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The dream of being a social worker fell through and took Sverre Dueholm past both RUC and ITU before he found his new calling: tech entrepreneur. Today, he has a number of tech startups behind him – including podcast service Podimo – and the humanistic and pedagogical tools have been important.

»I actually wanted to stay, but I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t help but take the work home with me: I was too affected by working with these people who are having such a damn hard time.«

For Sverre Dueholm, working with young criminals was his calling. Or so he thought. Halfway through his studies to become a social worker, he realised that it would simply be too hard for him to handle as a job.

Parting with the dream meant standing without a plan, so when he was admitted to the basic course at Roskilde University, it was really just to still leave the doors to the future open. But it was here that he found his direction:

»A friend and I were always the ones who started one world company after another over beers in the Friday bar. And at some point, we couldn’t just talk any more; we had to give it a try, because all our friends were laughing at us and had long since stopped listening, « Sverre Dueholm recalls.

Sverre Dueholm.

While building the first company, he found that he needed some IT skills if he wanted to be an IT entrepreneur. So he complemented his Bachelor’s degree in Danish and Communication with a in E-Business at ITU. And after a few startup attempts, he hit his biggest success to date as co-founder of Podimo: a podcast service grounded in 2019 that today has over 200 employees and recently raised an investment of 436 million DKK.

»Looking back, my education has had quite an impact on me. My very strong focus on working with people has pretty much never changed, and that’s often reflected in the way I build businesses: it starts and ends with people,« he says.

More bets on humanities entrepreneurs

In tech start-ups, the focus is usually on engineers and developers who can deliver the product, combined with business people who can sell the new solution. But in recent years there has been more focus on what humanities and social science skills can do for a startup.

The University of Copenhagen has launched the Human & Legal Innovation Hub in 2017, with an approach to the humanistic, legal and theological perspectives on innovation and entrepreneurship. Roskilde University, which is particularly strong in the social sciences and humanities, opened the “RUC Entrepreneurship Lab” in 2020 to create more startups with this approach. And at DTU, the first class of Technology Entrepreneurship has just graduated: a programme designed to create start-up founders, with only a third from engineering backgrounds and the rest from other disciplines – from humanities to nursing.

»We want to make sure it is diverse, so it’s not just engineers and business students. We believe the best ideas and business are made with different viewpoints. When we share this different points of view, we broaden the idea generation,« says Carina Lomberg, Associate Professor and Head of Studies at Technology Entrepreneurship.

The programme is team-based, with students trying out different ideas in different teams in the first semester. Only then do they come together in teams that will spend the rest of the programme creating a start-up.

»The startups the students are generating are definitely more diverse. It’s not just on the background of the students. We also see that students are coming back to universities for this program, and that is great. They bring in relevant experience. And all this results in some very interesting ideas,« says Corina Lomborg.

By the end of the first year, 14 of the 20 students are working on their own startups – and one has even raised DKK 5 million for growth.

Startup from the University of Copenhagen:

  • Three out of five companies founded by students and graduates of the University of Copenhagen between 2001 and 2016 have students from either the humanities, theology or social sciences among the founders.
  • – In total, students and graduates from the University of Copenhagen have created 4,600 new businesses in the period 2001-2016 – or almost 290 businesses per year. If only students are counted, the figure is close to around 100.
  • – The companies with either one full-time employee or a turnover of more than DKK 1 million employed 4,800 full-time equivalents and had a total turnover of DKK 6.3 billion.

Source: Iris Group, 2019

Diversity – also in education

Sverre Dueholm has helped grow Podimo to 150 employees, and is currently in the process of finding the right team for a new startup. Along the way, he has gained a growing respect for the importance of corporate culture and diversity. It’s often something that only gets a serious focus once a startup has reached 100 employees. But today, he sees great value in hiring a high-profile person to focus on people and culture much earlier in the growth journey.

»I could imagine hiring some completely different people to tie the company together. Who knows, maybe it’s two social worker who should be in management positions – simply because they possess some alternative skills that could be a good fit for a tech company,« says Sverre Dueholm.

He firmly believes that culture and people are the foundation of success. And broadening the understanding of what skills you can benefit from – so it’s not the same profiles you choose every time – improves the chances of success. So diversity is not just across age, gender and nationality – but also educational background.

»It’s not just for the sake of diversity, of course; success starts and ends with people. If you bring the right people together and give them what they need individually and, more importantly, as a group, they will build something really great. And if they do, everyone will make a profit. I’m convinced that bringing diversity into a business pays off, and I’m also quite sure that you can’t skip the first steps if you want it to be a longterm success,« he says.

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