Entrepreneurs protest at Swedish Parliament
A number of entrepreneurs in Sweden, gathered outside Parliament, or Riksdag, on Wednesday, to ask politicians to introduce what they see as more favorable conditions for startup companies to grow.
Their protest came on the tails of an open letter published by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, the founders of the music streaming service Spotify last month. In it, they wrote that they would like to expand their multinational company, which they founded in 2006, in Sweden, but that if things do not change, they will consider expanding more in other countries instead, where it could be easier to attract talent.
Ek and Lorentzon demanded "lightning fast" reforms to housing, so that more rental apartments would be available and reforms to education, so that kids would learn how to program from an early age.
Protestors at the Riksdag on Wednesday echoed those concerns, and said that these are problems that affect more companies than just Spotify.
"There are hundreds of startups that are standing right behind them," Tyler Crowley, who hosts large technology events and organized the protest, told Radio Sweden, adding, "I didn't want politicians to think that this was just a Spotify issue. This is a startup issue."
In their letter, Spotify's founders also demanded that politicians change taxation rules, so that offering employee stock options would be more feasible, and so that they would be taxed at a lower rate.
Jessica Stark, the CEO and co-founder of SUP46, who was one of the protestors, agrees that this is a good idea. "You can see stock options as a really important tool to recruit people," she told Radio Sweden.
Ted Bowman, originally from the US, works for a venture capital firm in Stockhom, and numbered among the demonstrators. He was surprised by the issue of stock options in Sweden.
"In joining a startup in the US, you're typically granted stock options that vest over four years, and those are offered to employees whether or not they have the money for the stocks on hand. When I first joined a startup in Stockholm, I had to buy them in cash up front," said Bowman. While he says he was lucky enough to be able to afford to do that, others weren't, and thus missed out on a share in the company's profits as it grew.
"It's a very important question, and we're discussing that in our party right now," said Elisabeth Svantesson, the labor market spokesperson for the opposition conservative Moderates.
Mikael Damberg (Social Democrat), the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, told the website Breakit on Tuesday, that with regards to taxation rules, there has to be a balance.
"We cannot have a Nordic social democratic welfare system with an American tax system," he said.
A government-commissioned inquiry has looked into changes to stock options and came up with proposals, which are now being circulated among stakeholders for their opinions. While Spotify's founders were unhappy with those proposals, Damberg has said that throwing them out altogether and starting afresh would take years.
With regards to the issue of housing, Damberg told Breakit that there is no "magic bullet", but pointed out that his government was investing SEK 6 billion to speed up building. And in terms of education, the innovation minister was positive to Spotify's founders' suggestion to expose school children to programming at an early age.