Business Sweden helping Swedish companies!

One of our last visits in Stockholm was Business Sweden, at the World Trade Center across from Stockholm Central Train Station. Cecilia Oberg Leiram, Head of Business Ecosystems (Digital Technologies & Life Science), walked us through what they do, while also providing a brief overview of some differences and why Sweden is such a powerhouse when it comes to innovation. The mission statement of Business Sweden reads, “We help Swedish companies grow global sales and international companies invest and expand in Sweden.” With a global presence of 38 markets, 46 offices, and roughly 500 people, their value proposition is to shorten time to market, find new revenue streams, and minimize risk. They also offer various services to companies, such as business incubators (similar to WeWork) with office spaces and video conferencing facilities if they need to conduct day-to-day operations. Business Sweden generally works with SMEs: small/midsized companies with limited funding, often providing 50% of funding. They work on command, meaning they ask what the companies want to do, then carry out or implement as appropriate. Business Sweden is also commissioned by the Swedish Government and industry.

Some interesting facts presented were that 50% of Sweden's GDP comes from exports, while 50% of those exports come from foreign companies in Sweden, part of the reason they want to help Swedish companies grow. Another interesting statistic was that 6% of all exports in 2021 came from AstraZeneca (a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company), mostly due to the pandemic. Sweden also ranks in the top for Innovation, Competitiveness, and Sustainability against other global countries, with focuses on companies such as smart energy, smart transportation, life sciences, digital technology, and more.

Cecilia shared a bit on why Sweden has been such a powerhouse, and what some differences might be from culture in the United States. She noted that Sweden has always had a strong engineering culture. They begin facilitating problem solving skills from a very young age instead of overprotecting or doing the “fixing” for them. Swedes also take it upon themselves to sort out issues before managers see the problem; a culture of initiative. Sweden also invests 3% of GDP into R&D, has a generous social welfare system, and has long championed innovation and entrepreneurship. Their focus on tech innovation infrastructure has been built up, as pretty much all kids growing up in the 90s had access to computers and internet, and the early tech success is fueling the next generation of startups.

Cecilia mentioned that her opinion of many U.S. firms is that they want fast backing with a goal to sell, rather than build from the ground up and continue to be successful themselves. Some might view this as controversial, but we tend to agree. This is seen countless times on entrepreneurial TV show, Shark Tank, and we can personally list some acquaintances who have goals of creating and selling off a business for money. It is good to note, that not every entrepreneur in the U.S. has this goal, (but many do and it is a difference).

Business Sweden did differ slightly from some of the other companies we visited in Stockholm as well. We noticed that everyone entering or leaving was wearing a business attire. You definitely get a vibe that you’re in a more traditional business setting like many offices or government agencies in the United States. While the casual attire at other businesses in Sweden did not diminish their work by any means, this was something visually different that we noticed. The Swedish approach is generally the same, however; direct, with an empowering mindset. Business Sweden also follows a strict code of conduct; they need to make sure they are doing the right thing, make sure money is clean when possible, and ensure that the owners are not “fishy,” etc. They can reach out to other local agencies when helping Swedish companies move abroad/global or when exporting as well.

When thinking about our home country, the United States does have agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA), Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to name a few. That being said, we'd have to do a bit more extensive research to decipher if the assistance is as personalized or helpful as Business Sweden sounds. The SBA has low reviews on SiteJabber (1.4/5 from only 36 reviews). The same cannot be found for the other two, though according to Glassdoor, the SBA has a 3.7/5 rating from 413 employees, the USTDA has a 4.2/5 rating from only 23 employees, and the USAID has 4.1/5 rating from 817 employees.