Whilst you can call “Internet of Things” an emerging business sector, it’s more accurate to call it a paradigm shift. The coupling together of smart, sensing devices, such as our mobile phones or thermostats at home – or smart tags on boxes of goods being delivered to shops, or roadside sensors measuring traffic flows – with smart ways of processing the data these sensors collect will revolutionize how we live. Google’s driverless cars steal the headlines but many more developments are about to slip off the pages of science fiction in to reality such as real-time remote health monitoring that will enable people to “live well” at home. The efficiencies that can be achieved in manufacturing, logistics and maintenance, though not the stuff of Google/Apple hipster headlines, will take many industries to another, far more sustainable, performance level.
And the kitchen above on the KTH campus in Stockholm is where it’s all going on. Well, it’s a bit more than a kitchen. The kitchen provides a social hub for THINGS, Stockholm’s new “Internet of Things” incubator for small companies setting out to build this new world. The incubator is driven by STING (Stockholm Innovation and Growth). As you can imagine, the coffee is on the eye-poppingly potent side; after half a cup I too believe I can change the world (with shaking hands).
“I’ve worked from home before” comments Anders Widgren, the founder of Aifloo, one of the Internet of Things companies at THINGS, “this is different, very different”. In a big new world, not being alone really matters. THINGS provides a base for almost twenty small companies working in the Internet of Things sector, primarily in the hardware end of the sector where new sensors and other bits of kit are being prototyped.
“There are opportunities for sharing ideas or contacts, of course,” Anders continues “but the benefits of a shared space are about more than that”. Through gathering under a single roof, the fledging companies have become a force. The THINGS building signals that the Internet of Things has emerged in Stockholm, that the paradigm has shifted.
The THINGS incubator also makes it simpler for customers and potential partners to find this new wave of companies, many of whom are so new that they don’t even have a website. Several of the larger tech companies in Sweden recognize this and have signed up to be Partners of THINGS contributing a membership fee in return to access to the space and activities. This creates the innovation ecosystem of small and large players, vital to taking ideas through to market. “And it helps balance the relationship” reflects Anders. “If you are a single start up, these big companies can sometimes play by tough rules. If your company is part of something bigger, especially if there are strong sponsors around like STING or KTH, the big companies play a more long-term game – and that’s better for us all”.
The building itself is refreshing – simple white walls and bold, bright furniture. Lots of different meeting rooms and working spaces – and a maker space. New but not posh. They have even managed to put a THINGS sign up above the door, so we know where to find the next unicorns on campus.
If I have a suggestion it is to make the building and space more visible to students – KTH’s campus pulsates with 20-something techies, the new generation who will live the new paradigm. How can the THINGS building be used better to connect with this audience as they walk past on the street outside, giving them an insight into the future?