Start-Up Boom: Why India Must Take a Leaf Out of Sweden’s Book 

How can India transform into Asia’s ‘unicorn’ factory? First, it should look to Swedish model of start-up culture.

4 min read
Hindi Female

The comparison of a sub-tropical country like India, and a Scandinavian city like Stockholm, almost possesses a picturesque spectrum of stark contrasts. The Nordic countries seem far away with their first-world tensions, and the squalor of developing countries muted in the splendour that is Scandinavia.

Except when it comes to their entrepreneurial zeal. India’s young demograph is well on its way to imbibe the ‘hustle’, just as cities like Stockholm achieve level ‘zen’ on the hustle-meter. Stockholm has been hailed as the next ‘Unicorn Factory’ for the steep rise of tech start-ups in the past five years which has seen the global limelight shift focus on the quaint yet bustling Swedish capital. The city has emerged as the ‘tech-aurora’ with more billion-dollar companies like Spotify, Klarna, iZettle, King per capita, after Silicon Valley.


Sweden’s ‘Unicorn’ Boost

What led to the boom in the churning rate of ‘unicorns’ in Sweden? Things started early with the government encouraging Swedes to become early tech -adopters by offering tax-breaks for individuals, irrespective of social or economic class, to buy personal computers in as early as the 1990s. Another major boost was the government -aided safety net via the strong social security system which encouraged budding entrepreneurs to have an increased appetite for risk.

The cherry on the cake to this very-enabling ecosystem were goodies like free education, a stable political system and economy, something that developing nations like India missed the bus on, due to our long history of colonialism – among various other factors.

However, the impetus on technical training in school curriculums and courses, that instil a stream of creative and out-of-the-box thinking, are very much in the boundaries of what Indian education policies could sit up and take notes from, from the Swedish policies.


India Must Learn From Swedish Work-Life Balance

The Swedish impetus on work-life balance is crucial to comprehend their psyche on the notion of the ideal work  culture, and the rewards they seek from it. Rigid, institutionalised structures often constrain the employees’ productivity, and stifles the will to innovate. The work culture doesn’t believe in keeping employees cooped inside the office and pay them to be seat-warmers. There is even a word  –  ‘skaberkraft – which refers to the power to create, and is embedded in the fabric of the Scandinavian society. On the other hand, the Asian culture of ulterior devotion to work and engagement in punishing work regimes seems to be detrimental to the entrepreneurial spirit in the long run.

Sweden is a trailblazer in this regard, as for the past 20 years or so it has allowed employees to take time off work and explore their entrepreneurial spirit.

The ‘Right to Leave to Conduct a Business Operation Act’ is a key right of Swedish employees, allowing them to take time off to study or care for a family member. The employee should have been employed full-time for at least six months for tjänstledighet (Swedish for unpaid sabbatical). The only valid conditions of rejection of such a request would be if the business idea was in competition to the organisation’s or the employee’s presence was pivotal to the operations of the firm.


Sweden’s ‘Impact Hubs’: Why India Needs Them Too

When India, as a society, starts to care more about the progress and growth of the individual rather than the organisation he/ she works in, and the individual is weighed down by guilt for investing time into learning skills and networking for ventures that he/ she is passionate about, that would be a significant boost to igniting the entrepreneurial zeal.

To this effect, the emergence of ‘impact hubs’ in Sweden like Norrsken created a safe-space for ideas to live and breathe, and has proved to be a boon to the start-up culture in Stockholm.

Norrsken founded by Niklas Adalberth is a creative hub which is home to over 300 entrepreneurs who are trying to find sustainable and scalable solutions to society’s everyday needs. The Norrsken Founders Fund invests in start-ups which possess the potential to disrupt markets, and change perceptions about conventional products and services. It also conducts Impact Sessions which serve as a melting pot of ideas and brewing ground for experiments, with a number of diverse stakeholders. The palpable need for such institutions in India, both in metropolitan cities as well as small towns, at a comparative scale should be addressed.


Indian Govt’s Policy Initiatives to Boost Start-Up Ecosystem

The Indian government, on the other hand, has taken policy initiatives to indicate its seriousness to transform India’s start-up ecosystem. PM Modi, in April 2018, signed an MoU with Nordic nations to bolster innovation and attempt solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. This was undertaken under the ambit of the first ever India-Nordic Summit in Stockholm. The Sweden-India Business Council also along with its partners is building the Sweden-India Tech Community (SITECH) and also led a Start-Up Ecosystem Delegation to India during September earlier this year.

This ensured that Indian start-ups had ample opportunity to mingle with potential clients, brainstorm on collaborations and secure investor interaction.

They are many skeptics who believe the Nordic model cannot be applied to India, but the issue with such an approach is that a lot of them view the model in isolated buckets of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations, and do not focus on the fragmented elements that could provide value to the existing system in India. A healthy comparison with some of the rising global examples will only ensure India’s position as the Asian Unicorn Factory.

(The author is a public policy and corporate affairs consultant based in New Delhi. This is an opinion piece. All views expressed are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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