Digital industries/innovation

Skellefteå's most eventful workplace

Are you a one-man business in need of new collaborations and an environment where you meet other competencies on a daily basis? Or are you mostly looking for new talent and need a good place to look? Maybe your company needs an injection of inspiration about the possibilities of digitalisation? If you answer yes to any of these questions, Skellefteå's new startup scene The Great Northern might be for you.

Ingela Hällsten, Communications Manager at Skellefteå Science City, which runs The Great Northern, welcomes you in the house café. It's also the heart of the building, which plays a crucial role. Because little islands are constantly forming around the tables. Freelance photographers, game developers, programmers, consultants and business advisors in a jumble create new constellations or talk about life in general, just like in any other workplace. And just like in any workplace, it is at the coffee table that many new ideas are born.

- TGN is supposed to be a place where ideas and people who would not normally come across each other come together to come up with new business ideas and innovations. It should be populated mainly by entrepreneurs, because where they are, things tend to happen. Many are start-ups but not all, but most of the companies are in the digital, cultural and media industries,' says Ingela.

At present, the house consists of 180 members, distributed among about 40 companies of various sizes, but there are also plenty of innovation support actors: the New Business Centre, ABI, Coompanion and Ung Företagsamhet are all represented. The companies rent at different levels depending on their size. Some have permanent offices, others rent so-called fixed or flex spaces, which means that they have access to a chair and a table, but above all an important network of other entrepreneurs.

- There is quite a lot of turnover among the businesses that are in the flex spaces. The reasons vary, but often it's because they are growing or, as freelance consultants for example, they only need a space here for a limited time. And that's exactly how it should be. 'This place depends on a constant flow of new people and ideas,' says Ingela, but adds that there is also a need to retain some of the established and more experienced companies to make mentoring work.

- It's extremely important for a start-up to have those who have gone before and know what it's all about.

Twin Peaks

In 2013, the auditing firm PWC concluded in a report that the start-up rate in Skellefteå was not satisfactory. Too few chose to start a business, especially among young people and women. In a municipality with ambitious growth targets, this was of course not a happy reading, but it was the start of a conscious strategy to improve the conditions for starting and running a business in Skellefteå. The region is traditionally strong in basic industry, but the focus was now placed primarily on the creative and digital industries, which were deemed to have great potential. There were already successful companies in each area, as well as training in areas such as computer games, but there was a lack of infrastructure to help start-ups in these sectors to survive in the area or to take the next step. The idea of a building that could accommodate these types of established and start-up companies in a mix with incubators took off and since 2017 it is a reality: the Great Northern.

Does the name sound familiar? The building shares its name with the great hotel in the TV series Twin Peaks, and its characters and settings have given names to the rooms in the building. Laura Palmer, The Pink Room, Cooper, Harry S Truman ... Of course, the café is named Norma after the esteemed waitress. Copious amounts of coffee are served here daily - it's included in the rent and the privilege is taken advantage of. Frequently.

- You can add that to a fact sheet, says Ingela with a laugh.

Embracing change

The 1950s brick building is centrally located in Skellefteå and has previously been home to both the city library and the Youth House. Now completely renovated, it has a modern touch with a mix of retro features, raw particleboard, heavy glulam and bright warm colours. It's clear that the building has been renovated with great respect for the past while clearly pointing to the future. And everything is in a constant state of flux - words like permanent, static and permanent seem to be regarded as dirty words in these premises.

- 'This is Mr C,' says Ingela, pointing to a 15 square metre area where a small stage has been set up in front of some 20 chairs and a few tables. A pair of wooden pillars mark out the corners of the space, hinting that something is going on here.

- We'll be putting up glass walls here soon. This will be a perfect space for groups of up to 30 people and is ideal for workshops, small presentations and the like. In the past we have lacked a suitable space for that. We are trying to adapt as new needs arise.

It's important to have a variety of companies and entrepreneurs. Innovation often depends on different worlds coming together.

When worlds meet

So is there no place for 'old' industry in the Great Northern? After all, Skellefteå is largely based on heavy industries in mining, forestry and power. Yes, TGN welcomes them, but preferably in the form of players looking for new avenues in digital innovation.

- It could be a basic industry company opening an office here for its digital innovation department. Boliden, a partner in the building, is one such example.

Another example is the industrial group Metso, which has held a hackathon, an intensive activity where programmers gather around a common challenge, here in connection with a product development.

- It is important to have a variety of companies and entrepreneurs: innovation often depends on the meeting of different worlds. There is a lot going on between companies here and there are always seminars, pitch competitions, workshops... There is something going on all the time," says Hällsten.


Senast uppdaterad:
2 March 2023