Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden and one of the most innovative cities in Europe. Nevertheless, twenty years ago, promises of a bright future would have caused only a bitter smirk. The successful transformation of Malmö from a poor working city with a rapidly declining population to a young university and technology center was the result of thoughtful work by tens of thousands of people. Within the framework of the summer program «Arrows», two participants of this transformation shared some of its success with Strelka Magazine. Kaisa Bengtsson and Emma Estbourn told about how the peculiarities of Swedish culture and politics made it possible to jump into a post-industrial future for the city on the outskirts of the country. Kaisa is the marketing manager for the MINC business incubator, and Emma is the director of media cluster development for Media Evolution.


The history of Malmö has always been difficult. The city is located on the most south-western tip of modern Sweden, in the Skåne region, which for a long time belonged to Denmark. The largest city to Copenhagen, Copenhagen, shares only 15 kilometers of the water surface of the Strait of Erezun. For this reason, even during the independence of Skåne, Danish forces attacked the city: it was too convenient for him to be close to the capital. In the XVIII century, Malmo almost disappeared from the maps — it was only a few hundred inhabitants, but was able to reborn. In the industrial era, the significance of the city grew, and in 1840, Franz Kokum predetermined the fate of Malmö for a century and a half ahead. The shipyard was destined to become one of the largest in the world, the industrial core of the city and Sweden. It is the crisis in shipbuilding that unfolded at the end of the twentieth century, became a test for strength. Between 1971 and 1985, Malmö lost about 35,000 inhabitants (~ 15 percent of the population) who left it for more affluent suburbs. The loss of the population had an extremely painful impact on the local economy, which lost its taxable base, which reduced the already scarred municipal budget and aggravated the urban crisis.

The industrial roots in Malmö were so strong that, despite the size and age, it did not have its own university. Obviously, the measures necessary to save the city required an integrated approach. In 1994, in the most difficult period for the region, when the national economy crisis was imposed on all problems, a new mayor came to power: Ilmar Ripalu, a Social Democrat, by profession, an urban planner. In his post he managed to work out an impressive 19 years. Ilmar and his team are credited with the significant successes achieved by the city at the turn of the century. First of all, new priorities were chosen in Malmö: the provincial working city began a rapid transformation into the center of green technologies, modern architecture, into the informational and innovative hub of Sweden.

Salvation of a large city, which of course is Malmö, is not only the work of the citizens themselves and municipal officials, but also concerted actions of regional and federal authorities. In the late 1990s — early 2000s, the Malmö City Hall and the Swedish government were involved in a number of grandiose projects. Perhaps the most significant was the Øresund Bridge, which completely changed Malmö’s position in the international and federal context. From the impasse in southern Sweden, Malmö has become an important transit point linking continental Europe with Scandinavia. An extremely complex project cost Denmark and Sweden 4 billion euros. Another one billion was spent by the Swedes in order to prepare an underground railway branch from the bridge to the city center. A combined two-level system from the bridge and tunnel is used for road and rail traffic, it also misses fiber optic cables connecting part of Scandinavia with the world network. Undoubtedly, the formation of an important transport corridor played a significant role in overcoming the crisis.

Another important step was the creation of a city university. Its appearance was necessary in order to stop the outflow of young people from the city, to create the necessary base for the emergence of science-intensive companies, to create conditions for attracting and training professionals competent in modern realities. The university was opened in 1998, now it is attended by more than 24 thousand students, and the university itself is among the top ten in the country — an impressive result achieved in a very short time.

The architectural and planning change of the city is particularly noticeable in the former industrial part of Malmö, in the Västra Hamnen area (Western Harbor). An important symbol of this transformation was the story with the main high altitude dominant Malmö. For several decades, over the Västra Hamnen and the whole city, a giant white arch of 138 meters in height — a gantry crane at the Kockums shipyard — was dominant. The last time it was used in 1997, and in 2002 it was sold to South Korea. They say that the townspeople cried when the crane was sent to Asia, so in Korea, he received the nickname «Tears of Malmo.» The city lost one of its main symbols, which marked the end of large-scale industry for Skone’s capital. It is on the completely reconstructed territory of the shipyards (including the once the largest in the world) and are located MINC, Media Evolution and dozens of other innovative urban enterprises. The area itself was the first in Europe to be built with a zero cycle of greenhouse gas emissions. In the system of its power supply, geothermal sources and complex underground heat exchangers are used. Instead of a white crane, the city acquired an elegant white 90-degree turn-over 190-meter skyscraper created by the Santiago Calatrava project, the largest in Scandinavia (although the building was heavily criticized for its high cost and isolation from the city). Another landmark project was the district Bo01. It combines advanced engineering and urban solutions. On the one hand, advanced energy-saving and engineering technologies were applied in its quarters, making Bo01 the first certified «green» area in Europe. On the other hand, experiments with the configuration of the street network and the typology of development have made it possible to create a very lively and cozy area with modern architecture.

However, the success of Malmö is not explained solely by large investments in infrastructure and construction or in the right order pronounced by the mantra «innovation-education-technology». Along with the actions described above, the city developed an outstanding entrepreneurial culture, social entrepreneurship, supported a variety of initiatives that facilitate the creation and development of innovative business models. In Malmö, they have never tried to solve economic problems alone at the expense of democratic ideals.

The organizations in which Kaisa and Emma work can be viewed as part of the complex plan for saving the city, which was accepted for implementation in the first half of the 1990s. At first, the city managed to stop the outflow of population due to the sharply reduced value of real estate. The construction of the transport infrastructure brought Malmö together with the rich Copenhagen and provided the city and residents with new economic opportunities. The University attracted young people, began to train cadres for science-intensive and technological industries. All this was the result of an adequately conducted analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Malmö. But these steps would not be enough to become one of the most innovative cities in Europe. Malmö managed to form a very lively business culture, and MINC and Media Evolution, each from their side, are engaged in this direction.

Despite all the similarities between MINC and Media Evolution, there is one important difference between them. MINC remains on 100% financing from the local budget, and Media Evolution covers 90 percent of the costs of its existence independently. This, of course, affects how organizations work. Media Evolution depends on the effective involvement of various digital companies in its work and on the formation of unique proposals for the members of the organization: master classes, workshops, conferences. And MINC has to report to the officials.

— In 1980-1990-ies the city, like the whole country, passed through a severe crisis, and he had to re-invent himself. And what was the future of Malmö in 2010? How and by whom were the growth points and vectors chosen for development?

Emma: There were about five important participants in this process. This is the Mayor of the city Ilmar Ripalu and several people from his entourage who decided on very, very bold changes. The mayor by profession is an architect, so he was so focused on urban planning, he was well aware of the importance of the knowledge economy. How will they earn in the future? The mayor’s office had an excellent vision of this. They studied the world experience of how everything worked in the US and the UK, in China — everywhere. And having looked around, they decided that the foundation of the strategy for the year 2000 would be the creation of a university (this is how knowledge is created and attracted through education), as well as the construction of an expensive bridge from Malmö to Copenhagen. This changed everything. We ceased to be on the outskirts, we became the gateway to Europe from Scandinavia. There are new jobs, including in Copenhagen and Denmark. Everything became easier. There were alternatives that had not existed before.

— How did the city manage to create a university from scratch?

Emma: That’s incredible! By historical standards, Malmö made the transition from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy in a very short time. Looking back, it seems that at the right time, in the positions that had the weight and influence, were the necessary specialists who made very correct decisions. Now it is well noticeable how everything has changed. These specialists have remained in the industries created by them and continue to work in urban development and with innovations. Although many of them are already retired, they remain actively involved in the activities of supervisory boards and steering committees. They taught us, they taught us their vision of a possible future. And they gave us the opportunity to realize what we are doing now.

— I understand correctly that the reason for this — the excess housing, because people left the city in a crisis?

Kaisa: Yes, it was for this reason that I moved to Malmö in 1991. I studied at Lund, but I had an education related to music, so I was always attracted to Malmö with all his concerts and related people. I could not find cheap lodging in Lund, and in Malmö I was able to immediately find a great apartment.

— As far as I know, in industrial cities a rather specific working culture usually develops. And Malmö also managed to become a real business center in a very short time. How did you become the city of young businessmen so quickly from an old working city?

Kaysa: The city has closed large shipbuilding and textile enterprises. But the truth is that we have always had a lot of entrepreneurs, only no one noticed it. I remember moving to Malmö, one of the main strategists of the whole transformation, a member of the City Council for Business and Development, Eva Engqvist (now one of the leaders of the University of Malmö, former official of the regional government .- Ed.). First of all, she conducted a study of what people do in the city and what sectors are doing well. She found that there are many small companies in the city, especially those working in the field of advertising. Just nobody noticed them because of the dominance of large industrial employers. So it would be untrue to say that we did not have any entrepreneurs at all. Business culture in the city existed.

— Tell us, what are your organizations doing?

Emma: Media Evolution is a member organization. We in Sweden designate ourselves as a cluster, since we bring together private companies, public organizations and universities. Our task is the development and implementation of digital technologies in society. We work with both the media and the digital industry, so we have game developers, applications, communication agencies, publishers. We are also engaged in the fact that we provide an opportunity for various people and organizations to learn something from our members. We also make sure that all players can work together to develop new solutions for the future.

Kaysa: MINC, in turn, is wholly owned by the city. We were founded in 2002, we are a non-profit organization, our goal is to help entrepreneurs in the development of companies. So, we influence the number of new jobs, the growth of tax deductions and make the city more attractive for business and start-ups. We have been doing this for 14 years now, we have a wide range of programs aimed at a wide variety of user groups. We also have our own building, our house, from which we work. There is a large open free coworking. No need to submit any applications, you can come and work. And we, of course, still organize events and conferences dedicated to business innovation and creative industries. And we have three major areas of work. The first is the open coworking StartupLabs, whose residents have the opportunity to use our premises, internet and coffee for free for half a year. If six months is not enough, then the workplace can be rented. The second is a business incubator with a length of one year. To get into it you need to pass the selection. The third is the Fast Track accelerator for five months, which helps entrepreneurs attract foreign investment.

Emma: We’re alike. We also have our own Media Evolution building, in which we organize events. There are separate areas where you can hold a meeting, your own event or a conference. There are coworking, there are about a hundred companies (when Media Evolution was preparing a new building, all the offices were sold at the construction stage.) — Ed.). Yes, our buildings are similar and even located close to each other. If someone wants to talk about startups, then we send them to the MINC, and vice versa. We well complement each other.

Рубрики: business

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