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My Swedish Career: ‘Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup’

In this article for our My Swedish Career series, The Local spoke to Stockholm-based Karthik Muthuswamy, who started data journalism studio Explained after more than a decade working in tech.

My Swedish Career: 'Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup'
Karthik Muthuswamy en route to the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain. Photo: private

Muthuswamy who was born and raised in Chennai, India, originally moved to Sweden to study computer science in 2009. He became interested in data journalism after ten years working as a programmer.

“I was just saturated,” he says. “I wanted some purpose with work, and in the last couple of years, tech has been sort of destroying journalism, to be honest, like with Facebook, and all the Cambridge Analytics stuff, and fake news and so on.”

This urge to find a way in which tech could instead be beneficial to journalism led Muthuswamy to leave the tech industry and study a master’s in data journalism in the UK.

“I did this master’s, and as I was reading research on this, I was really like ‘you know, data journalism could really be a saviour for journalism, because it can actually make it interesting and make people come back to news websites from social media’,” he says.

“Data journalism is expressed in text in the form of a chart or some visuals, and it’s both an image, but it has information at the same time,” he explains. “It’s kind of too late for humanity, people are already too used to visuals and they want that, so data journalism provides the solution of combining that.”

Stockholm ‘fantastic’ place for startups

After graduation, he moved back to Stockholm with his Swedish wife Hanna and their child, and started his data journalism studio, Explained, where he now works.

“What we do is data journalism projects for other news media, research centres, and so on,” he tells The Local.

“Part of our product is to translate or localise data from the European context to various national contexts,” he says. “Like finding insights which are interesting for different countries.”

“If there is new inflation data, then we would look for what’s interesting for every country in Europe, and we will be able to make stories for all the countries customised for that context, so to speak.”

Sweden is very different to growing up in India, Muthuswamy says, but he’s become used to it. “I’m into winter sports, for example. So I don’t mind cold weather that much.”

Karthik and his wife Hanna at the top of Kebnekaise. Photo: private.

The Swedish capital’s bustling tech scene, home to thousands of startups, is another big draw.

“Stockholm is a great place to try and do a startup, to be honest,” he says. “I’m discovering more and more new things along the way.”

He launched Explained through the Verksamt programme at Arbetsförmedlingen, a collaboration between more than 45 different Swedish government agencies designed to simplify the process of setting up a company. Muthuswamy describes it as a “how-to manual”.

“You go there and you just have to follow the steps,” he says.

“Along the way, you will discover various perks, and you get access to a portal, which connects you to various advisors like other people who have been running successful startups for many years. You get questions and get advice from them based on whatever topic you could think of, and that is provided by the state,” he adds.

‘I guess I just have to start it myself’

Swedish newsrooms use less data journalism than in newsrooms in other countries such as the UK or US, Muthuswamy explains, which was one of the reasons he ended up launching Explained, despite an original goal of working for a British newspaper after graduation.

“I actually wanted to work for The Guardian or the Financial Times at the time, I had even applied for a job,” he says. “But, you know, we had the move here, and I couldn’t work remotely for the UK media.”

“I didn’t even see a job ad for data analysts or anything in the Swedish media. So I just thought ‘okay, I guess I have to just start it myself and make it happen’.”

Although the plan wasn’t originally to come back to Sweden and launch a startup, Muthuswamy admits that he had it in the back of his mind as a possibility when the family returned to Stockholm last year.

“I used to work at another data journalism startup before actually, in Stockholm, Datastory. So I knew this space quite well.”

Explained’s co-founder, Georgios Karamanis, a psychiatrist-turned-data visualisations designer, also has a background in data journalism and so-called ‘data art’, in particular.

“Data art doesn’t only convert localised information, but also makes it look nice, to make reading information more enjoyable,” Muthuswamy explains.

Things are now “going pretty well” at Explained, Muthuswamy says, with new people recently joining, including a data journalist with experience working for the BBC.

The startup now works with media services in other European countries like Austria and Germany, despite the smaller interest in data journalism in Swedish media, he says.

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How this researcher in Luleå played a role in India’s moon landing

By the time Avijit Banerjee watched India's Chandrayaan-3 land on the south pole of the moon from his home in the far north of Sweden, he was no longer involved. But the landing algorithm he developed played a key role in the mission's success.

How this researcher in Luleå played a role in India's moon landing

Banerjee developed the algorithm for a guidance and autopilot system for a soft landing on the moon as part of his PhD at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, working closely with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In the end, there wasn’t enough time to properly test the algorithm so it could be used in the unsuccessful Chandrayaan-2, which crashed in 2019 due to a software error. But it became an important part of Chandrayaan-3, which on August 23rd this year became the first human vehicle to land on the moon’s southern pole. 

“It was just a movie to us. We were watching it and enjoying the show,” Banerjee tells The Local, remembering the atmosphere among his colleagues – from India, Sweden, and elsewhere – at Luleå Technological University, on the day of the landing.

“But yes, I was deeply involved in that development process as part of my PhD. It was a giant collaboration in industry and academia, in collaboration with ISRO, and and the Indian Institute of Science, in the space department, where I did my PhD.”

Banerjee got his postdoc in Luleå only a few months after defending his PhD and jumped at the chance to work in the space robotics group led by Professor George Nikolakopoulos, which he describes as a “fantastic” team.  

“It’s not just an opportunity for me, it’s a privilege to be part of this team at LTU. So I took this opportunity to work in space robotics, which is a new frontier in space.”

It was the job that lured him to a part of Sweden where there are only three to four hours of daylight in winter, temperatures average -10C, and the surrounding waters turn to ice, particularly as his wife, who he met at the Indian Institute of Science, also managed to get a position at LTU. 

But he has found it easy to leave the pleasant Bangalore climate behind. 

“I find myself contented to be in such a nice place where there are much fewer people and more exposure to nature,” he says. “It’s the best place for a scientist you can possibly imagine. I find myself very comfortable. It is very close to nature, the people are very nice, and I have the exact opportunity that I was looking for. So it’s a perfect match.” 

He doesn’t even find the weather too difficult to handle. 

“Even though I’ve already been exposed to extreme cold weather by day, it is not that extremely cold inside the rooms. I mean, they are all heated,” he says. “And if you look at the nature, it is not that monotonous: when it comes to winter, it all gets white and when it comes to summer, it’s very colourful, and now autumn is even more colourful. So I find that this is very nice.” 

Not that he has taken up any of the outdoor sports, like cross-country skiing or hunting that are popular with locals. 

“I’m not really a sportsman. I’m a bit lazy,” he jokes. “But in my spare time, I visit some nearby lakeside areas. I walk around the place. There are many seating arrangements, and I sit there and enjoy the serenity, the beauty of nature there. That’s my favourite time.” 

He concedes that his Swedish is, as yet “not good at all” and only at a “very, very preliminary stage”. 

“But I will work to develop it, of course. There is a university course, which I got registered for, but I haven’t formally passed it yet, so I need to put a little more effort in. There are many other things to do, but of course, being here, I should know the language.” 

There are currently about 150 Indians living in and around Luleå, making it less than a tenth of the size of other Indian communities in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, or Helsingborg. But he feels he can see enough of his countrymen to feel attached to his roots. 

“We are global citizens. It’s not as if we are coming here to make an Indian community, we come here to do our research, to do our work. But in the meantime we meet together to get connected to our roots.”

Most of the Indians are connected to the university, but there are also people working in the local mining and metals industry, entrepreneurs with their own businesses, and more besides, who join together to celebrate local festivals and to hold other events. 

“For the Independence Day of India, we gathered together and had some food we prepared,” he says. “In India we celebrate for ten days at Dussehra for the deity of the holy mother. But here we will gather together for one evening to celebrate among ourselves.”


While the university put out a press release reporting Banerjee’s role in Chandrayaan-3, he is no longer working with the India’s space agency, working more closely with NASA and ESA in his current projects. 

He sees the soft landing of the project’s Vikram lander and the dispatch of the autonomous Pragyan rover onto this unexplored part of the moon as a milestone for humanity, rather than something only India should celebrate. 

“It is indeed a significant success: not only for India, it is a success for the entire space community that we have the capability to autonomously land on another celestial planet, other than earth,” he says.

“It’s not only the moon. We can extend the capability that we have to Mars and then Venus and other planets, maybe other solar systems. It will happen one day. Our home is not within earth only. Humanity will extend beyond that.” 

He is currently working with ESA on a machine learning algorithm that can enable constellations of satellites to work together to optimise their positioning, avoid collisions and react if one of their number is destroyed, and with NASA on another landing algorithm. 

He is also working on a project that will enable an autonomous vehicle landed on the moon or another planet to seek out the source of any substance it detects, and also on robotics systems to enable autonomous vehicles to explore caves. 

“Cave areas are very important in space because those are like time capsules. They contain information that has been untouched for millions and millions of years, unaffected by any wind gust or any asteroids or meteorites, so they can help us find the source of universe, how it formed, how that life came about.”

He has one more year of his postdoc left, and doesn’t yet know if he and his wife will stay in subarctic Sweden or move on elsewhere. But, if he was given another position, he says he’d be happy to stay in Northern Sweden for the long term.   

“I like this place, so if that happened, I’d be happy. But I cannot predict my future. I’d be happy to spend my life here if I got an opportunity.”