What makes a startup scene? With a scandinavian collectivism mindset, a long list of the startup names in Copenhagen have officially brought themselves together under a new foundation, CPHFTW, for better organization and promotion of the startup scene. After three townhall meetings to work on an agenda, a large percentage of the movers and shakers are building something like their own regional development agency to bring the community together after announcing today they’ve raised €119,000 from 83 founding startups.
Jasenko Hadzic, the elected managing director behind CPHFTW writes on their blog:
“The grass root initiative, #CPHFTW, that initially started off as a hashtag under which Copenhagen startups would let its presence be known, has now taken a serious step in its efforts to unite the startup community in Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark. For the first time ever (probably also in the history of entrepreneurship – dare to call that), has a grass root initiative managed to raise this many funds from the startup community, without involvement from the government, business angels, institutional investors or big corporations,”
But what’s the goal?
CPHFTW seems tasked with the mushy goal of “making Copenhagen the best startup city in Europe,” which is a fairly tough and unclear metric but they’ve already put in place a few concrete steps to get there.
First, like #sthlmtech they’ve rallied the community behind the #cphftw hashtag, which hopes to give entrepreneurs and observers a decentralized communication source. Building off of that they’ve created a nice website – CPHFTW.dk to provide more visibility to events, local startups, and lead visitors to news about the region. Additionally they’ve hired Jasenko Hadzic, organizer of last year’s creatively named Nordic Startup Conference, to drive the boat behind the whole project and be a key point of contact.
With a mantra of “things aren’t happening, we need to make things happen”, and “put Copenhagen on the map” these are soft goals – but the connections, events, and critical mass that build up a startup scene are equally difficult to pin down.
A system or an ecosystem?
Compared to long and organic evolution of Silicon Valley, the critical mass behind the major startup scenes in the Nordics all got kicked off through grassroots or astroturfed movements.
The narrative of the Helsinki startup scene – probably the first noisy community organized up north – is what The Economist called a student revolution. Aalto Entrepreneurship Society was successful in creating accessible events and pumping student energy into the scene, giving entrepreneurs and the general public easy access into likeminded people. A split-off from AaltoES is today the Startup Foundation – a €1 million+ fund raised by largely public money as well as local entrepreneurs and investors to pump cash into the largest startup event in the Nordics – Slush, as well as a fairly solid accelerator, Startup Sauna, which aims to share knowledge downward from the region’s experienced entrepreneurs.
Stockholm’s story is slightly more astroturfed rather than true grassroots, but has been very successful in bringing people together nonetheless. With the hire of startup scene consultant Tyler Crowley by Stockholm Business Region, the Los Angeles entrepreneur has been successful in applying his formula to Sweden’s capital – prioritizing the hashtag, organizing monthly events, and so on. What was once a fragmented startup scene is now somewhat under one roof.
But with any great changes in a community it can seem like you’re either in or out, which is an issue CPHFTW and its board needs to be very transparent about in order to be successful. Buzz that #CPHFTW is coming across as elitist have already surfaced, as seen in this tweet:
— Lars Ettrup (@lars) August 11, 2014
With so many stakeholders in place, and such a mushy goal, CPHFTW risks leaving the community slightly dissatisfied, distracting from bringing people together and creating great companies, but it’s clear that the community felt like something needed to be done in order to raise €119,000.
For the win?
In the past we’ve seen the power when the Copenhagen startup scene comes together, but only to rally against something. The starkest example is the WeStart.dk campaign that rallied the community against the “entrepreneur tax” that could levy a 67% tax on an exit, scaring off business angels and entrepreneurs. With now that misguided policy out of the way, it’s good to see that they’re rallying together for something positive.
Copenhagen gets plenty of press for being a great place to live but the city is often left off the list for the “Top startups in Europe” by publications like Wired. My theory behind the reason is that their local startups aren’t sexy – while it’s easy to write about gaming in Helsinki, e-commerce and streaming in Stockholm, or trendy social apps in Berlin, Copenhagen’s curse is that it’s building successful B2B companies like Podio (sold to Citrix) or Zendesk or Trustpilot that aren’t as fun to list off.
From the media side it’s too easy for me to equate hype with success, but my wish to CPHFTW is that they put a big emphasis on knowledge sharing to help build more successes. For instance, Stockholm was long on those lists and was building dynamic companies like Spotify, King, and Klarna long before Crowley came to town.
All of this energy and hype builds should help generate bubbly energy behind Copenhagen but at the end of the day a real startup scene is built by successful startups that can attract talent in from around the world and spit out experienced entrepreneurs that will tackle bigger and better problems the next time around. What’s your take on CPHFTW?