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A Journey to the 'Epicenter' of Sweden's Creative Tech Boom

RFID implants and robotic smoothie machines make Stockholm's first "House of Innovation" the workspace of the future.

by Emerson Rosenthal
Jun 17 2016, 1:15pm

Photo: Linus Hallsénius. Images courtesy of Epicenter

A former bank building in what used to be Stockholm's red light district might be the last place you'd expect to find a bustling innovation hub, but if there's one thing Epicenter thrives on, it's changing perceptions. At just about a year-and-a-half old, the self-described "office of the future" is but a piece of the Swedish plot to become the "creative capital of the world." But it's a significant one—with hundreds of people already milling about its 86,000 square feet, and a second, 129,000 square foot location opening in installments throughout the year, you'd be pressed to find a site outside of Silicon Valley of similar scale and scope.

Photo: Linus Hallsénius

You'd also have trouble finding a city with more support for its digital workforce and general population. Even as the Bay Area flirts with the idea of a basic income, it's hard to deny Scandinavia's headstart in the worlds of social welfare and creative cultural support. Epicenter is, in fact, underpinned by AMF Fastigheter, a property investment and development company that owns both its properties and provides the spaces at seriously supportive rates. Thus it should come as little surprise that, while the larger companies that call Epicenter home include Microsoft, Spotify, and Tictail, it's the smaller guys ones who benefit most. 

Photo: Linus Hallsénius

With 24/7 access, over 100 events per year including hackathons and intimate "thought leader" seminars, and modular office spaces, Epicenter is fertile ground enough to accomodate a company all the way through its lifecycle—from its startup stage, like that of artificially-intelligent guitar education app, Zoundio, all the way up to companies with staffs of 300.

Photo: Linus Hallsénius

On my tour of the building, during a city-wide junket as part of Stockholm Symposium, I'm impressed not only by the creative headspace Epicenter's architecture provides—its aesthetic approach is known as "urban escape," a hybrid site outfitted for both work and play—but by its sense of personalization for its inhabitants. The people who run Epicenter have made it a point to know each and every member—all 800 of them—on a first-name basis.

Of course, the first thing most people want to hear about is the implants: Between 60 and 70 Epicenter members have RFID chips under their skin, enabling them to automate everything from opening doors to quick-paying at its robotic smoothie vending machine. But what excites me most has to do with how Epicenter handles its bodies. Healthy people, after all, make healthy businesses, and to that end, not only does the site feature a pioneering, "a la minute," waste-minimizing canteen cooking program, the general philosophy, as Epicenter CEO Patrick Mesterton tells me, is literally, "We don't want to kill vibes and energy." 

Photo: Linus Hallsénius

Considering that Epicenter is even home to Splay, Sweden's biggest YouTube network, and Splay is populated primarily by 13 to 16-year-olds, this is policy that works. "It's much easier to invent the format than provide the innovation," Mesterton humbly admits. Thanks to Epicenter, the infrastructure exists, and it's strong. As for the rest, well, the future looks good for Sweden

Click here to learn more about Epicenter. 

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