Two years ago, serial entrepreneur Morten Krarup Kristensen was living alone in a cramped apartment while he was working for Startupbootcamp. After having just broken up with his girlfriend, he decided to air his grievances with his friend Marius Klausen over several bottles of wine.

"I was sick and tired of living alone," Kristensen recalls. That was the night he and Klausen came up with the idea to start Nest, a co-living space designed specifically for entrepreneurs at various stages of growing their companies.

"The whole founding experience can be lonely," he said. The goal was to create a space where CEOs, in times of stress, could find solace--and potentially  success--through interacting with their own roommates.

Today, Nest has 21 resident entrepreneurs who live in four connected apartment suites. Each suite contains a different theme, depending on the personality and skill set of its residents. One space has a built-in golf course, designed by the more artistically inclined. Another, called "The CEO Room," hosts those in their late twenties, who are less creative, generally speaking, but resourceful enough to craft a chandelier out of empty wine bottles. (This was Kristensen's domain, before he moved out last year.)

Located in a former municipal office building, and situated at the heart of Copenhagen, it's not uncommon to see a founder gliding through the halls on a pair of roller-blades. Nest organizes weekly group dinners, as well as activities like swimming or bike-riding.

The Nest model 

Certainly, living spaces that double as a co-working sites for entrepreneurs exist stateside. Examples include Krash, in Boston, Mass., or 20 Mission in San Francisco, Calif. What sets Copenhagen's Nest apart is the fact that it doesn't bill itself as a "co-working" space at all. (That, and the fact that business owners are never made to do their own dishes; they hire a dishwasher.)

Still, Kristensen says that founders do work at Nest, just not in the traditional sense of the word. They work by cooking dinner, making key connections, getting access to shared investors, and even recognizing major business mistakes before they make them.

Take Daniel Jensen, founder and CEO of SIE-Hunting.com, an e-commerce website that retails hunting equipment from more than 500 brands. Once, while in talks with a new distributor, Jensen learned from a fellow Nester that they  were able to get a much cheaper price from the same company. Thus, Jensen saved his startup a considerable amount of money, by negotiating down. 

Another successful Nest company is Drivr HQ, a ride-hailing startup. It partners with a select group of high-end taxi companies (the ones that Uber displaces). The startup launched officially in the U.K. earlier this year, and has raised a total of $9 million in funding capital. Drivr's co-founder, Nikolaj Køster, says he hopes to expand into the U.S. market in 2016.

At 38, Køster is easily the oldest person living in Nest. He says that he sometimes feels the age discrepancy.

"I'm in my good Nest phase right now, but I've been in less great Nest phases,"  he admits. Sometimes, living with that many people gets "simply overwhelming." 

The difficulties of starting a co-living hub

Kristensen and his five co-founders faced considerable challenges in getting Nest up and running.

For one thing, real estate in Copenhagen is not especially cheap, so finding an affordable living space in the city center was difficult. With industrial lighting and wires hanging from the ceilings, one resident admits that it wasn't the "ideal" building fot Nest.

Even today, most Nesters own companies that are already seeing steady revenues, or have side jobs, since the average rent is 6,000 krone per month ($870 USD).  

Kristensen adds that once Nesters got past the "romantic" aspects of living together, it became difficult to organize the mundane tasks, like cleaning, or fixing anything that broke (the washing machine, e.g.).

In not so glib terms: "Moving 21 people into a space in two days was fucking insane," he recalls.

The Danish startup ecosystem

Across this tiny Nordic country, entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Consider that Denmark was originally home to success stories well-known in the U.S., including the cloud software company Zendesk, which went public in May of last year, raising $100 million at a peak market cap of $910 million. Just Eat is another notable company, which went public in April of 2014 at a staggering $2.4 billion valuation.

Copenhagen is becoming a more attractive startup scene, thanks to successful Danish founders who invest back into the companies of their hometown.

Historically, Denmark has had a more risk-averse culture than the U.S.--thanks in part to an attitude referred to as "the law of Jante," which de-emphasizes individual success in favor of the collective. That's now beginning to change.

One resource for entrepreneurs, called #CPHFTW (Copenhagen for the Win), is a grassroots organization that arranges quarterly town hall meet-ups, networking events, pitch contests, and access to local investors. The aim, says general manager, Christoffer Malling, is to strengthen the startup community, and inject it with some Danish pride.

"In the last two years this scene is just booming," Malling says. "Students are seeing this as an attractive place to shoot for the moon."

He adds that a growing number of co-working spaces, Nest included, now exist on the ground across Denmark, which help to foster innovation.

Kristensen, for his part, has now left the Nest co-living space -- this time, to live with a girlfriend he met through the roommate screening process.

He echoes the importance of the (perhaps, singularly) Danish feel of the space:
"In Nest, people do what is thought of as work-life balance, but they do it with people they would like to get to know for business purposes," he says. "It doesn't feel like you're working, but you are." 

Published on: Dec 27, 2015