Think about Skype, Spotify, Supercell, Klarna, MySQL, TAT, Unity, Mojang, Zendesk, Just Eat, King… the list of massive tech powerhouses coming from the Nordics goes on and on. Despite the Nordics housing five to ten million people per country and only 2% of global GDP, we’re killing it when it comes to tech acquisitions.
Since 2005, 9% percent of global Billion dollar exits have come from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. It’s remarkably strong number considering rest of Europe accounts for 8% of the world’s Billion dollar exits despite having the remaining 97% of Europe’s population.
These numbers come from a report (see the full presentation here) issued today by Swedish Venture Capital firm Creandum, who hopes to draw more attention to the Nordics. “We really want to understand the market we operate in,” says Daniel Blomquist, partner at Creandum. “We’re doing this for our own sake, but we’re also trying to put the Nordics on the map. Maybe we’re too humble about promoting ourselves.”
The region has plenty of reason to boast, however. With only 3% of Europe’s population, the Nordics have taken on 11% of Europe’s VC investment and turned that into $3.9 Billion yearly in exit value over the last ten years.
This total exit value is carried by a few big players – roughly 7% of these M&As and IPOs represent 80% of total exit value. But talking about Unicorns, on average we’ve seen one exit over $1 billion form in the Nordics over the last 10 years with the rate increasing; the last five years saw two times the number of Billion dollar exits compared to the five before.
For exits above $100 million, it seems that the Nordics stronger than average at getting above the $1 Billion mark – just think about Mojang, Supercell, Skype, and King.
Breaking down the region
Digging into Creandum’s numbers, Sweden is the powerhouse accounting for over half of all exits and over half of the total value of exits. Between 2000 and 2014 Sweden saw 263 exits valued at $23.7 billion, while Norway, Denmark, and Finland counted 224 exits in total during the same period.
Why is Sweden so much stronger? Blomquist first points out that Sweden is larger market than the rest of the Nordic countries, which might make more strategic sense for headquarters. “But I think most importantly I feel there is a richer ecosystem. It’s bigger and it’s wider, Stockholm has pull from telecom to finance to advertising.”
Stockholm also arguably has a longer history in internet startups than the rest of the region, according to Blomquist, who points to more initiatives and deregulation in the 90s that entrepreneurs were able to jump on. “It didn’t all play out, but it formed some more experienced angels,” he says.
Many of these entrepreneurs are still in the game in Stockholm’s more mature startups. King’s founders, for instance, came from Spray, a Swedish web portal that didn’t make it to IPO before the bubble burst. One of Spotify’s founders, Martin Lorentzon, previously founded Tradedoubler back in 1997. Stockholm might be in its third or fourth generation of startups, while the rest of the region might be only in it’s second. The result is more experienced founders with bigger ambition.
Are all of these exits a good thing?
Certainly exits are a good for both Founders and VCs, and on an ecosystem level more exits mean more experienced founders and cashed up VC’s to build bigger and better companies. But the vast majority of Nordic exits are done through M&A, with 47% of these acquisitions going to the United States, and only 34% staying in the Nordics.
What seems to be missing up north is a tech player like Facebook or a Google that is still founder run, has a startup mindset, and has enough cash to acquire local innovation, or – for a change – startups from the United States. Sweden is driving the Nordics in terms of exits, but their established tech acquirers look like Ericsson, a 139 year old company that would never pick up a wildcard acquisition, like Facebook acquiring Oculus Rift.
Blomquist points out that this might be changing with this next wave of startups reaching maturity. “There have been no ten year old super startups until now – King IPOed in US, but is still active in Europe, Spotify hopefully, Klarna hopefully. Maybe some of these can stay independent and become ‘aircraft hangers’ that can support the region from an exit point of view.”