Sweden’s technology trajectory is following a similar path that of neighbouring Denmark, thanks to a burgeoning transatlantic relationship with Canada.
The relationship was kick-started by an event called “Canada and Swedish tech: Building inclusive transatlantic relationships”, which is hosted by Tech Nordic Advocates (TNA) in conjunction with the Canadian Embassy.
Last month’s event was built on the premise of improved diversity in the tech startup realm, but more broadly it alludes to two like-minded nations at slightly different stages of tech inclusivity.
TNA’s International Mentoring Programme in Denmark was formed from a similar rationale, noting that women accounted for only 4.2% of new entrepreneurs in the country in 2020. Sweden was only one percentage point better off, but Canada was nearer the 15% mark.
“While still nowhere near where they want to be ultimately, they’ve taken a different approach and are making ground where the Nordic countries perhaps aren’t,” said Barry O’Brien, who runs TNA Sweden.
“It therefore makes complete sense to leverage and learn from the centralised, top-down model that they are promoting in Canada, while simultaneously building connections and relationships between the two countries.”
O’Brien noted that despite its proximity to the US, Canada has a lot in common with the Nordic countries, including the fact that it is often overlooked from an innovation and enterprise perspective.
“It’s an odd paradox, where both Canada and Sweden are well known for their social values, strong levels of support, less risk of failure, and strong business ideas. But for some reason, this doesn’t always translate to all-round startup ecosystem development,” he said.
“So it made perfect sense for us at TNA to look to collaborate with the Canadian Embassy, to find synergies, create relationships, and ultimately aid each other in our diversity and inclusivity goals, too.”
Although the wider upshots will affect the entire startup ecosystem, the initial aim of the spring event was to continue Denmark’s push for greater gender equality at startup level. To this end, it was of huge satisfaction to O’Brien and the TNA team that 80% of attendees on the day were female.
“It really is significant, because this was the first instalment of what we hope will become a series of recurring events and forums,” he said. “This first group of online sessions was geared towards making introductions, pinpointing why the Canadian model can be so beneficial to female entrepreneurs in Sweden, and exposing our own attendees to some existing success stories.”
The full day of sessions followed the line of introduction-meets-problem-solving, epitomised by a panel entitled “Canadians in Sweden: The Swedish tech scene from a Canadian perspective”.
This was followed by a showcase session where Canadian startups pitched to Swedish investors as a sign of the innovation that exists in both countries. Again, many of both the startups and the ecosystem experts included female business owners or entrepreneurs. This led seamlessly into the second major panel chat, “Approaches to diversity and inclusion in tech in Sweden and Canada”.
“Across both panel sessions, it revolved around sharing insights into each other’s strengths, weaknesses, parallels, success stories and, of course, their respective diversity and inclusion journeys,” said O’Brien.
“There was a sense of scene-setting to the day, but we were very keen for it to be more than just a day of presentations. Rather, it was an opportunity for harder conversations to be brought to light, solutions to be brought to the fore, and new relationships to be formed.”
It is this relationship element that TNA and the Canadian Embassy hope to see evolve in the coming months and years.
This and similar transatlantic events have two over-riding aims. First, to share knowledge and capture the best of each other’s domestic strategies, and second, to set up expansion opportunities for businesses on each side of the Atlantic as they learn more about each other’s market landscape, and are exposed to each other’s funding channels.
“That is why the physical connection aspect of this event was so important,” said O’Brien. “Obviously, better still, we’d like to do this sort of thing in person, and that will hopefully be the case in the future.
“But as these two countries’ startup communities get to know each other better, they will understand more about what innovations are out there, how they got off the ground, and how to reach or attract investment better. It will also broaden that conversation across two like-minded countries instead of one, which presents a massive advantage.”
Pratima Rao, senior trade commissioner at the Embassy of Canada to Sweden, said: “We were thrilled to co-host this event. The panellists coming from diverse backgrounds had many insights to share with the audience and the sessions were inspiring and informative.
“We have definitely forged new Canadian-Swedish links.”
The link-up will also create opportunities from a diversity perspective, especially when it comes to rectifying the gender equality gap.
As a driver for TNA, to partner with a country that the Nordics can learn from but which is also still finding its feet to an extent, points to a more sustainable and aligned relationship in years to come.
“When we say a transatlantic partnership, we really do mean at all levels,” said O’Brien. “Yes it’s knowledge-sharing, but it’s also synching business ideas, and bringing each other up wherever required.
“And based on the stats that we all know are out there surrounding women entrepreneurs in the Nordics, we definitely know that is an area of the region’s tech ecosystem that needs bringing up.”
As the network expands, the hope is that acquaintances become friendships, which opens doors to business opportunities, venture capital on both sides, funding and investment prospects, and market expansions for scaling tech businesses.
It may only have started with an online fireside chat, but now that Sweden’s tech startup vehicle is pointing in the right direction and has a significant co-pilot, TNA sees a much more positive journey ahead.
“We provided everyone with feedback forms at the end of this first event, and we’ve been very pleased with the results,” said O’Brien. “The content was of high quality, the demographic was exactly as we’d have wanted it to be, and the willingness to share ideas and opinions has paved the way for a long-term relationship between the two countries.”