Great Sp^ce: Intellectual Value Versus Property Value
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
Mikael Bergström (Micke) is founder of an advertising agency and Jesper Johansson has advised startups for the last 14 years. They originally started off as competitors. After one too many times running into each other, they decided to collaborate and pitched an idea to a real estate developer. The vision started as a space to seed fertile grounds for startups. The very next day, Micke and Jesper were asked to build Great Sp^ce of Sweden.
In an interview with impactmania, Jody Turner, strategist and writer, calls Great Sp^ce “…a global knowledge bank for the community, bringing with it knowledge speakers and international partnerships.”
Micke and Jesper explain the difference between offering startups property value versus intellectual value. And we learn that bootstrapping has a whole other meaning in Sweden!
How did Great Sp^ce come about?
Every time Micke and I sat in a café and had a meeting, we came up with a new business idea. [Laughs.] So, we said, “Let’s do something to that realizes our ideas, and other people’s ideas.” You almost always have to live in a big city to get the investor network support in order to gain global success. We want to work around that.
We live in a small town, 100,000 citizens, in the north of Sweden. No polar bears, but almost! [Laughs.] Why not use our network and the people we meet to create the best launchpad for tech startups and connecting investors, advisors, mentors, and provide global reach?
Even if you live in a city with 20,000 people in Sweden or in Africa, you should be able to get access to global connections these days.
We have met a lot of startups telling us, “We have a good idea, but we don’t have the investors for it.” Then we would meet investors who would say, “We have a lot of money, but we can’t find the right startups.” Great Sp^ce is building the bridge between them.
How does Great Sp^ce differ from an ImpactHub or WeWork?
The intellectual value that we bring into Great Sp^ce is unique. We went to Silicon Valley and people actually told us, “That’s unique. That’s not like other co-working spaces.” Because we begin with the startups. We do everything from the startup point of view and then align with partners.
In Sundsvall, north of Sweden, there’s a lot of talent, some 5,000 ICT experts. But almost everybody’s working in employment or as consultants to the government. There are no startups. That’s crazy, a city where there are so many experts in the tech business, and no startups.
Do you vet the start-ups before you bring them in?
Yes, first you send a pitch deck to Great Sp^ce, to our panel of experts including investors, Jesper and I. We take a good look at the idea and the scalability.
Partners make it possible for our startups to participate in Great Sp^ace for a low fee. Everything we do is with a strong conviction that we need more startups.
Does Great Sp^ce take equity?
No. The investors invest in the startup but that’s not the main goal. Rather it’s about building intellectual value. We also have a mentor network but we don’t mentor the startups, if the startups don’t want to.
While we offer a space with high property value similar to WeWork, we also have a distance [remote] membership. That’s very interesting because you can be anywhere and access to the Great Sp^ce community. Unlike other co-working spaces that work with property value, Great Sp^ce works with intellectual value.
It is not important you are located in Sundsvall, but it is important that you are part of the community. Since we have good relationships with investors in Silicon Valley — it is now possible for smaller companies in smaller cities to have the same access as if you were in San Francisco. You have the possibility to live anywhere and get the same investor deal.
Do you have an example of a startup that Great Sp^ace has helped further along?
We just started two months ago! [Laughs.]
So? What is the holdup?! [Laughs.]
We actually have! [Laughs.]
There is an interesting startup, Nordic Health Innovation, who is trying to drive impact globally. Smaller cities are losing their hospitals. This startup has an invention with sensors and other technology to convert libraries to full-scale medical centers. Of course, not for surgery. But for instance, seniors are tough for hospitals because many don’t necessarily need to see a doctor physically. This startup helps remote access by using technology to meet with doctors, taking blood pressure, and offers a lot of other sensors to measure vital signs in any location.
They have Microsoft and other influential companies on board. The company took their solutions to Africa to get medical attention to places not easily accessible.
That is one startup at Great Sp^ce. They are getting connections through Great Sp^ce and they are also providing connections for other Great Sp^ce startups.
What has been a surprising learning in building Great Sp^ce?
Almost every morning, there is a surprise! [Laughs.] The hardest thing is to be true to your vision. It’s so easy to just rent out spaces. We’re always focused on why we’re doing this. As a result, we can’t accept any startup.
Investors look mainly at the person and then the business idea. It’s the same thing for us — we’re trying to build that interesting but cohesive community.
It is rewarding meeting and helping passionate people aligned with our vision, it’s great seeing them get what they need and excel. It is rewarding because they are working so hard. We have one of the largest incubators in Sweden involved in Great Sp^ce. Instead of being competitors, we are working together. That has been really great.
What would you share with starting entrepreneurs?
I’d say that whether it’s Great Sp^ce or another incubator, get located together with people of similar interests. If you don’t have fun, you can’t do great work. If you can’t do great work, you can’t make progress and profit in the long term.
Get experienced mentors to help you so you don’t skate too fast. Get the right investor; make sure you don’t end up with the wrong type of money at the wrong time. At Great Sp^ce, we talk about these things all the time. Don’t sit at home, the time you created a tech startup in the garage is over! [Laughs.]
You can’t be the best at everything. Surround yourself with great people with a variety of skills and your company will grow.
A lot of entrepreneurs we speak with talk about bootstrapping their company. What has that meant for you, building Great Sp^ce?
Can I define bootstrapping because I think we use the word in a different sense?
How do you use it?
When we say bootstrapping, we’re talking about doing it smaller — downscaling.
Yeah. That’s how it is in Sweden. [Laughs.] Probably, we are using it incorrectly, but…
No, it makes sense. You have different kinds of boots in Sweden! [Laughs.]
Yes, we really do. [Laughs.]
Usually, entrepreneurs give me an example of what kind of sacrifices they had to make in order to build the company.
We lucked out with timing. When we pitched Great Sp^ce, we didn’t even have a name. We were trying to tell a big property owner how the next generation of office hotels should be…and we probably got a bit too passionate; they thought we were actually doing it ourselves. [Laughs.] We said: “All we need is a location of at least five hundred square meters in a triple A [top] location.”
Plus, we need it fully furnished!” The property owner called us the next day and said, “Okay we have it.” We said, “Yes?” …and looked at each other — now we need to do this! [Laughs.]
We didn’t have a lot of money going into it. We already invested in other startups. The property owner gave us some months to start with a lower rent. We put a strategy together, worked 24/7 almost, it was very important for us to get partners on board that believe in our passion and vision. Partners provided funding to pay the rent; we were able to be more patient with startups to get the right people. As a result, the energy in this place is amazing.
Where ever you are right now, you can probably see Starbucks out of your window. But there is not one here north of Stockholm. Yet, we have Starbucks in the office. We also bring in university students who can sit here for free, and can sell hours to our startups and get employed here in Sundsvall. We are working hard on the culture. Business is going to be up and down. You need people around that can give you energy when you are down and you can give them energy when you are up.
There are a lot of high-fives in Great Sp^ce. [Laughs.]
We also have great families that support us. They know that we can’t be home.
They’re so happy you found your own space! They signed you up for a membership. [Laughs.]
Yeah, they’re actually paying rent! [Laughs.]
Sundsvall is our prototype, we are experimenting with new things. We are going to Slush in Helsinki, Finland. It’s a huge convention with 15,000 startups and investors from all over the earth. We go there to validate our concept.
We are working on one more Great Sp^ce physical location and on serving the community with a distance membership. Micke: The virtual desk.
Our dream would be to start a Great Sp^ce in Africa. We are having a meeting with a small village in Zimbabwe. If we can help startups grow in other parts of the world — even in a very small town in Zimbabwe — … it is why we get up in the morning.
Give me one word that describes your journey so far.
Micke: Passion for sure. People said along the way, “You can’t have a startup hub in a small town. It can’t be done.” That fueled the passion.
A few of the startups at Great Sp^ce: http://greatspace.se/startups.html