Big Ben Venture

How Sweden became Europe’s capital of startup exits


Stockholm is the second most prolific tech hub in the world on a per capita basis, behind Silicon Valley. The biggest investments lately have been in music streaming service Spotify, mobile advertising firm Widespace, med-tech firm Irras, mobile banking app Tink, health app Lifesum and Universal Avenue, which lets companies access a local sales force on demand.

How did that happen and where does it go from here?

The exits earlier this year by two of Sweden’s biggest startup names would be enough to swell the pride of any regional ecosystem. Spotify’s $27 billion IPO and iZettle’s acquisition for $2.2 billion were big deals no matter where the companies were based.

But far from being exceptions, these two headline-grabbing exits are just the latest evidence that Sweden, long recognized as a dynamic startup hub, has somehow shifted into an even higher gear. It is now arguably Europe’s top entrepreneurial hub. Though still small in terms of population and economic might, Stockholm in particular is producing exits at a pace that is the envy of other European startup capitals.

The frenzy of acquisitions and IPOs cap a remarkable decade that has seen Sweden transformed from a place known primarily as the home of Ericsson, Volvo, and Ikea to a startup engine that has international investors and entrepreneurs banging on its door. That success has triggered a virtuous circle: The returns from these exits are causing a surge in angel investing, serial entrepreneurs, and other critical ingredients that promise to push this ecosystem even higher.

While many startup economies across Europe are still hungry for validation, Sweden’s exit machine may give it an unassailable claim to be the continent’s entrepreneurial capital for years to come.

“Success breeds success,” said Mattias Ljungman, the Swedish cofounder of Atomico. “I’m more excited about Stockholm than I was at the beginning of last year. These exits create a next generation of founders who will go out and get funding from other successful founders.”

That Sweden is a startup hotbed is hardly a revelation. The Nordics in general have developed a stellar reputation with Sweden taking the lead. A study by Swedish venture capital firm Creandum noted that between 2000 and 2014, Sweden produced 263 exits valued at $23.7 billion. The Wharton School of Business called Sweden a “unicorn factory” in a 2015 study of its startup economy. And TechCrunch proclaimed in 2016 that Sweden was a “tech superstar from the north.”

Index Ventures, one of the largest investors in the Nordics, declared: “Evidence of how Stockholm has indeed become one of Europe’s ‘tier one’ tech centres isn’t hard to come by.”

But for all that acclaim, Sweden has gathered even greater momentum over the past two years.

According to data from, there were 120 exits of Swedish companies in 2017, up from 55 in 2016. That 2017 figure topped Germany’s 112, the U.K.’s 77, and France’s 44. While Germany was roughly flat year-over-year, U.K. exits dropped 26 percent last year, and in France they fell 31 percent. Given that those countries have anywhere from 6 to 10 times the population, the per capita success rate of Sweden’s 9.9 million inhabitants is just basically ridiculous.

Those Swedish exits in 2017 included the $340 million IPO by ecommerce startup Boozt and the $1.74 billion purchase of fintech company Bambora by France’s Ingenico. More than a dozen startups were acquired by U.S.-based companies. And the exits came from startups in a range of markets: fintech, security, ecommerce, internet of things, gaming, B2B, mobile.

The factors typically cited for this entrepreneurial prowess include strong technical training in universities, school systems that encourage independent thinking and creativity, a small domestic market that obligates startups to think internationally, heavy investments in infrastructure like blazing-fast broadband, and a history of strong design ethos.

But that has been true for decades. It doesn’t fully account for the more recent explosion.

To understand the source of this adrenaline rush, observers say it’s critical to look past recent events and gaze back about a decade when many of the companies now exiting were founded.

It was then, after a steady, methodical build up, that several pieces clicked into place which in turn have turbocharged Sweden’s ecosystem. been measured from the introductory offer until the 2018 last trading day.

Published 11 December 2018
To homepage

© 1993-2019 Big Ben Venture Partners Ltd | Registered in England and Wales. No. 10397249 | Privacy Policy
Phone: +44 (0)20 36 08 01 08
twitter  facebook