Norway: the name of this Nordic kingdom conjures up images of fjords, pickled herring, and minimalist design. But did you know that Norway is also a prime location for budding startups and tech innovators?
I traveled to the mountainous towns of Bergen and Voss Norway this month for the Startup Extreme conference: three days of networking, learning, and sport for founders and stakeholders in the Norwegian startup ecosystem.
While there, I couldn't help but notice the energy and enthusiasm of the startups in attendance and the ample opportunities for funding and support available to them.
Here are four reasons why Norway is the place to be for startup innovation.
1. Overwhelming Government Support
One of the biggest reasons for Norway's bustling startup scene is the cushion provided by its social services.
Erik Harstad, CEO of Nofense AS, an agtech startup, says that these services, like Universal Health Care and the Nordic welfare system, are what makes it easy for founders to get started. "We have great social security network so that failing isn't devastating," he explained.
In addition to social services, the government possesses a staggering $1 trillion USD in assets in the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. This translates to huge stores of possible funding for new ventures.
There's a push toward new innovation in the nation that originally built its wealth from rich deposits of oil and natural gas. "After realizing oil wouldn't keep Norway afloat forever," observes Wiral CMO Emilie Ose-Velle Aabakken, "the government has really stepped up their game supporting startups."
One government initiative called Innovation Norway provides sustainability-focused startups with seed capital, training, and support for international expansion. They've recently launched The Explorer, a "Tinder for businesses" that connects startups with global buyers and other businesses who may want to form partnerships.
"The funding scene in the Nordics and especially in Norway is in fact heating up." says Daniel Döderlein, founder of Auka, the first mobile payments app in Norway. "We lagged behind for several years according to the statistics for VC investments across Scandinavia. But, with several successful companies coming out of the Nordics, interest is growing fast."
2. Talented Engineers
In addition to having lots of resources, Norway also has a wealth of talented engineers. Software engineers in Norway produce high-quality work, speak English, and provide good value because of the lower cost of living compared to Silicon Valley. Says Harstad, "Our engineers are as good as those in Silicon Valley, but come at quarter of the price."
Norway even has its own version MIT in the former Norwegian University of Science and Technology, now the Microsoft Development Center Norway. A number of startups have already been acquired by major tech companies like Microsoft, Texas Instruments, and Google. Even the ubiquitous digital assistant Siri was co-founded by Norway native Dag Kittlaus.
3. Tight-Knit Community
Norway is home to five million residents, which means that the startup community has and will remain relatively small. This allows the community to stay close and form friendships across industries.
And, Aabakken says, the size of the community leads to valuable networking opportunities. "The luxury of a small startup community is that...you're never very far away from getting connected to the right people," she said.
4. A Focus on Sustainability
Perhaps the most exciting part of Norwegian innovation is that it places a high value on sustainability.
Last year, there were 78 investments in Norwegian tech companies totaling $100 million, according to Oslo's State of the City report. About 15 percent of those investments were focused on sustainability--the highest percentage among the Nordic countries.
These include startups like Airtight, which aims to reduce air leakage from buildings, thus lowering energy consumption, or Sunbell, which produces solar lamps and battery chargers for the 1 billion world citizens without access to electricity.
Thanks to a supportive (and loaded) government, talent, community, and a focus on saving the earth, Norway is shaping up to be a great place to start a new business in 2018. If you're looking for new inspiration or want to make an investment in a promising new venture, maybe it's time to schedule a quick trip to Oslo.