When Patrick Moeller and Peter Wiwen-Nilsson got to know each other a few years ago at the prestigious US university of Berkeley, they had no idea that by this year they would be have received a number of prizes and already hold an international patent.
"And that was with a really simple project," says Moeller, who studied chemistry. The two 27-year olds developed a simple and quick method to bring microstructures on to conductive material during computer chip manufacture. Their office is in Sweden's Kista, a little city near Stockholm. The city, known as "Science City," is considered an incubator for successful technology firms.
"Our greatest joy is that we can work in a very science-friendly environment here," says Wiwen-Nilsson. Using his and Moellers' new methods, the lithography process for chip manufacturing no longer lasts a solid hour as before, but less than two minutes, Wiwen-Nilsson explains.
"Manufacturers also only need six instead of ten machines to make it work, and the prices for a three-inch wafer [semiconductor chip] can be reduced from 140 to 60 euro," he says. Not surprisingly, the semiconductor industry has shown a lively interest.
During the New Economy boom, a number of household-name IT and telecommunications firms made their way to the science city of Kista, including Microsoft, IBM, Ericsson, Apple, Nokia, and Intel. The city also houses the various IT departments of the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology and has a good infrastructure for university-initiated outsourcing to the start-up firms.
"We call it an incubator for technology start-ups with international growth potential," indicates Ulf Brandels from Kistra Innovation and Growth, a consulting firm that advises start ups. The experienced manager and his two colleagues check out projects passed to him by younger entrepreneurs.
"Most of the ideas are good, but they lack a business plan," says Brandels. "You need to find out whether the idea has market potential, who the buyers would be, and whether the product already exists."
If the results turn up encouraging, the fledgling start-ups are then supported.
"The Swedish capital is counted as one of the leading places for science worldwide for the IT and telecommunication fields," says Torbjoern Bengtsson, specialist for IT and telecommunications projects for the City of Stockholm.
According to a study by "EconomyWeek," Stockholm is the most dynamic European region in terms of innovation, finance, quality of life, and high tech. The computer magazine "Wired" put the "wireless valley" of Kista behind only the Silicon Valley in the US.
Yet it's not just the city and private economy that help start-ups get on their feet. In 1994 the city founded a fellowship for which inventors from all over Sweden are eligible to apply.
"We want a better climate for inventors in Sweden, because we need more local firms," says Per Laurell, the director of the innovation center. "We will probably close next year, but the project will continue on in some form," he says.