”I didn’t start all this to be an activist, I just wanted to help people to reach their full potential”

Deqa Abukar is the entrepreneur that wants to utilize business and entrepreneurship to make societal change. She is already the founder of BLING, the suburb startup movement with a 49% female member ratio, but the change towards an inclusive trade market in Sweden doesn’t stop there. Her latest project is called Bridge, a project taking place in Kista just north of Stockholm. Kista is sometimes called ”Sweden’s Silicon Valley” but is at the same time located in proximity to many economically and socially deprived areas of Stockholm. As the name suggests, the purpose of Bridge is to build a bridge way between the suburbs and the inner city businesses through trade, industry, meetings, and inspiration — with the intention to reduce entrepreneurial segregation.

Why is Bridge important?

— Generally, for Sweden as a whole, the whole trade business has to change. We are always looking to expand globally and in every sales pitch, we’re talking about how to be big abroad and how we need to have an international approach. But the current pandemic has really shown that we have to start thinking locally, and of course, invest and support local businesses. But at the end of the day, it’s not so much about just starting a business to make money. For me personally it’s about creating and helping new entrepreneurs, there is a social factor behind it all.

You’ve stated that you want to reduce entrepreneurial segregation. How have people reacted to that?

— I think most Swedes can agree that you need an education, experiences, specific traits and the right contracts to get employed somewhere, that our job market is segregated in some ways. On the other hand, a lot of people don’t think such segregation exists for entrepreneurs since entrepreneurship is one of the most democratized tools in our society. The general perception is that anyone can start a company, regardless of your last name or socio-economic background. We want to highlight that there are underlying structures that make it really hard to get going if you’re lacking the right contacts or the right last name. And that is something I never heard anyone talk about before we started to shine a light on all this.

There is a culture within entrepreneurship that you need to work hard, but some people might have to work harder.

— Exactly. Just look at something as concrete as investments. The harsh truth is that investments are made by very homogenous groups within closed networks. Women in general, and women with foreign origin specifically, are heavily under-represented with investors. And investments are quite vital for businesses that want to grow and go commercial. Business is business at the end of the day.

Do you think it will be hard to attract woman to Bridge?

— No, quite the opposite actually. When I say that I want to help women to start their own businesses it sounds credible since I am a woman that have started businesses. It’s easy for women to recognize themselves with us! If someone that you have zero connections and recognitions with tells you to do something, it’s harder to relate to that person.

When you first moved to Stockholm you noticed a social divide within the city. What did you see?

— When I came to Stockholm I noticed that Stockholm had a clear divide between the inner city and the suburbs, by that I mean that Stockholm has a segregated infrastructure. In Malmö where I came from it was much more integrated and naturally mixed. Stockholm has a geographical difference that certainly doesn’t help the social divide.  Our society is segregated in many ways, but when you come to Stockholm it’s more apparent since the suburban areas are so isolated. If the infrastructure is segregated, the integration will be so much more complex. 

How do you break that social and geographical divide?

— It’s very challenging, but hope that Bridge can help to erase that divide and that glass wall between entrepreneurs and investors, but also the inner city and the suburb divide. How are people meant to connect when they are both geographically and socially so far apart? It is so hard to meet people in Stockholm, everyone moves in their own circles! So if we create a space in a big mall where anyone can just drop by and talk, it hopefully helps.

Instead of taking the subway and physically going downtown, people can send invoices and business proposals instead.

— Exactly! This city is so location-orientated… There is a stigma that anything but Stureplan won’t do. The suburbs are so frowned upon by businesses. We have created a whole society that is limited to a couple of hundred square meters in downtown Stockholm. It’s crazy!

Are you proud of yourself?

— God, that is the hardest question I’ve ever gotten.

It just seems that you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders, by helping and representing so many.

— I’ve never really reflected on if I’m proud of myself. I don’t want to feel like I’m satisfied and done, I want to keep going. I have earlier said that I’ve almost become an unintentional activist! I didn’t start all this to be an activist, I just wanted to help people to reach their full potential. Unfortunately, our society is full of structures and hindrances that stand in the way for so many people. And by talking about these things and caring about them, I guess I am more than just an entrepreneur.


Initiative Bridge wants to reduce entrepreneurial segregation

In the midst of a fragile economy and a labor market rocked to its core, Stockholm based non-profit organization BLING starts initiative Bridge. The project, launching on October first, is taking place in Kista just north of Stockholm and will be a junction of local entrepreneurs and established businesses. Kista is sometimes called ”Sweden’s Silicon Valley” but is at the same time located in proximity to many economically and socially deprived areas of Stockholm. As the name suggests, the purpose of Bridge is to build a bridge way between the suburbs and the inner city businesses through trade, industry, meetings, and inspiration.

— Even though Kista is called Sweden’s Silicon Valley there is not one single hub for the local and engaged individuals. This gives a feeling that entrepreneurship is not for the people who live here, says Deqa Abukar, founder of BLING.

Deqa Abukar founded BLING in 2014 as a reaction to entrepreneurial segregation in Sweden and has since then pushed for entrepreneurship to be a catalyst for positive societal change, and a weapon against social exclusion. To launch The Bridge, BLING takes help from sub-organization Womenisia, started by Amal Said, as well as head partner Atelier Saman Amel.

Do you think Bridge could expand outside Kista?

— Definitely, I think the concept is brilliant, Bridge gathers trade, meetings, development, and inspiration under one roof. It is literally futuristic in the sense that trading within businesses with a conscious and inclusive mind will be more important than just buying and selling. As in-store visits are decreasing we need to think of creative ways for businesses to meet their customers and customers to feel genuine in their purchase. Retail isn’t dead, it’s changing. And we are doing it with the universal language that is entrepreneurship, explains co-founder Amal Said.

How do you get women to apply for Bridge, or will that not be an issue?

— The Bridge was also initiated by Womenisa, it is a network for personal and entrepreneurial development for women. We focus on inspiration and enhancing role models so that we can not only offer resources and the correct tools but also create an environment where women can open doors for one another.  I believe by having these female entrepreneurs from our network in The Bridge it sends out the message that — when women see themselves represented, they’re more likely to apply, concludes Said.