Expert panel: How is the Danish startup scene doing today?

@Esben Friis-Jensen
We asked four experts to take the temperature of our cold country in the North.

Rolf Kjærgaard, CEO at Vækstfonden

What is (are) the main strength(s) of the Danish startup ecosystem today?

Rolf Kjærgaard CEO at Vækstfonden

The ecosystem has evolved rapidly, with a much more cohesive ecosystem of investors from the early stages through to an exit. Particularly noteworthy is how connected the Danish ecosystem has become to the outside world. Denmark and our companies have really made a mark on the map, which is also underlined by the fact that a record number of international investors made investments in Danish companies in 2021 (Source: Growth Fund Startup to Scaleup Report 2022). This proves that Danish startups are of high quality.

What do we need to do for it to reach the next level?

We must continue to build on the strong platform we have today. We need to focus on both the depth and breadth of the ecosystem. By depth, I mean that we need to continue to focus on verticals that are mature and well-functioning, such as biotech, fintech and enterprise software. At the same time, we also need to embrace new areas that are emerging and have a lot of momentum these years such as sustainable food, energy and digital health. This way, we can strengthen the ecosystem at large. At the same time, we can also see that it is vital to create some beacons for future generations of entrepreneurs to emulate. Success breeds success, as we know. Creating these rings in the water will certainly help take the Danish ecosystem to the next level.

Jakob Neua Nørgaard, serial entrepreneur and CEO, Estaldo

What is (are) the main strength(s) of the Danish startup ecosystem today?

Jakob Neua Nørgaard serial entrepreneur and CEO of Estaldo

I think we are good at banding together and establishing collaboration across the board. In addition, a number of useful organisations and conferences have been created, such as Tech-BBQ, CPH Fintech, Proptech Danmark and the like. The Danish startup ecosystem’s greatest strength, in my view, is its ability to organise itself.

What do we need to do for it to reach the next level?

In general, I am negative about some of the public facilitation of the ecosystem in Denmark. I simply think that there are too many organisations in the world doing pseudo work.

I have read that we spend up to 4.7 billion kroner of taxpayers’ money a year on business promotion – and there is no doubt that a lot of that money is spent on administration.
In my world, we might as well divide the 4.7 billion into 2350 pools of 2 million. Then we could throw the money into a lottery and let a panel pick which startups qualify for the lottery. I think in the long run that would produce a better result, and you know what the cool thing is? Next year, the 4.7 billion for the lottery will come again, so we could help even more startups.

Of course, I am well aware the world is not like that, but if we are to get to the next level, we need to think smarter about the conditions we offer startups and the way we spend the money earmarked for supporting the ecosystem.

Simon Schou, Chief Innovation Officer, Copenhagen Fintech

What is (are) the main strength(s) of the Danish startup ecosystem today?

Simon Schou Chief Innovation Officer Copenhagen Fintech

The growing talent pool, which is due to the volume and breadth of those wanting to go down the entrepreneurial route being greatly increased. Denmark has not historically been among the leading global startup hubs, but right now I’m seeing an absolutely huge energy and desire to start your own business, work in a startup, or invest in startups from a lot of different angles. Everyone is suddenly talking about ‘Løvens Hule’ (Startup tv-show, ed.) and familiar with terms like valuation-sheets etc.. Where 10-20 years ago the “dream” among students might have been to work in Brussels or in a big company, now it is very much to become successful entrepreneurs or investors. And it’s definitely not just among students. We are also seeing a rapidly growing flow of talent with key experience from large companies who are now ready to leave highly paid positions to “build something themselves” – and preferably something that creates impact and makes a difference.

What do we need to do for it to reach the next level?

At Copenhagen Fintech, we have had relative success in building a highly specialised community-based startup ecosystem focused on the fintech vertical. We have created a community where it is easy to engage with other specialised fintech entrepreneurs – but where there is also easy access to specialised fintech investors, large financial firms and the fintech relevant branches of academia etc. This community has become relatively “easy” to find and easy to come back to after a successful exit or otherwise – and this means that we are now starting to experience it as a real “ecosystem” that is evolving and renewing itself all the time. I think we could go a long way as a country by building similar vertical ecosystems in, say, healthcare, education or the public sector.

Jasmina Pless, Head of Entrepreneurship, Danish Chamber of Commerce

What is (are) the main strength(s) of the Danish startup ecosystem today?

Jasmina Pless Head of Entrepreneurship Danish Chamber of Commerce

Denmark is at the forefront of new ideas and innovation, whether in the green transition or new digital solutions. Danish startups help to challenge the existing business community and that is good, as it keeps the entire Danish business community relevant and competitive. Danish startups create growth, prosperity and the jobs of tomorrow, but we could be even better off if our politicians were more willing to ensure access to talent and better tax conditions.

What do we need to do for it to reach the next level?

For Denmark to become the world’s best entrepreneurial country, it is crucial that Danish startups can attract the right minds to take the company from startup to global growth company. It is often resource-intensive for small startups to recruit qualified staff, and therefore one initiative, in particular, will enable them to reach the next level: giving Danish startups the opportunity to offer employees equity. When the entrepreneur is better able to pay his employees in equity shares, the employees also get a part of the potential gain as the company scales.

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