I spent last week in Oslo and participated in various events during the Oslo Innovation Week. The week was packed with activities such as talks, seminars, workshops, speed dates, investor events, open houses, hackathons plus various pitching and networking events.
Even a world record was made with drones!
Oslo Innovation Week is a week-long series of over 60 individual events by various stakeholders, built around innovation and entrepreneurship. Photo: Gorm K. Gaare / EUP-BERLIN
As this was only my second visit to Oslo, I had a lot to learn about the local ecosystem. I must say that probably this was the best way and introduction to understand what’s happening in Oslo (and in the whole Norway too). And surely, there is something happening there, as apparently the low oil prices have awaken the Norwegians to cherish the entrepreneurial spirit and startups, which of course is fantastic news for the whole Nordic region. Here’s few bits and pieces on what I saw, heard and felt during my visit. There was so much going on in so many locations so it wasn’t possible to experience everything.
The week kicked of with an opening ceremony at the beautiful National Opera and Ballet. Speakers were ministers, successful entrepreneurs, up and coming entrepreneurs and as the last act we heard songs by a famous Norwegian singer.
Even the Crown Prince Haakon joined in at the opening ceremony and high-fived the MC on his arrival. Photo: Gorm K. Gaare / EUP-BERLIN
At the ceremony, Norwegian government announced their new Grunderplanen for fostering entrepreneurship and putting more money into supporting the growth of innovation ecosystem. It was only a couple of hours later that I realized that all the speakers had been women.
One of the top co-working spaces of Oslo, MESH, had perfectly timed their new and refurbished facilities opening to match with the opening of the Innovation Week. MESH is a combination of a big backyard cafe and bar area, different sized event spaces, meeting spaces and work spaces with flavours of local contemporary art “borrowed” from the next door gallery.
Photo: Alex Asensi / MESH
There was very good atmosphere and the internet was always working well, definitely worth a short or a longer visit – and if you spend more time in Oslo, sign up for one of their memberships.
Community membership is free, and they have a special deal to get a free trial of Work Lounge membership for the rest of 2015. To enjoy the benefit of the free trial worth a lot of NOKs, fill out this form and put my name in as a referral. Don’t worry, I won’t earn a krone on your membership even if you extend.
New York State Of Mind
One of the main guests of the week, angel investor and a former New York Venture Capitalist, Jeanne Sullivan, in one of her talks compared Norway’s tech and startup scene to New York about 15 years ago. There wasn’t barely any tech scene back then in NYC, but now tech is booming in the Big Apple.
The big startup news from Norway have been on a low tone so far, especially as the focus and success stories have been in a very specific areas like the energy, maritime and fishing industry. As the always energetic Innovation Norway CEO Anita Krohn Traaseth put it: “The North Sea is the biggest incubator in Norway.”
Spending the week asking around and listening, it became very clear that three startup company names rose above the others in repeat, getting appraisal and prizes from the left and right. If you were to bet on which will be the first Norwegian unicorn, these would be the startups Norwegians would bet on today. Two first ones are more familiar to us, but the third one is a whole new acquaintance.
The game-based learning platform giant (I think with their numbers it is okay to call them a giant already) amassing insane numbers in downloads and active users, and the growth does not show any sign of stopping. As every time you have memorized their numbers and next week you start talking about them, the numbers are obsolete already. As they are in a process of closing an investment round soon, we can imagine the line of VC’s packing up behind the door, each with a bigger bag of cash ready to fuel the growth. We’ll have a deeper conversation with their very busy CEO Johan Brand soon, to hear the latest news so stay tuned for some more Kahoot!.
The eCommerce wizards who connect the offline to online shopping with their beacon technology, boasting with “The World’s Largest Network of Proximity Solution Providers Powering Over 100,000 Beacons Globally” Based on precise physical location, beacons and proximity technology like NFC, WiFi, QR-codes, are quickly becoming the preferred way for brands and retailers to engage with their customers in-store. Unacast offers the PROX Network to the worlds leading proximity solution providers to collect, segment and serve customer insight by understanding consumers’ collective offline and online behavior anonymously, in real-time. This gives brands and retailers for the first time the possibility to retarget their offline visitors online.
Founded back in 2007 and surfing off the news radar for years, Gelato Group received the Oslo Innovation Award 2015, for the innovative way it has restructured and increased productivity in the distribution of print jobs globally. I sat down with the Founder and CEO Henrik Müller-Hansen and you can learn a lot more about Gelato in the coming up interview article.
Getting a tour at StartupLab, which is located at the ground floor of Oslo Science Park, and meeting some of the resident companies really helped me to understand the situation as during my days in Oslo I asked around about their competition.
Whereas StartupLab – who also runs the Founders Fund, an angel fund set up by successful entrepreneurs and investors – is the place to be and clearly the leading tech incubator in town, unfortunately it is still the only real one of it’s kind. Good news is that the rumor on the streets of Oslo is that something is cooking and hopefully, in early 2016 we could hear news about another incubator being born in town.
I also bumped into couple of interesting startup companies: Kubicam who soon will offer you a better webcam experience, Domos Labs who are “fixing your internet”, VIO Media wants you to read more magazines, and The Next Billion helps female-led enterprises to raise starting capital.
100 Pitches session at Oslo Innovation Week Pho
to: Gorm K. Gaare / EUP-BERLIN
Being still fairly nascent compared to the neighboring countries, it is easy to see that the Norwegian early stage investment landscape needs propulsion on multiple levels to catch up with the more established Swedish and Finnish environment where the foreign capital flow is steady and on a highest ever level due to prominent success stories.
Government dishing out grants to basically anyone brave enough to try to become a startup entrepreneur, combined with a few unorganized business angel groups, definitely does not make Norway a hot spot for an influx of foreign investments today. But how about tomorrow? That’s a completely different thing. As Neil Murray pointed out in his article earlier this year, the total amount of Venture Capital flowing to the Nordics is in the rise, and surely Norway will be one of the hotbeds too in the receiving end. Clear example is that one of the world’s most prominent accelerators and early-stage investors, 500 Startups, decided to set up their Nordic HQ in Oslo, and Sean Percival tweeted that he is finalizing investments into three Norwegian startups. 500 Startups opening the game, a lot more VC eyeballs will be looking towards the country.
Feeling the actual buzz and the entrepreneurial spirit on the rise in Oslo was great. And much better than that, was the very clear openness and willingness to cooperate with the other Nordic and Baltic countries, to join forces and conquer the world together – Viking style! So I bet we’ll be hearing a lot more exciting news from Norway in the near future, and if you don’t have any business or partners in Norway today, now is the time to start looking.
Photo: Gorm K. Gaare / EUP-BERLIN
Ps. At the Cutting Edge Festival there was a guy from a Japanese University who had built a robot that looked exactly like him. See him chatting with the robot version of himself here.
Disclosure: Thanks for Oslo Business Region for supporting my travel to Oslo without any obligations for me to write. I’m excited of all new connections I made during Oslo Innovation Week.