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Oslo’s MESH is the undisputed pin-up for Norwegian co-working, but this past year has seen a flurry of activity elsewhere in the country. Each new space takes inspiration from the success of MESH and combines that with what’s needed in the local community. Arctic Startup takes a whistle-stop tour around Norway to bring you bang up to date.

Hardware hacking over coffee in Trondheim

Up in Trondheim, Digs has gone from strength to strength since its opening in autumn of 2013 (here’s a video tour in Norwegian!)

So well in fact, that they’re about to expand the 60-member co-working space into a ground-floor cafe and event space, and a basement makerspace for Trondheim’s emerging maker movement.

Digs was originally designed to stem a major “brain drain” in Trondheim. where each year thousands of talented graduates from Norway’s main technical university move away, taking their skills with them. Digs provides a place for those talents to flourish and remain in Trondheim. The expansion takes things a step further, aiming to connect the new group of entrepreneurs and innovators with the general public. Co-founder Arnstein Johannes Syltern explains:

“The makerspace will give anyone who wants it access to tools and gear, and a meeting place for makers. We think if you give people a place to meet then things will happen. The cafe is intended to be a public meeting ground for people interested in innovation. We’re already hosting events such as TEDx, IxDA, and other tech and hardware meetups. This new facility will enable us to do much more.”

Finding your flow in Tromsø

The trend for four-letter co-working names continues high up in Arctic Norway thanks to Flow.

Tromsø may be small, but it’s long punched above its weight in cultural circles, with a busy calendar of events all year round. It’s much the same in the technology world, with the newly-renamed Arctic University of Norway at the centre of a hi-tech environment including a Microsoft Development Center and a biotech cluster. The university runs a Business Creation and Entrepreneurship masters degree that seems designed, at least in part, to help them commercialise their research.

Much like Trondheim, there was a gap between the university, private sector, and budding entrepreneurs, something that co-founder Kim Daniel Arthur wants to address:

“We were inspired by Digs and Mesh, how they both provide a more informal place for startups to meet and work, with all services included. Beyond some specific incubators there was nothing available in Tromsø with a low barrier to entry. We have been open for 3 months we already host over 20 people across 17 businesses. Because Tromsø is small we have to provide a broad offering. The biggest proportion of our membership is in creative tech, but there’s even an artist who paints in the corner!”

Arthur cut his entrepreneurial teeth as co-founder of Playfish, a Tromsø-based social gaming company bought by Electronic Arts for $400m five years ago. The gaming spirit is still alive and well in the town, with four companies specialising in games and initiatives such as a Design Thinking lab at the University opening up.

Could Tromsø be the new Oulu? Watch this space.

An alternative to oil in Stavanger

A mere three-hour flight away from Tromsø, Stavanger’s Mess & Order opens this week with a waiting list of 20 members raring to go. Much like Flow, the owners are keeping things broad to begin with, as co-founder Osman Amith explains:

“At launch, we will aim at entrepreneurs within innovative and creative fields. Our founder members include IT developers, graphic designers, photographers, architects, sales & marketing people that target startups, and a gaming crew that tests and blog about games.”

Mess & Order has captured the imagination of the local media, chiefly because not many organisations are in place to support people and businesses outside of the city’s oil & gas based economy. As first movers they are well placed to make their mark in Stavanger.

Whether talented entrepreneurs choose their own path instead of the moneybags on offer from the black gold remains to be seen, but places like Mess & Order are a necessary step in getting there.

It’s generally accepted Norway lags behind the rest of the Nordics when it comes to entrepreneurship. With developments like these, the right building blocks are finally being put in place.

David Nikel is a freelance journalist living in Trondheim. He writes about Norwegian startups and entrepreneurship and helps Norwegian companies market themselves in English.

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