Old money, new business – An inside look at Sweden’s Kinnevik, the money behind Zalando and Rocket Internet

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This autumn, two of Europe’s tech giants will be hitting the stock market almost simultaneously. German-born Zalando and Rocket Internet are expected to raise hundreds of millions of euros through their respective IPOs, both will likely join the elusive ‘Billion-Dollar Startup Club‘ and underscore Berlin’s position as a major player in the European tech scene.

Another common denominator that Zalando and Rocket Internet share is the fact they are both funded by Kinnevik, a Swedish investment group which has in the past few years emerged as a key player on the global e-commerce market.

Besides its stakes in Zalando and Rocket, it holds significant interests in Russia’s Avito, India’s Quikr, Sweden’s Cdon, Germany’s Home24 and many others. In total, it has more than €3 billion invested in online retail and marketplaces, and powering startups in countries including India, Ghana, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

From woodworking to e-commerce

At first glance, it seems an unlikely partnership considering Kinnevik is a family-held business with roots tracing back to the twentieth century. Controlled by the Stenbeck family, its fortunes were originally made in the iron, paper and woodworking industries of northern Sweden.

To understand how the money ended up in the online space, you have to understand the actions of former chairman Jan Stenbeck, who’s a renowned figure in the Swedish business scene and father of current chairperson Cristina Stenbeck.

It’s difficult to estimate the pivotal role Jan Stenbeck played in Swedish business during the 1980s and 1990s. Through a series of aggressive moves and market-grabs, he steered the Kinnevik group away from its historical interests and into telecoms, media and new technology founding both TV3, the country’s first commercial TV broadcaster, and Swipnet, its first commercial Internet provider along the way.

Stenbeck helped break down the Swedish state monopoly on telecoms by laying the groundwork for today’s flourishing Swedish tech scene and companies such as Skype, Spotify and Mojang.

Wie einst Nokia das Gummistiefelgeschäft hinter sich gelassen hat, so schwingt sich das schwedische Traditionsunternehmen Kinnevik seit einigen Jahren auf, sein Geld künftig im digitalen Geschäft zu verdienen. Daniel Goldberg bringt uns mit einem lesenswerten Portrait den Leisetreter näher.