to highlight that men can also get breast cancer.
Gaël Rosén, school administrator and French teacher at Futuraskolan International Kottla, leads the entrepreneurship programme. “I think there’s a little bit of an entrepreneur in every student,” she says. The intention over the next three years is to get all Futuraskolan’s schools involved and to increase collaboration with local companies and municipalities.
Shilton wants students to “feel confident” about taking their ideas into the outside world. “We want to point them in the right direction without holding their hands all the way.”
And why keep holding their hands when Futuraskolan’s young entrepreneurs are growing wings and seem ready to take flight?
This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio.