Try to find a table in the Kista Mall food hall at lunchtime and, to be frank, it is somewhat chaotic. But it is highbrow chaos – in which sharp elbows jostle alongside sharp minds. The food is pretty good too; every taste, from traditional Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce, through to sushi, Turkish cuisine and beyond, is to be found here. This is appropriate, because Kista is as polyglot as it comes in Sweden – even if science is the shared tongue.

A short underground train ride away from the centre of Stockholm, the ‘city’ of Kista, also known as Sweden’s silicon valley, is a new town that combines mixed use – including retail opportunities – with the country’s most high-tech companies and institutes. Once farmland, then a military installation, Kista’s incarnation as a ‘science city’ has its origins in communications manufacturer Ericsson’s presence in the region in the mid-1970s, and in the galvanising role played by the Electrum Foundation,a part Ericsson, part government-owned development body.


Attracting companies

By 1990, some 20,000 people were employed at Kista, in more than 200 companies including Nokia, Microsoft, Apple and, of course, Ericsson. As of 2010, well over 1000 ICT companies are based in Kista; as are more than 5000 ICT students studying at two leading research universities, both of which collaborate in Kista: the University of Stockholm and the Royal Institute of Technology. Other research institutes there include Acreo, which specialises in nano and microelectronics and optics; SICS, which explores human-machine interactions; and the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

All of these organisations are linked by a spirit of collaboration and communication – two of the big themes in Kista. The theory is that both business and innovation are stimulated and encouraged by clustering, through proximity to other companies, individuals and institutions in the same sector (or in complementary sectors).

Thus Kista has become the location of choice for Swedish technology companies, including Ericsson, but also Tele2 and Enea, to maintain their head offices, while IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle and other international groups have chosen Kista as the base for their Scandinavian regional operations.

Innovation hub

Given the Ericsson influence, it is not surprising that the emphasis in Kista is on the telecommunications sector. But ultimately it is innovation across the board that is being encouraged in Kista.

Kista's business development manager, Ake Lindstrom, tells fDi that the intention from the first was to build “more than a science park: a fully functioning city”, which would maintain the attractiveness of Sweden as an ICT innovation hub, and as a destination for investors.

The city, he says, is underpinned by a number of basic tenets, including a dynamic business environment, a focus on education, modern urban living and good communication.

Sharing knowhow is conducive and common to all those factors; and in order to facilitate greater learning, there are numerous virtual and physical ‘networking’ opportunities throughout Kista – for example, networks for the mobile and multimedia sector, for clean technology, medical technology, the digital arts and for young professionals. These forums, says Mr Lindstrom, embody the cluster spirit and help make it reality – as, of course, does the popular, if chaotic, lunch hall.