At byFounders we invest in seed stage companies across the Nordics and Baltics. Deliberately spending time on the ground across all the countries in which we invest, the byFounders team have the honor of meeting so many great founders, investors and ecosystem players all contributing to the success of Nordic and Baltic entrepreneurship. Recently, we’ve been seeing interesting signs of something brewing in one country in particular: Norway.

Eric Lagier
Jun 13 · 9 min read

Until recently, the Norwegian startup ecosystem was largely neglected by investors from abroad and especially from overseas. There are many contributing factors to this, including Norway’s long-time, dependable reliance on heavy industries like oil and gas. This has led to Norway transitioning to a more tech- and entrepreneurship-fuelled economy later than countries that have had to be more inventive earlier. Whatever the reasoning, international VCs should beware of overlooking Norway when considering the Nordics.

It’s no secret — we’re betting big on Norway. To us, there are at least five reasons to keep an extra eye on Norwegian startups at the moment. Granted, to the keen observer some of these trends have been underway for a while — but they are indeed picking up pace.

1. The startup ecosystem is maturing

We’ve seen it in Sweden and we’ve seen it in Denmark: When first-time founders are finding their feet as seasoned entrepreneurs giving back to the community as advisors or angel investors, magic starts to happen.

Stockholm has seen an explosion in startup activity, of which a great deal can be traced back to successes such as Spotify and Klarna. In Copenhagen, there are many similar stories about the likes of Tradeshift, Sitecore, Unity, Podio, Peakon and many more — of which founders we are lucky enough to have onboard the byFounders Collective.

From Norway, we have forces such as Johan Brand of Kahoot! and Lasse Andresen of ForgeRock to both boost our Norwegian deal flow and support our portfolio companies. They are but a few examples of the wave of experienced entrepreneurs working tirelessly to support a growing ecosystem by investing time and money in Norwegian founders.

Some highlights from X-Voyage last year, where we were lucky enough to sail from Oslo to Copenhagen with some of the Norwegian startup superstars, like Per-Ivar Nikolaisen, Christine Spiten, Johan Brand, Fredrik Winther and Daniel C. Fossum.

Most notably the likes of Meltwater-founder Jørn Lyseggen, Otovo-founder Andreas Thorsheim, Christine Spiten from Blueye Robotics, Opera-founder Jon von Tetzchner, Villoid-founder Jeanette Dyhre Kvisvik, serial entrepreneur Geir Førre, Karl Munthe-Kaas of Kolonial.no and Nabobil, Anita Schjøll Brede of Iris.ai and Svein Willassen from Confrere and Appear.in have all become household names playing a big part in the growth of Norwegian tech.

The Norwegian tech community is moreover extremely fortunate to have access to high quality and very active angel investors such as Trond Riiber Knudsen and Anne Worsøe, both good friends of byFounders and great sources of intros to awesome companies.

In terms of accelerators, incubators and other startup ecosystem supporters, Norway is already well endowed. Notably, Alexander Woxen, Lauga Oskarsdottir, Rolf Assev, Tor Bækkelund and Kjetil Holmefjord have managed to create what we see as Norway’s most promising unicorn hatching ground, StartupLab. Conveniently located in the Science Park of the University of Oslo, StartupLab’s contribution to the success of companies like Kahoot!, Remarkable, Huddly and No Isolation is indisputable.

Arkwright’s primarily one-man show Arkwright X, expertly run by Esben Poulsen is another important ally for us in Oslo, with high quality startups emerging from all batches of its incubator.

In March we hosted our first VCs for Breakfast event in collaboration with Arkwright X and StartupLab. Guest speakers included Marie Mostad from Inzpire.me (above) and Hans Kjellby from SafetyWing.

Moreover, Fredrik Winther has steered Oslo Business Region to become a strong supporting pillar for Oslo as one unified startup hub. Now moving on to the venture fund 2M2D, we look forward to keep working with Jørn Haanæs and Siw Andersen at OBR as well as welcoming Gaute Hagerup from Innovation Norway to his new role as director this summer.

Fellow VCs, which have previously been few and far between, are now emerging at accelerating speed such as Magne Uppman and Teodor Bjerrang’s Snö, Startup Lab’s impressive Founders Fund, Skyfall Ventures, new entrant Lise Rechsteiner with Propagator VC, Andreas H. F. Olsen and Newmark Capital, in addition to the aforementioned 2M2D. Not to forget veterans such as our friend in Silicon Valley Arne Tonning from Alliance Venture. We look forward to working with all of them in funding and supporting Norwegian tech startups and scaleups.

Tommy Andersen and Eric Lagier at Oslo Business Region's “Meet the Investors” event in Oslo in May

An increasing focus on the “new economy” has furthermore significantly increased the amount of state-backed funding available to startups. Investinor and Argentum are obvious and important players, however for us, Innovation Norway, in particular through its Silicon Valley outpost and its brilliant women Gro Dyrnes and Åse Bailey, has been invaluable to our contact with the strongest Norwegian entrepreneurs.

Finally, in providing coverage and insight to the Norwegian startup scene, there’s no better source than Shifter, itself an entrepreneurial venture founded by Per-Ivar Nikolaisen and Lucas H. Weldeghebriel. We moreover greatly appreciate Matt Smith’s Lunicorn videos, covering not only Norway, but startup ecosystems and its heroes all over Europe, as well as Kjetil Holmefjord’s biweekly newsletters On Norwegian Tech.

2. The brightest minds are moving into tech

Attracting talent is the single most important factor in creating a prospering tech scene, something Silicon Valley has thrived on for years — and still do. But it’s good to see that the Nordics — and Norway — are undergoing a similar development where the region’s brightest minds no longer shy away from startup life.

The team behind our portfolio company SafetyWing: Sondre Rasch, Sarah Sandnes and Hans Kjellby — great examples of how top talent now prefers entrepreneurship over corporate careers

In Norway in particular, the oil industry has historically been the biggest talent attractor and an industry really hard to compete with. We’re therefore excited to be witnessing a shift where some of the most brilliant Norwegian minds now are jumping into a life in tech. We’re excited to meet new, bright people every time we’re in Norway — especially ones brave enough to take the leap from safe corporate life to the volatile but arguably more exciting life in entrepreneurship.

At byFounders, the single most important factor we consider when investing is the team. Early-stage venture capital is a people business and we make our bets on the people behind the idea much rather than on the idea itself.

Having excellent startup initiatives working in close proximity to Norway’s leading universities The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Oslo, eases the commercialization of some of the most innovative tech solutions. Housing what might be Norway’s foremost deep tech powerhouse, NTNU Accel, as well as the famous Entrepreneurship School (‘Entreprenørskolen’), it’s no accident that the founders behind some of Norway’s biggest tech successes, including Disruptive Technologies, Flowmotion, Huddly, MovieMask and ReMarkable, are all NTNU alumni.

With Anders Mjåset, also an NTNU graduate, and his Creator’s Community recently opening the new and outsized innovation platform DIGS, we look forward to seeing even more great Trondheim startups emerging and scaling out of what was once the capital of Norway.

3. Deep industrial expertise shifting towards entrepreneurship and impact

Another contributing factor to why we’re keeping an extra eye on Norwegian startups these days is the fact that Norway has a great track record when it comes to developing world-class engineers and industrial experts, particularly within oil, gas and shipping.

What’s more, the way Norway has governed its oil wealth is both a product of and has influenced the way business is being done in the country. Norway is one of the least corrupt countries in the world and 98% of the energy produced in Norway is renewable, the latter of which has made it possible to instate tax breaks and other incentives leading to Norway becoming the country with the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world. The oil wealth is owned by the entire population and is being invested responsibly around the world, to avoid an inflated economy back home.

We believe that leveraging this legacy of responsibility and long-termism will not only leave Norwegian founders in a great position to spearhead the sustainable disruption of traditional industries but also provide a solid foundation for venturing into new fields where the same skill sets can be utilized.

Workshop at the recent Katapult Future Fest in Oslo where we met a lot of inspirational impact entrepreneurs

Among the ones supporting and capitalizing on this potential is the Katapult conglomerate, with visionaries like Tharald Nustad, Haakon Brunell, Ida Faldbakken, Anders Lier and recently Cilia Indahl at the helm. Investors such as Nysnø and the Lærdal Family are moreover interesting and inspiring players in this field. Last but not least, the Ferd family fund, who were perhaps the first ones to define “impact investing” in Norway.

In this day and age, with impact becoming increasingly prioritized, it’s an interesting time for an emerging ecosystem like Norway’s. The Norwegian ecosystem has the advantage of having impact at the core of its DNA. Indeed, Mimi Billing at Sifted.eu has already pointed out that Oslo’s well on its way to becoming Europe’s greentech capital, and as investors we see a clear tendency that a lot of the best investment cases we see are so-called impact startups.

4. Skilled female founders

Another aspect we find inspiring in Norway is the high ratio of talented and ambitious female founders. In 2017, founder teams with >1 woman received nearly 21% of all VC investments in Norway, while the comparable number for Denmark was as low as 8,5%, the lowest number in the Nordics. For all-female founding teams, the number for Norway is almost 6x that of Denmark — although the numbers overall are low.

We recognize the responsibility we have as a VC and we believe in diversity as one of the keys to a better future. We want to support role models to inspire even more people from all walks of life to become entrepreneurs and take part in shaping it.

Kimberly Larsen on our panel discussion “To VC or not to VC” at SXSW in Austin in March alongside Jonas Gundersen of MapsPeople and Heini Zachariassen of Vivino, with moderator Gro Dyrnes to the left.

Some of the founders we’ve been most awe-struck by recently include Sarah Sandnes from our portfolio company SafetyWing, Marie Mostad of Inzpire.me, Frida Rustøen of Mingl, Kimberly Larsen (TimetoRiot), Christine Spiten (BluEye Robotics), Karen Dolva (No Isolation), Charlotte Aschim (TotalCTRL) and Sigrun Syverud (Fjong).

Important ecosystem players who continuously inspire more women to choose entrepreneurship, tech and investing include Lisa Marie Nyvoll, CEO of StartupExtreme (looking forward to going there very soon!) Heidi Aven, founder and CEO of the SHE Conference where we were happy to speak in March this year, and Silvija Seres, investor, entrepreneur and the woman behind the brilliant podcast De som bygger det nye Norge (“The builders of the new Norway”).

We’re moreover impressed by the momentum and attention we see around unconscious biases at play in business and beyond, a lot of it thanks to the two entrepreneurs Marie Louise Sunde and Isabelle Ringnes. We hope we’ll get their book “Hvem Spanderer” (“Who’s buying”) as an early Christmas present as it addresses topics that are very salient in the world of tech and investments as well.

5. The Unicorn is coming

We’re convinced Norway will soon see its first unicorn. It is just a matter of timing. Things are definitely heating up, as evidenced most recently by SpaceMaker raising $25m from Atomico and Northzone, Tibber raising $12m from Founders Fund, Jørn Lyseggen’s Meltwater taking in $175m earlier this year, or Johan Brand’s Kahoot! acquiring Dragonbox and Poio within one week. Other promising companies we’re excited to follow include Gelato Group, Polight, Dogu and many more.

As Niklas Zennström, an investor in the byFounders Collective, recently said:

“With the current level of accessibility of talent, capital and knowledge, there’s no reason you can’t now both build and grow a unicorn in every Nordic country.”

And we believe Norway is next 🚀

by the byFounders Team.

A great investor dinner we hosted during Katapult Future Fest in Oslo together with Inventure and Nordic Ninja

byFounders

For founders byFounders VC fund investing in the next generation of Nordic and Baltic entrepreneurs with global ambitions.

Eric Lagier

Written by

Managing Partner, byFounders.vc Investing in the next generation of Nordic and Baltic founders.

byFounders

For founders byFounders VC fund investing in the next generation of Nordic and Baltic entrepreneurs with global ambitions.

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