This is a place where dreams come true
How do you attract aspiring entrepreneurs with an idea?
Skellefteå is home to the unique support organization SmartUp, which supports idea creators – whether the dream was born around a dinner table in Skellefteå or in a workshop in Aleppo, Syria.
We met Jenny Moberg and Therese Johansson, who have been nominated for SmartUp of the Year, and Mohamad Sassila, who is living his dream.
SmartUp Skellefteå gives entrepreneurs inspiration and knowledge, coaching, tools and contacts that enable them to develop, finance and shape their business ideas in a smarter way. The service is connected through a variety of business developers
“The unique thing is that everyone works together for the good of the innovator, who gets a customized program that they can take further.
In these pandemic times, you might think that start-ups have declined, but all signs at NyföretagarCentrum point to the contrary.
“During the crisis year of 2020, we had a record number of participants at the seminars we conducted. From what we saw, there was a normal influx of innovators who took the opportunity to realize their ideas, perhaps when they were laid off or while they were furloughed. In May we noticed a slowdown but in mid-July people got in touch again and wanted to book appointments with us. In August, it was like a
explosion – my colleagues and I sometimes had trouble keeping up with the demand. Up to five visits a day are not uncommon,” says Lahcene Chellig, a business advisor at NyföretagarCentrum.
As a resident of Skellefteå since 1984, Lahcene has experienced both ups and downs. As a business advisor, he gains special insight into the residents’ idea creation and how it is connected to the region’s resources.
“We’ve been having some great years, and there are more on the horizon. Yesterday I met an American who’d just moved here and wants to start a business. There is a great wealth of invention, and people who come here will be inspired by that spirit. SmartUp provides a huge opportunity and there’s nothing to stop you from realizing your dream, it’s only a matter of time. The municipality is really on its toes and when everyone pulls in the same direction, things happen,” says Lahcene.
That’s exactly what happened when friends Jenny Moberg and Therese Johansson went out to dinner one fall evening six months ago.
They started forging plans and saw a business opportunity based on their knowledge and experience.
“We wanted to make the most of our expertise and experience. We’re committed citizens who follow the development of society closely, and we feel a basic willingness to contribute to the region’s new positioning – we both felt such a thrill when we started talking about it and since then everything’s gone quite quickly. We’ve discovered that we have a really good business idea,” says Therese.
The two formed the company Prelocate, and the journey from concept to reality led them to Gunilla Viklund at Nyföretagarcentrum and Sofia Gullholm, an area manager and business developer at LTU Business, who are both advisors within SmartUp.
“The support has been so great; we’ve been able to brainstorm ideas and get feedback. We’ve received very positive and happy shout-outs, but also been challenged to think about aspects that we hadn’t considered,” says Therese.
“We’ve put in a lot of time ourselves, too. A start-up is based on your own work and money, but we believe in our idea and are passionate about female entrepreneurship. The fact that this is one of the municipality’s goals in its business policy program makes us feel even better about what we’re doing,” says Jenny. The purpose of Prelocate is to provide relocation services – this is something that exists in southern Sweden but that was not been needed here until now, when a large number of new people are expected to start working in the area.
“This will attract people from all over Sweden, even internationally, and Skellefteå needs to create a strong offering to attract ‘key talents’. We live in a globalized world where manpower is more mobile than before, and that makes a good reception all the more important – which is where our service comes in,” says Jenny.
Companies can thus hire Prelocate to help new employees make the smoothest possible transition. This can entail anything from help with finding accommodation or a preschool to opening a bank account.
“We have the know-how and local knowledge – companies should be able to concentrate on introducing employees to their positions, and new employees should be able to feel calm and confident that everything will be sorted out for their whole family. This creates a sustainable transition for everyone. It’s good for the company and for the individual, and from a regional standpoint it’s great if they choose to stay here and contribute to a growing region and increased welfare,” says Therese. The business idea comes at just the right time, and one proof of this is the company’s nomination for SmartUp of the Year, a prize that will be awarded on March 26.
“It’s so cool! The nomination is confirmation that we’re not the only ones who believe in what we’re doing; others also see the need,” says Jenny. “It’s easy to get carried away about your own thoughts and ideas, which is why this is a really positive confirmation that our feasibility study is on the right track,” says Therese.
Realized his dream
For Mohamad Sassila, it has been two years since he opened Skellefteå Tapetseri and already he sees confirmation that his services are sought after – the business has seen an increasing stream of customers since Day One.
“It’s going really well. I get more commissions every month. I need more furniture upholsters, but the problem is that there is hardly anyone to hire,” he says.
Mohamed is only 33 years old but already has a somewhat incredible 21 years of experience in his profession and has been self-employed for almost as many years. His life has taken him through several countries and he has lived under conditions that he hopes never to experience in Skellefteå. He was born and raised in Syria, in the war-torn city of Aleppo.
“We were six siblings and I’m the oldest of the bunch, so when I was twelve years old I left school and started working with upholstery to help my dad raise money. He was a tailor himself, but I got to start with a really talented man as an apprentice and learn how to re-upholster furniture,” says Mohamad. When it turned out that he had a gift for the craft, he gradually gained more and more responsibility. After four years, his mentor thought he was so good that he should open his own business and make his own furniture.
And so he did. As a 16-year-old, he realized his dream of owning his own upholstery workshop, and it went really well. But troubled times led him to try his luck in Lebanon before being called up for Syrian military service for two years. After that, he moved his business to Libya.
“We started making sofas, so instead of regular cushions, people could buy real sofas from us, and our reputation brought us lots of customers. After three years, people came and shut down our business. Ordinary furniture sellers thought we were stealing their customers and threatened to blow up the premises. That’s what happens when ordinary people are left to police themselves. We couldn’t stay there, so we fled across the Mediterranean to Italy. Our goal was to get to Sweden,” says Mohamad.
Support along the way
He had relatives here and his journey ended in Skellefteå.
“I speak from my heart when I say that I love Skellefteå. The people, the cold, the snow – everything! A year ago, Mohamed became a Swedish citizen. By then he had already opened Skellefteå Tapetseri with the help of Lahcene Chellig at Nyföretagarcentrum and his good friend Esbjörn Gustafsson, an entrepreneur in Skellefteå who discovered Mohamad’s talent and who supported him along the way.
“I’ve gotten great help from Lahcene with everything from budget to how to pay VAT, tax and the whole advertising thing. Esbjörn helped me find our premises and get a bank loan. I’m so grateful that there are people who believe in me,” says Mohamad.
Today he upholsters everything from scooter seats to restaurant furniture. Skellefteå Hospital is among his customers, which also include the municipality and private individuals.
“This summer my wife and I will have our third child, the first to be born in Skellefteå.”