The international residents making Stockholm a better place to live

The human spirit is often at its strongest and most resourceful when confronted with adversity. In the face of challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, innovative and entrepreneurial pioneers often devise solutions and services that make life just that little bit better for everyone.

The international residents making Stockholm a better place to live
Filip Lundin, left, founder of Sopköket

Part of what makes Stockholm such a thriving and influential international startup hub is the support that the City of Stockholm offers to entrepreneurs who have ideas that can have a positive impact on its citizens, ideas that will improve their lives. 

Take the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship, for example. Every year, the City of Stockholm asks a panel of experts to sift through hundreds of applications to select the top innovations in five categories: Simplify Everyday Life, Creative Industries, Life Science and Health, Travel and Tourism, and Social Impact and Sustainability. The winner of each category receives 100,000 kronor.

This year’s winners included Laundrop, a mobile laundry service (Simplify Everyday Life), Wahzaa, a royalty-free samples provider for musicians (Creative Industries), and Tobias Tree (Life Science and Health), a communication tool for doctors, researchers and specialists.

A masterclass in sustainability

The Social Impact and Sustainability scholarship winner, Sopköket, is a startup that salvages leftover ingredients from grocery stores to prepare a variety of global dishes. Sopköket’s gradual growth from being a mobile food truck in 2015 to being a viable restaurant and frozen food business, exemplifies the importance of the City of Stockholm’s support to entrepreneurs who want to make people’s lives better.

“We have had a lot of support from Stockholm municipality,” says Filip Lundin, Sopköket’s founder and CEO. “Our growth has been organic, but we have survived thanks to grants from public bodies and prize money from the city.”

Find out why Stockholm, with the most unicorns per capita outside of Silicon Valley, is a great city for entrepreneurs

Lundin’s company is remarkable in that it not only offers a masterclass in sustainability and circular economy but also adheres to an inclusive and generous recruitment policy – many of Sopköket’s staff were previously long-term unemployed.

“We like to create jobs for people that are from difficult backgrounds or marginalised groups,” says Lundin. “That’s one of our three main objectives. There’s also the rescued ingredients – we have as a goal to have at least 50 percent rescued food per meal, and so far we’ve rescued 35 tons of food. And then we also give food to people in need. We have given away 27,000 meals since 2015.”

And from this spring, Sopköket will be not only selling food in its Södermalm restaurant, but also in frozen food sections in supermarkets and from its own e-shop.

Lundin says Sopköket was inspired by his Indian heritage. “My dad is half Indian so I have a huge family in India. We have always cooked at home in Stockholm – we never ate ready-made meals. I’ve also had a strong entrepreneurial mindset since I was a kid and an interest in sustainability issues – with Sopköket, I get to combine these two!”

Learn more about entrepreneurship in Sweden’s capital and key tips from those who have done it 

Stephanie Mazzotta, creator of Hidden Gems
An innovation with heart

Stephanie Mazzotta’s prize-winning start-up, Hidden Gems, the winner of the Travel and Tourism category, also focuses on making life a little better by helping people find relatively unknown and less-crowded tourist attractions in the Stockholm region.

“It’s a data-driven web platform that allows users to set up filters,” says Stephanie, an Italian-Australian who’s lived in Stockholm since 2018 and worked in tech for 20 years. “We call it an intelligent exploration guide for something new to see or do without having to endure crowds. It enables people to find off-the-beaten-track places and activities in the Stockholm area without having to spend hours searching online.”

Hidden Gems, which will launch in the Spring, aims to highlight lesser known attractions and areas of interest away from the centre of Stockholm but if there are times when the more famous city centre attractions are quieter, it will also alert the user.

“People are still cautious about going out, so many places in Stockholm that have usually been busy are still totally quiet. So we wanted to provide a guide for people to assess how crowded or how quiet a place would be.”

But, as with Sopköket, this innovation has heart. Stephanie also wants her innovation to provide the vulnerable and people with disabilities with more opportunities to get out.

“Mobility inequality has really been exacerbated by the pandemic. The main obstacles for those with restricted mobility are crowding on public transport and whether or not amenities at the end destination are available to them. Will there be a ramp and suitable bathroom facilities? We want to give people with disabilities the option to travel to places they’ve not been able to before – and also new options that they never knew existed.”

Stockholm is ‘way ahead’

As with Filip, Stephanie says she owes a debt of gratitude to Stockholm. “Stockholm is way ahead of many other cities, especially in terms of encouraging international women and providing a really supportive ecosystem in which for women to work.”

But Stephanie also underlines the importance of civic support for innovations that aim to help people. “Grants from public bodies are really important for the early stages of social innovations, to give them time to show results and come up with new revenue streams.”

Interested in starting your own venture in Stockholm or moving your business here? 

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OPINION: Are tips in Sweden becoming the norm?

Should you tip in Sweden? Habits are changing fast thanks to new technology and a hard-pressed restaurant trade, writes James Savage.

OPINION: Are tips in Sweden becoming the norm?

The Local’s guide to tipping in Sweden is clear: tip for good service if you want to, but don’t feel the pressure: where servers in the US, for instance, rely on tips to live, waiters in Sweden have collectively bargained salaries with long vacations and generous benefits. 

But there are signs that this is changing, and the change is being accelerated by card machines. Now, many machines offer three preset gratuity percentages, usually starting with five percent and going up to fifteen or twenty. Previously they just asked the customer to fill in the total amount they wanted to pay.

This subtle change to a user interface sends a not-so-subtle message to customers: that tipping is expected and that most people are probably doing it. The button for not tipping is either a large-lettered ‘No Tip’ or a more subtle ‘Fortsätt’ or ‘Continue’ (it turns out you can continue without selecting a tip amount, but it’s not immediately clear to the user). 

I’ll confess, when I was first presented with this I was mildly irked: I usually tip if I’ve had table service, but waiting staff are treated as professionals and paid properly, guaranteed by deals with unions; menu prices are correspondingly high. The tip was a genuine token of appreciation.

But when I tweeted something to this effect (a tweet that went strangely viral), the responses I got made me think. Many people pointed out that the restaurant trade in Sweden is under enormous pressure, with rising costs, the after-effects of Covid and difficulties recruiting. And as Sweden has become more cosmopolitain, adding ten percent to the bill comes naturally to many.

Boulebar, a restaurant and bar chain with branches around Sweden and Denmark, had a longstanding policy of not accepting tips at all, reasoning that they were outdated and put diners in an uncomfortable position. But in 2021 CEO Henrik Kruse decided to change tack:

“It was a purely financial decision. We were under pressure due to Covid, and we had to keep wages down, so bringing back tips was the solution,” he said, adding that he has a collective agreement and staff also get a union bargained salary, before tips.

Yet for Kruse the new machines, with their pre-set tipping percentages, take things too far:

“We don’t use it, because it makes it even clearer that you’re asking for money. The guest should feel free not to tip. It’s more important for us that the guest feels free to tell people they’re satisfied.”

But for those restaurants that have adopted the new interfaces, the effect has been dramatic. Card processing company Kassacentralen, which was one of the first to launch this feature in Sweden, told Svenska Dagbladet this week that the feature had led to tips for the average establishment doubling, with some places seeing them rise six-fold.

Even unions are relaxed about tipping these days, perhaps understanding that they’re a significant extra income for their members. Union representatives have often in the past spoken out against tipping, arguing that the practice is demeaning to staff and that tips were spread unevenly, with staff in cafés or fast food joints getting nothing at all. But when I called the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Union (HRF), a spokesman said that the union had no view on the practice, and it was a matter for staff, business owners and customers to decide.

So is tipping now expected in Sweden? The old advice probably still stands; waiters are still not as reliant on tips as staff in many other countries, so a lavish tip is not necessary. But as Swedes start to tip more generously, you might stick out if you leave nothing at all.