We’re witnessing a startup boom all over the region, but its echo differs in each country.
With this year’s Nordic Startup Awards ahead of us, and the nominations still open, we talked to three of the previous years national ‘Startup Of the Year’ winners. We asked Activity Stream (Iceland), Xeneta (Norway), and Min Doktor (Sweden) to share with us their thoughts on what makes their ecosystems unique and how they think it compares to the others.
Great survival instinct
Einar Sævarsson is CEO of Activity Stream. The startup won the prize for the Icelandic ‘Startup of the Year’ in 2017.
On what makes Iceland the perfect incubator and its Startup ecosystem unique
Iceland is quite unique in comparison to the rest of Scandinavia for a number of reasons. The total population is obviously the first thing that comes to mind. Being by far the least populated of the Nordics, with only a 15th of Norway’s population, we tend to create generalists rather than a specialist. This is great for founders and early-stage companies but becomes a challenge with growth. The size carries a bigger risk for founders as failures more easily become branded and makes the entire economy very volatile to outside influence.
The second thing that comes to mind is that the Law of Jante, which is deeply ingrained in the culture of rest of Scandinavia, never made its way to Iceland. We Icelanders go for it in a big way, often failing to see when things cannot be done, which can sometimes lead to unexpected successes and, of course, terrible failures.
The third thing is the survival instinct Icelanders have developed through the hardship the nation endured over hundreds of years. This means that we have a very sarcastic approach to life and death, which translated to a more carefree approach to trying and failing, a critical element in a founder’s mentality. I guess you could say Iceland is the perfect incubator.
On how Iceland’s ecosystem compares to those of the other Nordic countries
I get the feeling that Iceland is somewhat lagging behind the rest of the Nordic countries while still quite similar to Denmark and Norway. Sweden and Finland seem more developed when it comes to startups. I think Activity Stream would fit well in any of the Nordic countries, but I imagine that building a startup in Finland would be great.
Government support and media awakening
Xeneta took home the prize ‘Startup of the Year’ in the Norwegian final. Katherine Barrios is CMO in the startup.
On the entrepreneurial awakening in Norway
In the past few years, the startup ecosystem in Norway has had a ‘boom’. More and more startups are popping up, as well as accelerator programs, co-working spaces and entrepreneurial meetups and events. Tech media has been particularly interested in covering the progress of startups and the Norwegian corporate world has been looking at startups to learn how to move faster and be innovative. This has made the startup world exciting, causing a frenzy of new ideas becoming a reality. The Norwegian government’s support for starting a business has been invaluable. Their focus on innovation and technology, apart from the usual oil and gas industries, has triggered an entrepreneurial awakening in the country. International VCs have definitely noticed this, making the landscape that more exciting for Norwegian startups looking to go global.
On the startups from other Nordic Countries that they admire at the moment
Off the top of my head, Realm from Denmark. They have an impressive customer list and have been able to build their user base to over 100K in a short amount of time. The development tool space is getting crowded, but they have been able to carve out a niche for themselves with a message that has resonated with large MNCs (multi national company) with billions of users. They seem to have had a global-first strategy from the very beginning, which has enabled them to acquire high-value brands and scale quickly.
Cutting-edge technology and freedom of innovation
Petronella Warg is Corporate Communications Officer at Min Doktor who also qualified for the regional final by taking home the national prize ‘Startup of the Year’ in Sweden last year.
On the current startup ecosystem of Sweden and the challenges startups face
There is a broad, diversified and generous network of publicly supported incubators and business development advisor hubs in Sweden. It’s easy to get encouraging guidance the first entrepreneurial steps but once you grow above ten employees, when you need another kind of advice, like organisational issues and leading the board, there is suddenly no help to be found.
Sweden’s Innovation Agency and the European regional development funds might offer significant economic contribution to projects aiming to speed up innovative solutions and business ideas especially them solving global challenges, but the applications and reporting required means too heavy administration for a startup and the projects are seldom aligned with the efforts being made from the public bodies that could serve as testbeds or first customers. There is a lack of public customer representatives in the startup ecosystem, while both smaller and well-established enterprises like Ericsson and Volvo are very much involved in incubators and startup projects.
Counties might have representatives in these contexts but mostly focussing on preserving competence in the region, talking about supporting startups to ensure jobs, but the very same region can actively prevent the very same startup whose birth it supported, from operating and growing in the region, and instead try to copy the solution and build a publicly owned, competing for service.
On the Swedish sharing culture and the uniqueness of its startup ecosystem
Sweden is a country blessed with cutting-edge knowledge, great universities and a good societal standard that offers the freedom to innovate. The Swedish sharing culture is key. We have this deeply rooted feeling of wanting everybody onboard, proven by those who have some experience are selflessly sharing their knowledge and findings, and sometimes even their earnings, to support the growth of others. I would also say that a few people have paved the way the last ten years, generously sharing their network and the startup system has been shaped by these individuals with great intellect, large hearts and a never-ending energy to help new ideas become real.
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