40 Students Chasing Unicorns
What’s it like to work and live in Europe’s most prolific startup hub? This Easter, 40 entrepreneurial Belgian students found out on AFT’s yearly Student Startup Trip!
Months of preparation were oh-so-nearly wasted, when the Brussels Attacks on 22/03 badly damaged Brussels Airport. But we went out of our ways to prove that Belgians -proud Gauls we are!- are not easily shaken. We had our private jet ready when Brussels Airlines finally announced our flight would not be cancelled, but instead moved up to a later time. Big love for the Aviation Factory who did all in their power to secure that private jet for us and even more for our lovely travel agents, Greet and Ilse with FCM Travel Solutions!
The general relief in making it to Swedish soil almost made up for having to cancel our Tuesday schedule. Almost. Dammit.
It almost sounds like Harry Potter cast a spell. On Wednesday we first learnt that Stockholm startups have this thing with names ending in -ify and -ly.
First stop: AWESOME breakfast at Trustly’s brand new penthouse offices. Wow! In case that didn’t have us convinced, Carl-Henrik Somp, Trustly’s Head of Expansion surely did! Trustly’s core values, says Carl-Henrik, are “innovate, automate, simplify”. Even more:
“Humans should only do what humans do best, computers should do the rest.”
Cheers to that, Carl-Henrik. When are you planning on developing a household robot?
When asked about Trustly’s position in the market, Carl-Henrik scored one more:
“You can either be good, or make others look bad. We are good.”
Now that’s good marketing you guys.
Next, we were welcomed at Frogleap, an incubator focused on digital health, by CEO Lars Iversen. Lars met us on Frogleap’s doorstep upon realising we -42 in numbers- wouldn’t fit inside the offices all at once. Oops. The cold however did not bother us for a minute, when Lars began to share his story.
Healthcare, so says Lars, is on the verge of a revolution: from disease treatment to preventive health. Admittedly, this revolution will have its up- and downsides. Ten years from now we will all know when cancer will strike. Cure rates will go up and so, as pointed out by one of the participants, will paranoia.
We’re not quite there yet though. Governments are lagging far behind on legislation, with many startups operating in a dangerously grey zone. Big healthcare companies cannot keep up. As Lars puts it:
“There is this ‘innovation panic’ going on that has the bigger healthcare companies running around like headless chicken.”
With that, we were off to SU Inkubator, a student incubator powered by Stockholm University, housed in a cottage that appeared to be taken from your favourite childhood fairytale. Not kidding!
The incubator offers a 3-month trial for startups that are somehow linked to the university, after which they can enter in a 12-month program. One of the startups we spoke to was Greetify whose CTO Claes Jilert had two invaluable DON’Ts to share with us:
DON’T spend too much time on startup competitions when you can focus on developing your product.
DON’T produce too much at once. Yes, bigger quantities are cheaper by the piece, but not if you can’t sell.
Thanks Claes for your refreshing honesty!
To conclude the day, the lovely Tiny Vanhove, head of the Swedish office of Flanders Investment and Trade and licensed Stockholm tour guide, took us on a journey through the Stockholm city center. The most remarkable thing she had to share with us?
“Swedes have come up with the most inventive way of circumventing the high taxes on alcohol. On Friday, a boat leaves for “International Waters” where alcohol is tax-free, only to return on Sunday with a huuugeee hangover!”
That’s it. We’re moving to Sweden!
Someday I’ll be a Unicorn!
On Thursday we met with Ville Viiknika and John Sjolund, Marketing Strategist and CEO of Timesulin. Fun fact: John is brother to Andreas Sjolund, founder of Skype.
John is a Type-1 diabetic, requiring frequent insuline shots. An entrepreneur with a tight and flexible schedule, he often found himself unsure whether or not he had taken his much needed shot. Overdosing on insuline causes hypoglycemia -don’t worry, I had to Google this too- which can result in seizures and even death.
Tired of having to worry about his shot and his disease the whole time, he devoted his life to improving life with diabetes. A little ironic, isn’t it?
Their product proves that a very simple solution can sometimes make a huge difference, even save lives. Timesulin is just an insulin pen-cap with a timer. Their first prototype was built using a Hannah Montana watch. It doesn’t require you to change your routine one bit, all you have to do is fit on a new cap. Problem solved.
An important lesson John taught us, is that
“you should not be afraid to tackle markets you are unfamiliar with.”
Because of the availability of free public healthcare in Europe, their non-refundable product performs much better in the US where public healthcare is, frankly, non-existent.
Want more of John’s advice?
“Everything takes longer and is more expensive than you had expected. Always.”
“Build a team around you that you can trust, and that is not completely dependent on you (the CEO).”
Tack, John och Ville!
After spending much more time with John and Ville as was originally planned, we moved on to Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES).
SSES is a collaboration of the five major universities in and around Stockholm and it is insanely popular: it takes on average 4 minutes for a class to fill up. They also offer a fellowship program, which serves as a pre-incubator. Fun fact: Soundcloud started at SSES, then moved to Berlin because… Berlin.
And so we spotted our first unicorn: Spotify! We had to sign an NDA preventing us from sharing any trade secrets… But what we can share is that everyone at Spotify is just so exceptionally, overwhelmingly, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously enthusiastic! Also, they have the nicest offices we have ever seen. Seriously though, waw.
It’s Friday, I’m in love
Frans Rosén, Founder of Young/Skilled and Security Specialist with Detectify, shared how they had overcome the one problem all startups struggle with: establishing trust with potential customers.
“I more than doubled the size of my wardrobe by hacking into companies. They kept sending me t-shirts. Anyway, by getting into the white hacker hall-of-fame, we were able to show everyone that we know what we’re doing.”
Intern Robyn was kind enough to share how she landed her internship. To all students, she offered the following advice:
“be curious, volunteer, learn stuff outside the classroom and go to events to network.”
Last, but not least, came SEB Venture Capital. Filip Petersson, investment manager, talked us through their processes, investment criteria and the struggles they often perceive in newly founded companies. Unlike American VCs, they invest larger shares in fewer companies. They focus on Deep Tech and so a solid technology is their first investment criterion. Apart from that, Petersson says that a believable team is very important.
Looking over the Stockholm sunset, all that is left to say is:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.