Kista wants entrepreneurial ICT-students

Stockholm: – I think a major challenge is to help our universities move on from the European Humboldt-tradition towards embracing the US-entrepreneurial attitude. In particular this goes for Stockholm University and the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology which both have branches here in Kista, says Ulf Sandmark.

Central Kista with the 29-storey high Science Tower. Photo: Bertil Eri / Photo: SCANPIX

Central Kista with the 29-storey high Science Tower. Photo: Bertil Eri / Photo: SCANPIX

Sandmark is the CEO of the Electrum Foundation. For all practical purposes he is the driving force behind Kista, the place which likes to call itself 'the Science City of Sweden'. Or is this, perhaps, a notion used only by the spokespersons of the many ICT-industries located here?

In what they refer to as Kista centre there are close to 17 000 people working in the ICT field divided between 291 different companies. Expanding out to what is called the Kista Region the number in ICT is more than 20 000 encompassing 525 companies. It is of course Ericsson which drags the chariot here as some 9 000 of the employees working in ICTs in Kista work for this large international telecommunications-company. The aggressive pace of ICT-expansion has been more or less continuous here for the last thirty years.

- We like to flag up the fact that we provide a lot more than buildings and infrastructure and that we are a real ecosystem for innovation and growth. For example we have a very special support system for start ups in the ICT-business, called STING, which also provides financial guidance, notes Sandmark.

Parallel to the growth of ICT-jobs in Kista there has also been a major expansion of higher education. Already in 1988 the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, or KTH, as it usually called, decided to set up their 'School of ICT' here. Their neighbour institution, the University of Stockholm also opened their Computer Science Department in Kista which was subsequently to be expanded into the realm of behavioural sciences, particularly where they interact with ICT.

- Today these two institutions together have some 4500 students here as well as 65 professors and 300 researchers. In fact what we call education and research includes a total of 750 researchers at four different institutes. All-in-all we have eight global enterprises which use Kista for research and development at different levels, Sandmark explains.

Improvements needed

- There is definitely room for improvement particularly in terms of combining education with trade and industry. This however cuts both ways, enterprises should not only be concerned with production, while the universities should pay greater attention to the commercial aspects of their research. They should both know more about each others needs, and I hope that we can generate some positive changes in this respect. In fact, this is of major importance if we are going to maintain our position as one of the world's five leading growth clusters for ICT-incubations, he underlines.

- You also say that Kista needs to attract more "world-leading companies"?

- First and foremost we are looking at media-orientated companies like, for example, Google or for broadcasters.

- So SVT, Swedish Television, would be welcomed in Kista?

- Definitely or TV4 for that matter and in addition we need some major cultural institutions here also. Even though we have 100 000 people living in the Kista Region few possibilities currently exist in terms of evening entertainment. In such a context Kista is currently a rather boring place, to be honest.

The Kista Region is made up of parts of the four municipalities Stockholm, Sundbyberg, Sollentuna and Järfälla, which again are all parts of the Greater Stockholm Region. Some 100 000 people live here and every day 30 000 commute out to work. Approximately the same number also commutes into Kista for work.

- You also say you need to attract more well-educated people to work here and that you will probably have to go abroad to find them. Do you think they would like to settle here? If they want to live in central Stockholm the cost of housing would be rather expensive?

True, but there are many possibilities relatively close by. Järfälla has many flats that are not that expensive, while Sollentuna is more middle-class, even partly upper-class, with detached and single housing.

- Skyscrapers for progress

Kista is located approximately 15 km to the north of central Stockholm. Travelling by road or rail between Stockholm City and Arlanda International Airport, you might, if you are looking west, be able to catch a glimpse of the 29-storey Kista Science Tower. This is the highest office building in Sweden. Soon it will get the 32 storey Kista City Hotel for a neighbour. In addition the local shopping centre, Kista Gallerian, is planning to add a pair of towers of more than twenty floors: - All of this is rather unusual for Sweden?

- In some ways yes, but we think skyscrapers are important symbols of progress, they are necessary landmarks, explains Sandmark.
The Electrum Foundation which he represents is a non-profit organisation. Annual turnover is in the range 30-40 million SEK. It has a top-heavy board with a vice-president of Ericsson, the mayor of Stockholm and the dean of KTH up front.

- This is a deliberate reflection of the importance society as a whole places on Kista, and yes you might say that planning applications from Kista Science City run both smoothly and quickly through the system, answers the CEO of The Electrum Foundation.

Started in 1975

Ericsson began their relocation to Kista as early as 1975, primarily for production purposes. Research followed later but their headquarters did not arrive until 2003, after they finally left Telefonplan, some 8-10 km to the east of Stockholm city.

These previous Ericson-premises are today the home of Konstfack, the largest school for further art-education in Sweden, which were previously located at Vahallavägen, quite close to the centre, in buildings now taken over by SIDA – the Swedish International Development Agency, who just left Stockholm city centre's expensive business-facilities a couple of years ago. And where SIDA used to have its lunch-restaurant one now finds exhibitions of the major furniture chain MIO.

The city-development process outlined above was primarily market-driven, one might argue. For Kista however, the official authorities of Stockholm City, have, it could be argued, also been very important stakeholders in this process. It was in fact a joint decision by the City of Stockholm, and the large companies Ericsson and ABB in 1985 which initially got the electronic centre, as it was called then, at Kista up and running.

The REKENE-project

The article above has been published as part of the Nordregio-project Regional trajectories to the knowledge economy – Nordic-European comparisons (REKENE). First and foremost the project addresses how the knowledge-based economy on a regional level can be vital to Nordic competitiveness in the global economy.  The first Journal of Nordregio article on the REKENE-project (- Oulu needs more than Nokia) was published in No 1 -2008. More will follow.

By Odd Iglebaek, Editor