Meet the international entrepreneurs making Stockholm’s neighbourhoods vibrant

Stockholm is full of vibrant local communities. While the likes of Södermalm, Hornstull, and Aspudden have attracted much attention, you can find bustling little enclaves across the whole city, attracting young families, creative minds and new businesses.

Meet the international entrepreneurs making Stockholm's neighbourhoods vibrant
Martin Baxter (left) and his brother in Slow Hands café, Hägerstensåsen

What’s more, at the beating heart of many of these close-knit, local neighbourhoods are new ventures run by international entrepreneurs.

The Local spoke with two small business owners in Stockholm, originally from the UK and Italy but now based in Hägerstensåsen and Årsta, to find out more about life in their friendly suburbs, and how they’re quickly becoming pockets of international dynamism.

‘A fresh air of optimism’

“It’s just such a lovely, friendly area,” says Martin Baxter, the co-owner, with his twin brother Fran, of the Slow Hands café in Hägerstensåsen. “All our customers seem to have interesting lives and careers. And they’re all really friendly, not just with us, but also with each other. This area has such a nice community feel.”

There are many cafés in the surrounding suburbs, such as Aspudden, Midsommarkransen, and Telefonplan, but in Hägerstensåsen the brothers spotted an opportunity.

“There are lots of young families, lots of creative people, architects and so on, but there hadn’t been a great deal to do around there, so it felt like a really good place to set up a café before it became too established,” says Martin.

Learn more about life in Stockholm from internationals who live and work in the city

The brothers, who moved to Stockholm from St Helen’s in northern England five years ago “with just a couple of bags”, only use local suppliers for the food in their cafe.

“We’re making sure we buy from other local businesses – it costs more but the quality is much higher and customers really appreciate that the food is locally sourced. These days everyone wants to know where their food comes from, so we’re very clear about it. And most of these small business owners are, like us, not Swedish. It’s a really thriving community of international entrepreneurs.”

The cafe is also becoming a work hub for local freelancers. “Quite a few self-employed creative people come in here to work now. We make them feel really welcome and it just adds to the feel of a friendly, cooperative neighbourhood.”

Art on coffee latte. Photo: Getty Images

Martin is excited about the future. “The area at first felt like a bit of blank canvas. Lots of people were – and still are – moving in. But now it has this fresh air of optimism, with lots of families starting off their new lives in a new area – it feels like it’s going to be an exciting next few years. I think Hägerstensåsen is going to be unrecognisable in five years, but in a good way.”

But there has been one unintended consequence of the brothers’ success. “We’re looking to buy an apartment no more than five minutes’ walk away from the cafe, and, incredibly, we’ve seen that the estate agents have been using photographs of our cafe as a selling point for the area.”

“We might have shot ourselves in the foot by making the area more desirable,” Martin jokes. “We’ve helped increase property prices in the area before we’ve bought a place ourselves!”

‘No pressure to conform or be cool’

Barbara Caracciolo, the owner of Årsta’s Spigamadre, is originally from Rome and first came to Sweden 17 years ago to study a PhD in epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden’s most prestigious medical research centre. But five years ago, she started to get itchy feet and switched from brains to bakery – quite a leap.

She opened Spigamadre four years ago, lives just a few minutes’ walk from her business and loves her life today, as well as the neighbourhood.

Sweet treats at Spigamadre in Årsta. Photo: Spigamadre

“I grew disengaged with research,” Barbara says. “Everything about my work was so slow. Writing a paper could take years and applications for funding could be quite stressful. I guess I am just not that patient. When I’m baking, I know right away if the bread is good or bad – I love that instantaneous gratification!”

Like Martin, Barbara says the friendly vibe in her local area helps to provide a good quality of life. 

“It’s very clean, orderly, and quiet with lots of nature,” she says. “Very lagom and very Swedish. The locals are friendly and laid back. You can wear sweatpants out for two months straight if you feel like it. There’s no pressure to conform or be cool.”

And, according to Barbara, Spigamadre has become a hub for a local community in Stockholm she had barely been aware of before. 

“Many people in the neighbourhood come to my shop,” she says. “When I worked as a researcher, I did not see much of my neighbours. I would leave home at 8am and often not be back until 8pm. I didn’t even know the people in my building until I started my bakery. Now I know many of them! And several of my customers and neighbours are asking me to expand the space so they can all meet here.”

Barbara Caracciolo at Spigamadre

Spigamadre has become a haven for the neighbourhood during the pandemic. “The bakery has become even busier during Covid. People didn’t want to venture very far afield, but they knew they could trust us. They know we offer very high quality food.”

Barbara’s business, like Martin’s cafe in Hägerstensåsen, has also a wider impact on the area beyond becoming a refuge and hub for her community. She’s also noticed local estate agents using pictures of Spigamadre to help sell Årsta, and hopes her success will encourage other non-Swedes to set up small businesses in the area.

“It’s quite funny that they’re using my business to promote the lure of Årsta but it also feels like a compliment,” she says. “We must be doing something right! The area is slowly becoming renowned as a foodies’ paradise with a number of different ethnic restaurants. Årsta is a great place to explore different cuisines!”

Interested in setting up your own business in Stockholm? Check out these guides to help you get your business off the ground and then learn more about life in the city with these insider tips 

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What are the 26 French ‘unicorns’ hailed by the government?

France now has 26 'unicorns', something Emmanuel Macron's government sees as a major success. Here's what this means and how it affects France's future.

People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit.
People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit. France now counts 26 start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron set what seemed like an ambitious objective: having 25 French start-ups valued at over $1 billion by 2025. 

These companies are colloquially referred to as “unicorns” or licornes in French. 

The target was very on-brand. Macron had sold himself at a youthful, ambitious and liberalising president keen to lead France towards modernity. 

To achieve this goal, the government lifted regulations; hired liaison officers to manage relations between tech entrepreneurs and government ministers; created a new kind of visa to allow entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to move to France; and launched an incubator scheme known as the French Tech Tremplin (“French Tech Trampoline”) to help underrepresented groups such as women, poor people and those in the countryside to launch tech start-ups. 

Just three years later, it appears these efforts have paid off. 

“They told us that it was impossible – that creating a start-up nation was just an act. But collectively we have got there three years ahead of schedule,” said Emmanuel Macron on Monday, sporting a Steve Jobs-style polo neck as he celebrated the fact that France now had 25 ‘unicorns’. 

On Tuesday, La French Tech, a body run by civil servants aimed at creating a healthy environment for start-ups in France heralded another success – a 26th licorne

The latest addition is a company called Spendesk – it runs a platform that allows small and medium sized businesses to manage spending, expenses, budgets, payment approvals and invoices through a single integrated platform. It is already used by thousands of clients. 

Spendesk recently raised a further $100 million, pushing its overall value past the $1 billion mark. It plans to employ a further 700 people in France. 

La French Tech couldn’t contain its joy. 

“We don’t ask ourselves what is going on, we know it: #FrenchTech is booming #26unicorns”, wrote the organisation in its Twitter account. 

La French Tech claims that beyond the 25 ‘unicorns’ valued at $1 billion or more, there are a further 20,000 tech start-ups in France and that half of French people use their services daily. The organisation says that this sector has already created 1 million jobs – and that this figure should double by 2050. 

“French tech is obviously about more than these unicorns, but I see them as an example, a model for the rest of the ecosytem,” said Macron on Tuesday. 

So who are the other unicorns leading the way? 


This start-up was created in 2016 and offers health insurance coverage for individuals and businesses. What differentiates it from standard health insurance providers, or mutuelles, is that it functions through an easy-to-use app. Individuals can send medical bills directly from their smartphone and be reimbursed almost immediately. Doctors can be reached through the app’s messaging and video call services. Employers can manage arrêts de travail the comings and goings of poorly staff directly through the interface. It is currently available in France, Belgium and Spain, counting 230,000 members. 


Ankorstore is an online marketplace aimed at supporting independent wholesalers – from florists to concept stores. It pitches itself as a platform to buy “authentic products and brands that e-commerce giants such as Amazon do not offer.” It is present in 23 European countries with offices in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.


This carpooling service has more than 100 million members across 22 countries. It connects drivers with people looking for a lift on a highly accessible app and website based platform. BlaBlaCar allows people to save money on transport and said that it saves 1.6 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2018 through ride-sharing – the platform has grown significantly since then. This company has also started running a bus service, BlaBlaBus. 

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019.

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)


Backmarket is a website for buying used, unused or reconditioned electronic devices. The company sells everything from cameras, to laptops, to iPhones – at well below the market rate. Many of the products come with a warranty. The company is keen to emphasise its role in reducing electronic waste and carbon emissions involved in manufacturing new products.


This start-up has existed since 2012. It acts as a tool to allow website and app designers to monitor how their users behave while on their webpage/app. Contentsquare provides analytical information that can help to tailor websites to improve the digital experiences of users. 


Deezer is an online music streaming services similar to Spotify. It was founded in 2007 and counts 16 million active users. 


Doctolib is a platform that connects patients to medical professionals. Creating an account is free and allows you to book medical appointments, with filters such as the kind of care you want, the area of the medical practice and the languages spoken by the doctor. It runs via a user-friendly app and website and is available in France, Italy and Germany. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become the main way that French people have booked vaccination appointments. 


This company was founded by two engineers in 2014 and manufactures intralogistic robots. The technology is used in warehouses of retailers, supermarkets, e-commerce and industry. In essence, it is used to remove human labour from the supply chain. 


iad is a network where people can sign up to learn how to become an independent real estate agent – it also serves as a site where people can look for property to buy or rent. 14 percent of all properties sold in France in 2020 went through this platform according to one study. 


Ivalua is a tool used by organisations to manage spending and supplies. It operates largely though Artificial Intelligence and provides a wide range of functions designed to improve collaboration and decision-making. 


Ledger is a company that provides individuals and businesses an easy way to buy and sell cryptocurrencies and store these currency on USB-type hardware. If you get sick of that guy at work who never stops talking about Bitcoin, this is probably not one for you. 


This is a payment app that allows people with French bank accounts to send and receive money with other users, and is often used by friends to reimburse each other with small amounts for dinner, drinks, holidays etc. If you hold your savings in the app, you can benefit from a 0.6 percent interest rate. It also allows you to pay for things overseas without incurring fees. 


ManoMano is an online marketplace specialised in DIY and gardening equipment. It employs 800 people in 4 offices and operates across 6 European markets: France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK. It’s website sells products from more than 3,600 retail partners and stocks more than 10 million products. 


Patients can download this app after undergoing dental work. They can then use the secured system to send pictures of their teeth to their dentist (if the dentist is subscribed to the service). The start-up boasts that it can allow dentists and orthodontistes to carry out remote consultations and that the AI technology embedded in the app can automatically detect dental problems. 


Meero is a company that connects professional photographers to clients and vice versa. It organises one photo shoot every 25 seconds and has more than 30,000 customers around the world. 


Mirakl is a cloud-based e-commerce company that allows retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers to access a single online market place. The start-up aims to help other businesses scale-up their operations rapidly and describes its staff as “Mirakl workers” (as in the French ‘miracle’ pronounced me-rackluh). 


This start-up was founded in 1999 and is now Europe’s biggest cloud provider, offering both public and private information storage solutions. They also provide domain name registration, telecoms services and internet connection. 


Payfit is an automated payroll service that allows employers to save time dealing with spreadsheets and other systems. It is an intuitive bit of software already being used by 6,500 small and medium-sized businesses.


Qonto provides financial services to freelancers, self-employed people, small businesses, charities and new businesses. It provides solutions for managing expenses, accounting, invoices and payments. 


This company is based in Paris and helps global insurance companies to detect fraudulent insurance claims via artificial intelligence technology. 


This is a fantasy football game where users build and manage squads, trading, selling and buying players. It makes use of blockchain technology. French footballer Antoine Griezmann is a major investor. 

A tradable player card from Sorare.

A tradable player card from Sorare. Credit: Sorare


This is a financial and networking service for businesses and employees. It essentially is a bank card with an app that allows employers to issue anonymous surveys to employees, facilitate communication via a messaging service, organise collections and plan events. 

Vestiare Collective

This is an online marketplace for second-hand luxury fashion. Be aware that some items still cost thousands of euros, so they’re only ‘bargains’ in relative terms. 


This is an online and app-based service. Users can create an account for free to be alerted of upcoming sales of up to 70 percent on their favourite brands. It is available in eight European countries including the UK. 


Voodoo is a French mobile game developer and publisher. It provides help for video game developers to promote their work and councils them on the development process. In the past, Voodoo has come under fire for producing games that appear to be closely modelled on other games already on the market.