KTH is known as the MIT of Stockholm. And Stockholm lags only Silicon Valley in the number of unicorns -- companies worth at least $1 billion -- per capita.
Three KTH companies - Mano Motion, a maker of software that enables smartphone cameras to capture 3D- hand gestures whose CEO is a serial entrepreneur; Greenely, an app that tracks home energy usage; and Shortcut Labs, a maker of wireless smart buttons that offer physical shortcuts to digital functions in mobile devices -- seem to me to have global growth potential.
Most of them have been able to hire some of the staff they needed from KTH while seeking talent from the U.S. - in Mano Motion's case opening up an office in Palo Alto in order to sell into the U.S. market.
Mano Motion's CEO, Daniel Carlman, was a ship engineer who studied Computer Information Systems and Finance at Hawaii Pacific University, developed a mobile banking application for a bank, founded a gaming company, and ended up as an executive at online gambling company Unibet. As he explained in a September 17 interview, from there he returned to Stockholm with his daughter to start a health technology company and in 2015 joined - at the request of an accelerator KTH Innovation.
In 2010, Mano Motion's cofounders, Dr. Shahrouz Yousefi and Professor Haibo Li, "started their research on hand gesture analysis" - resulting in a patent application related to how to track hand gestures accurately on a small screen. Carlman was seen by KTH Innovation as an entrepreneur who could help turn the idea into a business. When Carlman met Yousefi and Li they said "Daniel, we want to change the world and make technology more natural and intuitive to interact with."
Carlman agreed with their mission and believed that the future of human/computer interaction would combine vision, voice and gestures that interpret human intent. Until June 2017, Mano Motion was building prototypes to get customer validation. Carlman built a team of 14 people from 10 different countries by hiring KTH students studying for a Master's or PhD in Deep Learning, Computer Vision, or Human/Computer Interaction. Mano Motion also recruited from National University of Singapore, Linnaeus University in Sweden, George Washington University, and UCLA.
By September 2017, Mano Motion had signed over 20 Non-Disclosure Agreements with potential partners and received over 1,000 requests from developers that want to build applications using its technology. Developers and companies can try Mano Motion's applications at no charge but must pay for a commercial license. Carlman intends to open a Palo Alto office in 2018 which will perform the company's sales and marketing and will likely hire from Stanford. Mano Motion also intends to open another sales and marketing office in Asia to target Hong Kong and Shanghai. By the end of 2018, he expects Mano Motion to employ over 30 people.
Tanmoy Bari -- who studied Civil Engineering and earned a M.Sc in Sustainable Urban Planning and Design at KTH -- had an idea while working on his thesis project of consulting to a smart city called the Stockholm Royal Seaport. Instead of building a computer system, which the large utilities proposed, he wanted to use data directly from the electrical grid to track household energy usage - which became the core idea behind Greenely.
As Bari explained in a September 17 interview, he officially launched Greenely in February 2014 after competing in Venture Cup, a business plan competition. In 2016, Greenely recorded about $130,000 in revenue and plans to double that to $260,000 in 2017 - serving over 6,000 households and three large utilities.
Greenely's 11 full-time employees have skills in energy and electricity, business development, product development and marketing. Many of its people came from KTH and Bari also worked with headhunters in the UK and Sweden for key positions such as Product Manager and Chief Technology Officer. Bari wants to recruit "quite a few people in the future - specifically, more administrative staff and a Human Resources manager; a psychologist and a behavioral scientist; and skilled coders and business developers from universities in Sweden (Stockholm and Gothenburg) and California (Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Caltech)."
Shortcut Labs cofounder and CEO Joacim Westlund -- who in 2010 earned a M.Sc. Design and Product Realization with Naval Architecture from KTH and then designed sailing yachts in New Zealand -- could not sit still.
As he said in a September 18 interview, "I had several positions as a project management consultant and product manager. I was a consultant to larger companies such as Scania and some Swedish banks. My last employment was as a Product and Process Manager at SecMaker, a small Swedish IT security firm. I shifted jobs once a year, never quite found rest until I started my own thing."
What he started was a company that made a button attached to his smartphone that would help him quit tobacco. As he explained, "I had several side projects when I was employed. One of them was an iPhone app to help people and myself to quit snus (a Swedish form of tobacco). The idea was to tap a big green button in the app when I took a snus so that I could monitor my intake. But doing that at least once every hour, it was too cumbersome to pick up the phone, unlock it, find the app and tap that single button each time. The idea grew to extract the button out of the phone into something physical, and that's how Flic was born. I kept imagining how much could be done with a wireless button."
He continued: "In 2012 I made a functional prototype and made it work with my snus-app, showing it around in the vivid Stockholm startup scene, at different events. An advisor encouraged me to apply for innovation grants and after receiving two rounds of soft funding I decided to quit my job and engage co-founders Amir Sharifat - an extremely productive and organized executive who dropped out of production engineering studies to join as COO -- and Pranav Kosuri -- who complements my product design and weak social skills with an incredible charisma, networking skills, and a great stage presence to do sales."
Shortcut Labs launched a crowdfunding campaign at the end of 2014 and since then it has sold and shipped over 200,000 units to roughly 100,000 users around the world with 20 employees -- including an amazing team of software engineers who worked on Flic as part of a software development course on KTH -- and annual revenue of about $1.5 million and growing quickly. Shortcut aims to hire a designer, hardware and software engineers and senior business development people whom Westlund believes the company can find in Stockholm and Asia from companies such as Autodesk, Salesforce, Dropbox, and ESI Group, said Westlund.
Since they address global needs, it's not hard to imagine each of these companies becoming much bigger if they can sell their products to customers around the world.