Keep Your Eye On Norway – A Startup Scene Is MESHing Together

    This past week we had the opportunity to participate in MESH’s 1 year anniversary, and finally check out co-working space that’s bringing together the community necessary for an entrepreneurial ecosystem and making some noise about it.

    A startup ecosystem is sorely needed in Norway. There are some cool startups popping up there, but despite having the same population as Helsinki and a major tech companies like Opera located in Oslo, you really don’t hear of many startups outside the oil and gas industry.

    But MESH is making a movement happen by being a grassroots space ‘by and for’ entrepreneurs. Their 2500 m2 building located right in Oslo’s city center offers around 50 desks and 9 offices. On top of that they have an entrepreneur-geared cafe, a new bar (which divides into three meeting spaces during the day), and a nightclub with a retractable roof, which doubles as an event space for 400 people. It’s… a nice place.

    And the space is growing in cool areas. On top of constructing a bigger community space, they’re adding a sound studio for artists that need equipment, and right now they’re putting together a Maker Space with 3D printers and hardware tools for hackers and artists to come up with new inventions.

    To put it plainly, it’s and awesome home-base for people the do stuff. The energy in the air is palpable, and there couldn’t be a nicer group of people you could surround yourself with.

    “The point tyring to make the physical space is that we’re not trying to be just co-working or an incubator or venture cafe, but a space that can be the center for many different types of innovators. We see the building with makers, co-workers, VCs and the establsihed part of the entrepreneurship community and all connected,” says Anders Mjåset, who founded MESH with Audun Ueland.

    They don’t consider MESH to be just a building, but an ‘innovation platform’. After they finish everything they’ve started with the building, they will soon be adding MESH Online, MESH Resources and other projects we’ll be hearing more about soon.

    Meshed together
    Looking at the nearly completed space, It’s amazing they were even able to find such a place. MESH started off as top floor office space above nightclub, which wasn’t in use because most offices don’t want to be above a nightclub. But to the co-working space it was only added value, as MESH could take advantage the huge space and stage for meetups and small conferences on off-nights.

    And luckily the building owner, Ole Petter Gilbo, is on the same page. He’s run a few startup companies himself, so he understands well what MESH is bringing to Oslo. But they’ve had a funny relationship. MESH had discussed opening a cafe but before everything was decided when Gilbo was on vacation in Spain, MESH cleaned out a ground-level storage area and opened a pop-up coffee shop without any real machines. When the owner got back, you could imagine the “what the hell, guys” reaction, but seeing people coming in and out of a new cafe solidified the decision.

    Today MESH and the building owner are 50/50 owners, meaning MESH has a bit more flexibility in how they can experiment with the building, given that they’re on the same page.

    Establishing themselves
    Norway’s establishment is also starting to notice. The Royal Crown Couple graciously invited us into their home for talks, and Oslo’s mayor welcomed us into Oslo City Hall – the site of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony – for drinks and networking.

    They have reason to support a new wave of companies and innovation in Norway – the talk of the town is that oil money has become a gift and a curse. We’ve asked around what a “decent” salary to accept in the oil industry would be, and we heard numbers like €100,000 yearly. If you can get out of college and see that much money put in front of you, the opportunity cost equation becomes more difficult.

    There are a number of engineering startups that are innovating in the oil industry, but there’s reason to avoid becoming a one-industry town. Today MESH hosts companies such as Douchebags – technologically advanced sports bags, Sølv – a Norwegian clothing label, Printify – Instagram printing, 23 Video, and the BetaFACTORY incubator.

    Today there aren’t a ton of the web growth companies we’re interested in, but they’re coming together. Two weeks ago we covered Xeneta’s €1.2 million investment led by Creandum, which could be a sign of things to come.

    And I imagine programmers are starting to evaluate lifestyle choices afforded by entrepreneurship as well. Sure, you could make a ton of money cranking out code for the oil industry, but MESH is putting the face on working for yourself.

    Perhaps the funniest thing about Mesh is being able to look into the cubicle offices across the street, and see the workers line up like tombstones against the windows whenever something big was going on. It would be like living in an apartment next to a great party.

    Lasting changes
    What will be MESH’s greatest legacy is how they’re changing the structure of the Norwegian entrepreneurial scene. Organizations like Innovation Norway do meaningful work, but you can’t force a startup scene to happen from a top-down perspective, and government organizations will never be able to keep up with the energy level of a startup community.

    Mjåset considers this their impact so far. “I think we’ve been noticed by everybody that does anything related to innovation in Norway, and that we’re challenging the set structure. And so far, the direct effect we’ve had hasn’t been so existential. But the challenge we’ve imposed on the infrastructre has been big.”

    Photos thanks to Alex Assensi