Skellefteå's journey as a tech city

From paper-eating supercomputers to the world's most climate-smart building - Skellefteå's journey along the road to digital transformation offers both peaks, valleys and sharp bends. Today, tech and innovation are the obvious fuel that drives the city's development, but Skellefteå jumped on the data train into the future early. Here are some of the key stops on Skellefteå's breathtaking tech journey.

1963 - Norrdata. In the early 60s, the personal computer was still just science fiction, "social media" was just a vague synonym for chatty jokers, and the first microchip wasn't even invented. But back in 1963, Skellefteå's first computer company was actually founded: Norrdata. Several of the city's successful IT companies have their roots in the original Norrdata, such as Tieto, which today is one of Skellefteå's largest private employers.

1973 - Datorcentralen. A decade after Norrdata opened its doors, Sweden's municipalities opened a joint computer center in Skellefteå. Here, information from all over Sweden was processed - and everything was printed out on paper. Printing required a staggering three tons of paper a day. Sustainability was not yet at the top of the agenda.

The printouts required a staggering
three tons of paper a day.

1986 - The supercomputer. To stay at the cutting edge, Kommundata invested in a supercomputer - the first of its kind in Sweden. The machine cost SEK 50 million, was so large that it occupied an entire basement floor, and brought what is generously described as "some automation". It quickly became obsolete, but for a short time Skellefteå could boast Sweden's sharpest computer.

1991 - Ericsson TEMS. Relatively unknown at home, but world-famous in telecom in virtually every corner of the globe. It is the early 1990s when Tems starts its business in Skellefteå and develops the software for telecommunications company Ericsson's first mobile phone. Just as Google's name has become a verb - "to google" - the TEMS brand has also become a verb. "TEMSing" your network has become synonymous with measuring and quality assuring the user experience. A legacy as good as anything.

Ericsson TEMS

Photo: Mobile Phone Museum/mobilephonemuseum.com

2003 - North Kingdom.
Digital design agency North Kingdom was founded in 2003 in Skellefteå by David Eriksson, Roger Stighäll and Robert Lindström. In 2005, the company opened offices in Stockholm and in 2013 in Los Angeles. The agency worked with the cream of global brands such as Google, Nike, Lego and Disney, with a peak turnover of over 100 million a year. An international superstar in the agency business.

The agency worked with the very best of global brands such as Google, Nike, Lego and Disney.

2011 - Arctic Business. Since its inception in Skellefteå in 2011, business incubator Arctic Business has supported a number of successful Skellefteå startups in tech and industry, including Once Upon, Envigas and Biocool. With its sister offices in Luleå and Piteå, Arctic Business Skellefteå has aimed for the stars and helped drive the development of everything from space research to health tech - thus helping to make northern Sweden one of the world's most exciting and innovative regions.

2014 - Arctic Game Lab. The gaming industry generates more revenue than the music and film industries combined, and computer games have gone from being a pastime for young people to a cross-generational lifestyle. Since its inception in 2016, Arctic Game Lab (now Arctic Game) has attracted talent from all over the world to Skellefteå to create the gaming experiences of the future. Here, the big names of the future in the gaming industry are nurtured.

2015 - Skellefteå Science City. The task: to transform Skellefteå into a leading hub for green initiatives and advanced technology. When Skellefteå Science City was founded in 2015, it was with grand visions - a decade later, it is well on its way. Projects supported are in future areas such as energy, AI, e-mobility and gaming, and the organization has been instrumental in turning the world's attention to the north. The organization also runs Skellefteå Science Park, which is a mix of offices, co-working environment and event space.

2017 - Once Upon. Imagine if you could simply take pictures from your cell phone and put together a stylish printed photo album - wouldn't that be brilliant? It turned out to be a great idea. The photo app Once Upon was launched in 2017 and six years later had a turnover of SEK 237 million, with around 50 employees. A Skellefteå startup that shows where the cupboard should be.

What if you could easily take pictures from your phone and put together a stylish printed photo album?

2021 - Sara Cultural Center. Not only is it an unashamedly handsome building, the pride of Skellefteå is also built from equal parts wood and energy-smart innovation. This is particularly evident when Sara Cultural Center is named the world's most climate-smart building of its kind, and the engineering team from Skellefteå Kraft wins the Grand Engineering Prize in the sustainability category for its smart technical solutions and a new business model.

Sara Kulturhus

Photo: Sven Burman

2022 - Northvolt. When it became clear that Skellefteå would be the home of the world's greenest battery factory, we soon realized that nothing would be the same. Since then, the region has continued to make great strides in electrification, digitalization and the green transition. The Gigafactory is being built in stages and the first part was inaugurated on June 6, 2022, the area is the size of 71 football fields. When fully operational, the Northvolt Ett factory will be able to supply batteries equivalent to 60 gigawatt hours per year, enough to produce around one million electric cars.


Photo: Jonas Westling

2024 - Arctic Center of Energy. 2024 will see the start of construction of a unique building in Skellefteå. The Arctic Center of Energy is described as a test bed, meeting place and lab environment for the electrification of society and will use AI to optimize energy use throughout Campus Skellefteå. The future is here.

Illustration of Arctic Center of Energy.

Art work: MAF/Skellefteå kommun

Text: Jonas Pekkari