Until just a few years ago, Norway’s startup scene was very small and largely unknown. As of 2021, that landscape has drastically changed with both Norwegian and foreign entrepreneurs and investors discovering the opportunities and excitement of the Norwegian startup landscape. Read on for some of the best sources to understand the Norwegian startup scene.
Why you should pay attention to Norwegian startups
There are several explanations for why Norway’s startup landscape was lacking behind those of other European and Nordic countries. Ironically enough, one factor that is often mentioned as a reason is actually Norway’s enormous wealth in the form of oil and gas resources. This industry attracted basically all the funding, the government’s attention and the brightest minds. In short: the country has been late to the startup party because there was no real need to innovate in other areas than oil and gas exploration, but over the last few years Norway has definitely been gaining ground.
There are quite a few reasons why Norway is specifically suited to become a new startup hotspot. To give you a few examples:
- Female participation in the work force in Norway is exceptionally high, which is also reflexted in the amount of women on startup teams.
- Norwegian universities and businesses are excelling at developing engineers for the oil and shipping industry. This experience can be put to use in the world of tech and startups and move Norway towards a bright future.
- Norway’s push for a greener economy is larger than almost anywhere.
If you are interested how a venture capital firm that is betting big on Norway thinks about this, I would recommend you to read this excellent article. Find some other reasons why Norway’s venture capital market has momentum in this article.
The start-up scene that is changing Norway
You can have all the government incentives and access to capital in place, to many entrepreneurs it is a certain working culture and energy that is crucial to a startup hub’s success. Norway’s culture is seen as extremely relaxed. On top of that, Norway’s strict labour laws mean most offices in the capital Oslo are empty after 16:00. An increasing amount of entrepreneurs are living a somewhat different life. A lot of this movement has been triggered by just a few organizations, facilitating this relatively new entrepreneurship each in their own way. Mesh is the most well-known one: a co-working space that stimulated collaboration. They are currently running several shared office spaces in Oslo and Trondheim. In addition to that, there are several incubator-like startup investment programmes such as StartupNorway and StartupLab.
How to get your startup funded in Norway
From a small investment from”Friends, Fools and Family” (FFF) to an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Oslo stock exchange, there are all sorts of ways to finance your startup in Norway.
There is no right and wrong when it comes to startup funding, but there are a few classic routes from seed funding to an exit. This excellent video takes you through the various funding stages.
A more extensive explanation of the various funding stage can be read here.
Government initiatives for startups in Norway
Norway has a long tradition of private-public collaboration on business initiatives. The government has a stake in some of the largest private enterprises such as in the oil giant Equinor (+/- 70% stake), the largest bank DNB (+/- 34%) and the largest telecom company Telenor (+/- 54%).
The government does not only take stakes in large corporations but invests in small business and startups all around the country through difference funds and organizations. The organization that every Norwegian will think about when thinking about stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship is Innovasjon Norge. This organization helps startups and established organizations solving practical issues and, more importantly, funding through investment, loans and grants.
Podcasts on Nordic Startups
With an increasing amount of startup activity, so has there been an increase of media, articles, videos and not in the last place podcasts on Nordic entrepreneurship. Most of it is Norwegian, Swedish or Danish, but there are a few good English spoken ones out there.
Nordea Bank’s Get Savvy podcast specifically focuses on Nordic startups. The hosts and guests go through some of the basis concepts of startups entrepreneurship from a Nordic angle.
An absolute recommendation on Norwegian entrepreneurship in particular is Silvija Seres’ podcast De som bygger det nye Norge (those who build the new Norway). This podcasts consist of interviews with all sorts of Norwegian, Nordic and international business leaders and entrepreneurs. The emphasis is often on technology and digital transformation. One of the few English-spoken episodes is the very interesting one below on so-called Post-Lean thinking.
One of the most well-known immigrant entrepreneurs is Maria Amelie. She single-handedly launched a huge debate on the assylum process in Norway and has had serious impact on bringing some change. She wrote a book immigration and startups and built a business around it.
Even if you are not a migrant, her book and this podcast are interesting for anyone wanting to start up in a new country and face the challenges that come with that.
The main news source for Norwegian entrepreneurship is the online newspaper Shifter. They also offer an excellent podcast-series (most of it in Norwegian).
Not just software, also hardware
Most European startups seem to excel in creating all sorts of software solutions that make life of consumers and businesses a little bit easier on existing Apple or Android hardware devices.
Less known are a few new high-end hardware products. Norway has a remarkably large number of these hardware-startups. The covid pandemic has accelerated working from home which makes these businesses thrive even more. Talking about remarkable, the Oslo-based reMarkable is creating a one-of-a-kind digital notebook that really does feel you are writing on paper.
Another high-end product hardware producer is Huddly This company has its base in Oslo and provides AI-powered video conferencing cameras. One of their tools is a camera which displays a whiteboard image in real-time. It removes gloss and shadows, boosts marker colors, and hides people from the image. In this way, every participant can follow what is on the board from anywhere on the globe.
Startup Events in Norway
Without a doubt one of the coolest startup events in Europe is Startup Extreme. Organized by Startup Norway, it combines extreme sports with networking events, investor meetups and much more.
Another must-see is Oslo Innovation Week. The set up is festival-like with events scattered all over Oslo. Much of the emphasis is usually on green energy, climate and health technology. Many of the main events, such as the startup pitches, are free of charge. Some other more specific workshops and talks require a ticket.
For more events on business and startups in Norway, check out this Eventbrite page.
FAQ for starting up companies in Norway
What support is available to start-up companies in Norway? For example from a financial perspective are there grants or Government loans available? Are there commercial loans ( i.e. from banks etc.) available with preferential ( ie lower) interest rates, or interest holidays.
There are several government loans and subsidies available. The most well-known are those from Innovation Norway, more info here.
What about other business support services available? For example, are there agencies or companies that will help you develop a business plan and then support us as the business starts up.
This is also mainly Innovation Norway. For most bank loans you will mainly need a sound financial plan and preferably a bit of track record. Again, Innovation Norway can be a great help here. I would recommend you to plan a call with them as well. More info here.
Are there business development zones where rents and utilities are cheaper or subsidized to help new businesses get off the ground.
Generally, rents and utilities in Oslo (and around the other main cities) are relatively expensive. The main website for leasing commercial property is Finn.
What about free or discounted accounting and legal advice?
There is a monthly subscription service (around NOK1000 per month) that provides an excellent fully digital law firm where you can send in an unlimited amount of questions and get help with all things legal. I am happy to refer you there. If you have questions about doing business in Norway and legal aspects of that, I will be able to help you also. We have a network of excellent and affordable legal, accounting and tax professionals who can help you.
Further reading on the Norwegian startup scene:
Newsletter on Norwegian tech startups
One of the founders of Startuplab has an excellent newsletter covering the most important news from the startup world in Norway.
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