How innovative Stockholm is shaping the post-coronavirus world

When the world faces great challenges, innovative minds and entrepreneurial spirits often come up with the solutions. In 2020, the need for creative approaches to help us through the coronavirus pandemic could not be clearer.

How innovative Stockholm is shaping the post-coronavirus world
Photos: Anna Fredrixon of Kry and Donnie Lygonis of KTH

Companies founded in Stockholm, a global centre of innovation, are rising to the challenge of increased demand for digital services. Stockholm’s creative energy also continues to see the birth of new solutions-focused start-ups. 

The city actively fosters new innovations through the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship. The Local spoke with two people at the heart of innovation in the city about what’s happening now, what’s coming next – and why innovation is in Stockholm’s DNA.

Get it done at home – from healthcare to shopping

Our ability to do things remotely has been growing steadily for years. Then came the pandemic. Suddenly, doing as much as possible digitally became a necessity – or at least the obvious first choice – for vast numbers of us. This is true of work, shopping, and even seeing a doctor.

Find out how Stockholm provides support, consultation and opportunities to entrepreneurs

Stockholm-founded Kry is a digital health service provider offering help via their app, as well as at their growing chain of health centres, to ensure the right mix of physical and digital medical assistance. You can use the app to get the expert advice of a health professional from the safety of your own home.

Demand for the service has skyrocketed: it took four years for Kry to reach its first million calls from patients – but just one more year to reach two million. You can rapidly be connected for a primary care consultation for all manner of symptoms, with frequent topics including skin rashes, eye infections and anxiety.

“We’ve proven the need for digital healthcare to ensure patients can receive high quality consultations and treatment without having to physically visit a health centre,” says Anna Fredrixon, VP People at Kry. “Not all issues can be solved in a digital environment, so we make sure they’re triaged to the right level. Personally, I have three children and we’re using Kry to avoid going to a physical centre if it’s not necessary.”

The company operates in Sweden, Norway, and Germany, as well as in the UK and France under the name Livi. Recruiting more clinicians to keep up with demand has not been difficult, says Fredrixon. “People are really attracted by the idea of working for something with a purpose, that makes an impact on society,” she says. 

Kry is one of many major companies founded in Stockholm helping people to adjust to the realities of life today. Skype, co-founded by the Swede Niklas Zennström, has been connecting friends and colleagues online since 2003 and experienced a surge in demand as the pandemic spread.

If you’ve been doing more shopping online, you may be one of the 85 million consumers who use Klarna. The shopping app promises to make online payments simple, safe and smooth – a message that could have been created for 2020.

Take your innovation to the next level by applying for the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship

Photo:Ola Ericson/Stockholm Media Bank

A city of connections and solutions

Innovators never stand still. That’s why Stockholm constantly looks to the future. 

“Stockholmers are extremely connected and trend-aware,” says Donnie SC Lygonis, business development coach and innovation strategist at KTH Innovation. “The design, the fashion and the music here all play into the creative need to be on your toes all the time.” 

The City of Stockholm runs the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship to reward creative people with bright ideas – and help them develop their innovations further. If you’re an innovator you can enter across five categories, including ‘simplify everyday life’ and ‘social impact and sustainability’.The winners of each category get 100,000 Swedish kronor and further support to advance their project.

Lygonis says foreign students and researchers he works with are always impressed with how ingrained sustainability is in the Swedish way of thinking. But building a sustainable business also requires profitability, he cautions. “People forget that when they talk about social entrepreneurship,” he says.

A strong engineering tradition is another essential feature of Stockholm and Sweden. “A systematic approach to solving very big problems is part of the DNA strain of Swedish innovation,” Lygonis says, citing companies such as Ikea, Ericsson and Spotify.

Kry’s Fredrixon agrees that Stockholm is “a great climate to work in”. “We have an ecosystem of start-ups, support for scaling up, and angel investors looking for positive ideas,” she says. “We also have a high level of digital access and knowledge and Swedish people are early adopters who like to try new things.”

Inspiration and acceleration 

So, what’s the message for budding entrepreneurs considering making an entry? Lygonis says the best inspiration comes from “the world around you”.

“Today, that means all of them will have a more or less strong tie to the pandemic,” he says. “To address new problems on everything from transport to digital meetings to helping people into work. If social media made us more alone before, I think the pandemic has made us even more alone and we’ll see a lot of things coming up to address that.

“In Stockholm, we’ll always see quick, frugal responses to crisis. We’ve seen breweries producing disinfectants and we bought hand sanitizer that smells distinctively of gin – it’s very weird!”

Lygonis is chair of the judges for the Stockholm Acceleration Scholarship, which is open to finalists of the Innovation Scholarship during the past five years.

“The Innovation Scholarship is designed to help you and find out if something works,” he says. “The Acceleration Scholarship says ‘good job, it worked. Here’s another push in the right direction’.” 

That push means a bigger cash prize – 250,000 kronor – and other help including a co-working space at United Spaces for six months. “I meet people with incredible ideas every day,” says Lygonis. “But innovation is also about doing – that’s usually the hard part.”

As many businesses and entrepreneurs are already proving, in Stockholm the hard part happens with impressive regularity.

If you’re interested in the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship, you have until October 12th to apply for what could be a life-changing prize – find out more here

For members


FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

There have been several reports of foreigners who bought Swedish property after they were falsely made to believe that it would speed up their process towards a Swedish residency permit. But what do the rules actually say?

FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

I’ve never been told buying property in Sweden will give me a residence permit. Is this really a thing?

The short answer is a firm no, but despite this there has been a series of incidents of non-EU foreigners who were allegedly tricked into buying property in Sweden before moving, believing that owning property would make them eligible for a Swedish residence permit.

What’s the story? 

These incidents most recently grabbed headlines in June 2024, when public broadcaster SVT reported that a number of properties in Sweden had been sold to buyers in the Middle East well over market price, after the buyers were led to believe it would help them gain residence permits. The properties are all linked to businessman Kadry El Naggar, who runs the company Sweden for Investment.

As far back as 2013, SVT reported that another company owned by El Naggar, Swedish Connections, at the time told buyers in Egypt that buying property in Sweden would help speed up the process of getting a residence permit or even Swedish citizenship.

El Naggar has never been convicted of any crimes, but he has been sued by two previous buyers. In one of the cases, the purchase was cancelled, and the other buyer won their court case. He denied to SVT that his company offers its services under false pretence.

“I buy old houses and sell them on. I don’t sell permanent residency permits. That’s clear if you look at our sites,” he told SVT.

A note on his website reads “we do not issue visas or guarantee any residence permits as these are determined individually by the Swedish Migration Board”. But SVT reports that in several social media posts, El Naggar falsely claims that all foreigners need to get a Swedish residency permit is a bank statement showing a balance of at least 20,000 dollars (210,660 kronor), as well as a company and property.

How many properties have they sold?

According to SVT, there are 50 properties up and down the country linked to El Naggar, his wife or their company, with 32 of those in Norrland. Thirty-six properties currently have one or more foreign owners, with a total of 53 owners registered as living outside of Sweden.

The broadcaster also linked 37 different Sweden-registered companies to these owners, who are registered as living in a number of different countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Palestine.

Many of the properties are in relatively bad condition, sold via executive auction through the Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogden).

One pharmacist from Egypt told SVT he had paid 188,000 kronor for a home in the village of Undrom outside Sollefteå in northern Sweden, with the dream of giving his children a better life, after Facebook adverts promised that he could get residency through buying a property.

He hasn’t even been able to visit his house in Undrom due to the cost of travelling to Sweden from Saudi Arabia, where he lives. 

He told SVT he had been warned by someone else who had been in a similar situation just before he was due to make the final payment on the home, and he then demanded to cancel the purchase, but the company refused. He has now hired lawyers in Egypt and Sweden.

“We’ve seen that this method has been ongoing for a while,” Migration Agency official Anette Bäcklund told SVT.

“And all of those people who have applied for a residence permit from us have had their applications denied. You need to follow certain rules to qualify for a residence permit, and that hasn’t been the case in these cases.”

How do I move to Sweden as an entrepreneur or investor?

It is possible to get a temporary residence permit as a self-employed person in Sweden, and permit holders who can support themselves and their families are eligible for permanent residency after just two years, but this requires more than just having a high enough bank balance, registering a company in Sweden and owning a property.

According to the Migration Agency, self-employed people must meet the following requirements in order to be granted a two-year residence permit:

  • hold a valid passport
  • show you have good experience of your industry and previous experience of running your own company
  • show you have relevant knowledge of Swedish or English. For example, if you have contact with a number of suppliers or customers in Sweden, you need to be able to speak Swedish to a very high level
  • prove that you are in charge of running the company and that you have decisive influence for it
  • prove that you have enough money to support yourself and any family accompanying you (200,000 kronor for you, 100,000 kronor for an accompanying partner or spouse and 50,000 kronor for each accompanying child)
  • show a credible foundation for your budget
  • show that you have built a network of customers or other business network
  • pay a fee in most cases (equal to the fee for a work permit)

The Migration Agency will then assess your business plans to determine whether or not you should be granted a permit. There is no requirement for applicants to own a property in Sweden.

If you are granted a two-year permit and want to apply for permanent residency once it runs out, there are further requirements. You will need to prove that you are still running the company, are complying with good accounting practices and have all the necessary permits for the business, among other things, at the time you renew your permit. 

Permanent residency applicants need to prove that they and their family have been living in “reasonable” housing conditions, but there is no stipulation that they must own this home.