The growing Norwegian startup community

IMG_1020I’ll be honest…Norway along with the other countries in Scandinavia weren’t at the top of my list for places to visit. The thought of cold and snow pretty much removed them from my list before they ever had a chance to be considered. This isn’t some flippant statement, as I sit here imagining the sun baking into my skin, while I endure another cold rainy Seattle summer day.

Then the invite to come speak to Investors and Entrepreneurs landed in my inbox. An introduction through a fellow investor and community builder, a brief bit of research into the region, and I couldn’t resist. Scandinavia has an amazing track record of out-sized returns per invested dollar…not too different than the Northwestern US. Norway loves to fish and consume Salmon….not too different than Washington. Oslo and Bergen have a thriving entrepreneurial spirit that is breaking out with the help of supportive policy and ambitious investors….not too different that what I’ve witnessed here in Seattle on more than one up-cycle.

My opportunity to keynote the Oslo Angel Challenge was a thrill and working with the team in Oslo we put together a number of side meetings with entrepreneurs and investors to talk about the insights I’ve learned working with the best angels in the world and the challenges they have as a growing startup community. The exchange was eye opening. The entrepreneurs carried several unique traits that were inspiring.

  • Entrepreneurs focused on winning Scandinavia first – if you can beat a competing startup in Switzerland or Estonia, how can you conquer Europe?
  • First Scandinavia, second Germany and Europe – This one, two punch is viewed as a recipe for success.
  • A focus on solving practical problems with a heavy dose of risk management – too many entrepreneurs forget these things in the US.

Investors were no different, being similar to other resource rich nations, investors in Norway often come from a background of steadily growing their bank accounts through the thriving oil extraction industry. With the recent drop in oil prices and the shift in our society where a true move away from burning so many of these resources in favor of more renewable sources, the Norwegian investors see a shift in the tide and are looking for ways to leverage their cash to fuel economic growth…and their bank accounts along with it.

Although this mindset is common and here in the US the changing landscape of angel investing regulation is chauffeuring in an opportunity for US investors to think differently about investing in innovation, the transition is not an easy one. Investors, rightly, have many concerns.

  • How should I think about startup investing – ‘philanthropy’, ‘long-term asset’, ‘high-risk asset’, ‘economic driver – rising tide’?
  • How should I plan my investing allocation – ‘is 10% of net worth too little… or too much’, ‘invest all at once or slowly’, ‘early-exit or IPO’
  • How should I find and analyze investments – ‘as a group or individually’, ’10min with the entrepreneur or 40hours’

You get the idea, these are all problems that are universal and are all problems that I worked with the investors in Norway to understand. Many of the top investors in Norway agreed they saw these issues as difficult to overcome for their peers and for the investors who went through the Angel Challenge program, these were questions that had clearer answers after the cohort was completed. Looking at the funding track record in Norway countries, the investment is getting drastically bigger quarter over quarter.

These challenges are universal though and shortly after my trip to Norway, I traveled to both Boulder Colorado and Calgary Alberta and met investors who were struggling with these same issues. My thoughts immediately went to the lessons I’ve learned working with investors and the value of hands on learning for investors. The Angel Challenge program, like the Seattle Angel Conference, and Angel Oregon programs offer this ‘Startup Weekend – like’ learning experience. 54 hours hands on with entrepreneurs and experienced investors to make your first investment…to see if you feel comfortable as an investor. To shine a light on answers to all of those questions that investors have of themselves as they explore the opportunity to invest in innovation in their community.

Needless to say, I was incredibly impressed by the startups, the investors, and of course the people of Norway. It didn’t hurt that it was 75 degrees F the entire time I was there in May nor did it hurt that every menu was designed exclusively for me with prominent placements of smoked salmon and shrimp.

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