Nordic Scale-up Summit: Summary and Takeaways
A good while before Ola Ahlvarsson, host and moderator for the event, enters the stage, one thing can be understood from scanning the locale; there are absolutely no seats left. This was however a scenario we were prepared for. One floor up the show was streamed to the Epicenter Terrace where the rest of the audience had set up camp. This streaming service was available for people outside the building as well, and can be seen here for the ones that missed the live event that took place Wednesday last week, the 14th of march.
Ahlvarsson initiated the summit by, naturally, welcoming the audience and subsequently diving into entrepreneurship as a subject. Exploring topics such as growth, risk, innovation, technology, entrepreneurial unicorns, profit, failure and motivation, he set the framework for the day. He worked with comparative analogies throughout the introduction, comparing entrepreneurs to kickboxers in terms of constant fear and uncomfortable excitement as well as Kanye West in matters of success rate (statistically favoring the latter). He also narrated John Nolan’s fake cheese commerical with a topical although humorous twist. When the audience felt adequately warmed up it was time for the first speaker of the day to enter the stage: Morten Lund.
Lund, a big actor within the entrepreneur world, has invested in more than 100 high-tech startups in the last 15 years including Skype and ZYB, whereas he picked up a thousandfold profit by investing in the former. On stage he had the aura of an eccentric inventor, showing a great amount of affection for the matters close to his heart. During his allocated time he focused on discussing how we can ensure the sustainability of the future and prepare for environmental contingencies. Very aware that his audience consisted primarily of entrepreneurs, he chose to focus on the profitable aspect of climate care.
A short video-pitch of his 2017-founded company Poshtel explained their premise of Poshtel PopUp, a fully self-sufficient and environmentally friendly housing solution. It recycles old shipping containers and reinvents the space as a 28–56 square meter suite. Through a system that they have named “The Fifth Element” they can autonomously handle sewage, water supply and electricity. At first these suites will be in the luxurious end of the spectrum, available for rent through airbnb. They have however announced that this is the first stage of a movement that will later incorporate low-income housing as well, tackling issues of homelessness.
Not at all able to contain his excitement for his project, he was practically jumping around the stage when he realized that his time ran out 5 minutes ago while I’m sure that he would have been able to talk for several additional hours concerning his new venture. The inherent dedication that he still exhibits after being part of over 100 companies was inspiring for me to see, and the general vibe in the locale indicated that I was far from alone in my opinion. A man with equal levels of conviction, confidence and self-distance, he left the audience by summarizing his harangue in 5 simple words:
“That’s my bullshit for today”.
With those words, after a resounding round of applause, it was time for Lund to leave and make space for the next act.
Quickly and seamlessly transitioning from Lund’s lecture, Ola Ahlvarsson in the role of panel moderator was joined on stage by Kaidi Ruusalepp, founder and CEO of Funderbeam, Veronica Hedenmark, founder of VH Assistans and Johan Sjöberg, CEO of Star Stable Entertainment. Coming from entirely different backgrounds and working in utterly dissimilar lines of business they all shared interesting stories of how they got to where they are today and where their intrinsic motivation derives from.
Kaidi Ruusalepp was 16 years old when Estonia gained its independence, effectively making her one of the first Estonian entrepreneurs. Johan Sjöberg contemplated the fact that video games were inherently designed for a male audience, and by simply defying this mindset and making a game for girls instead Star Stable was able to launch like a rocket into the gaming world. Veronica Hedenmark was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which instead of limiting her has inspired her to help people with disabilities in living a normal life by giving them the resources needed to do so. They wrapped up the panel with discussing the entrepreneurial “superpowers” they had acquired in their ventures and their passion in their line of work. Ola thanked the panel participants and encouraged the audience to discuss what they’re passionate about before introducing the next guest: Anna Bennich Karlstedt.
Bennich Karlstedt is an experienced and renowned psychologist, author and TV-personality currently scrutinizing the subject of stress in the entrepreneurial world. She jokingly referred to herself as the “happy feel-good psychologist, focusing on questions of stress, divorce, and now loneliness” She describes the entrepreneurship for many as a “love affair” as in the mental strain it causes, as a consequence of the many exigencies of running a business. The stress is provoked from handling uncertainty almost constantly and anxiety concerning earlier mistakes as well as missing potential chances in the future. Her advice is to brood over neither the past nor the future, i.e. letting things go. Bennich Karlstedt exemplified this by presenting a scenario where if you’re offered a possibility to earn 10 million dollars but simultaneously having to cancel your appointment with your therapist you’re bound to go with the monetary rewarding alternative. This of course permeates the human mentality, but is augmented in entrepreneurs considering the “high risk, high reward” nature of the industry.
Ola related this insight to his experience of the Dot-Com boom, where he was one of those who saw the tragic losses of the historic phenomenon losing about 99% of what he owned in total. He was himself in shambles but his colleague Edgar calmly explained when Ola questioned his placid attitude that “It’s only work”. Before inviting the next speakers on stage, Ola asked Anna to enlighten the audience with some relation advice. She recommended cuddling, regularly conversing and sex. Ola jokingly announced that this was the first time someone was taking notes before thanking Anna for her time. Then, with a quick segue, he started a rock, paper scissors tournament in the event hall as a networking tool, providing some leg-stretching before introducing the new speakers: Marta Sjögren, partner & principal at Northzone & Kerstin Cooley, managing partner at MOOR.
Marta & Kerstin’s main subject was venture capital and how they identified growth stars worth investing in. They were very firm concerning honesty in pitching, i.e. if your company has a problem it’s preferred to address it and pair it with a plan to improve upon the flaw rather than just blatantly hiding or denying the problem. They stressed that this was one of the important parts to qualify for the tough qualifications for attaining venture capital. Marta also advised to keep in touch with the original vision for the company, or as she phrased “use your vision continually and always refer back to it”.
The audience was afterwards split into different groups to engage in Thought Tables concerning important entrepreneurial aspects such as internationalisation and leadership. After the lunch break participants were then invited to explore Epicenter and attend different masterclasses held by our Result-team and Pelle Tornell, Head Coach ScaleUp Academy. Simultaneously there was also the possibility of attending a live recording of Ronja Koepke’s and Ted Elvhage’s Investpodden, a podcast debating fiscal interests. In this episode their guest was Morten Lund, and for those who missed it you will be able to catch it when they upload it here.
When all masterclasses were done and the podcast was over everyone was welcomed back to the event hall, first to discuss takeaways from the table talks before meeting the last speakers of the day. First out was Johan Torgeby, CEO of SEB (Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken).
Relating to entrepreneurship, he discussed together with Ola how SEB works with entrepreneurs. He confirmed the importance of start-ups, but also noted that scale-ups should be given the same amount of attention. This is where SEB’s Greenhouse program as their initiative to help growing companies of all sizes to grow. This program works through connecting companies to advisors excelling in different fields as well as offering lectures and specific tailored programs for growth in certain particular aspects in your company.
Johan also discussed the structure of the SEB company, what consequences their issues concerning regulation in the banking industry, motivation and morale and the reason(s) for their recent economic growth. Regarding company structure he summed it up as each and every employee of the company having one favorite employee:
“Someone is the most regular employee at SEB; when asked to do something most people respond with ‘someone will do it’. […] the right way of thinking is if I don’t get it done, no one does.”
Given the time it would be not only possible but difficult to avoid writing a novel about Johan’s time on stage, but in order to catch all of his wisdom I’d suggest watching the stream here.
The penultimate speaker was undoubtedly an exciting and welcome addition to the already proficient troop of speakers, considering that he has played a major part in Swedish fiscal matters as minister for financial markets in the government of Sweden. His name is Per Bolund.
Together with Ola he discussed the government’s role in engaging and supporting entrepreneurship in Sweden. He first of all stressed that entrepreneurship in general is crucial to Sweden and its economy. Representing the Swedish Green Party, a party with a strong pro-immigration agenda, he praised immigration’s role in boosting entrepreneurship in Sweden while simultaneously asserting that domestic cultivation of young talent is just as important. He also praised technology as an indirect enforcer of strong economy, stating that he was “more afraid of old technology than new technology” and that technological development was essential for strong financial markets.
Johan Torgeby as well as Nordic Innovation’s CEO Svein Berg were welcomed back on stage for a Q&A with the audience together with Per Bolund before introducing the last speaker for the day.
The last speaker on stage was the Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales (whom I wrote an article about last week). It’s a name that stands out in entrepreneurial contexts; Ola himself declared Jimmy Wales “in my view, maybe the most important internet entrepreneur”. Scaling a company to the 5th most visited website in the world without a business model, without venture capital and barely even any people is on paper beyond impossible, but he made it happen somehow.
They discussed the Wikimedia Foundation’s current operations as well as the growth story of Wikipedia, one that cannot be described as anything other than spectacular. After explaining the charitable non-profit structure of the foundation he assured the audience that his economic status was nothing to worry about, reminding them of his for-profit wiki hosting service Wikia (full name FANDOM powered by Wikia) and summarized it with “Don’t worry, I’m not poor”. Having handled both services with non-profit and for-profit structures Wales discussed the contrast between them and advertising as a general idea. Ola and Jimmy connected on the topic of online “window-shopping” for boats. Jimmy used this as an example of how advertising before the internet had the two steps of formulating a target audience and then finding the right platform to reach these, whereas online advertising only needs the first step. The platform of discussion was the Wikipedia founder’s new baby, WikiTRIBUNE.
Currently in its pilot stage, it’s intended to function as a cooperative news site where the articles are written by paid professional journalists and edited/proofread/corroborated by the community of volunteers. Unlike Wikipedia it’s a for-profit business, but most important for Wales’s vision is that it distances itself from the standard magazine business model of obligatory subscriptions. WikiTRIBUNE instead relies on voluntary donations but is equally available to everyone regardless of donations.
After an interesting Q&A with Jimmy Wales it was eventually time for Ola to sum up the day with some final words. A day filled with valuable discussion, debate and lectures had come to an end, and its success was celebrated with drinks and mingling up on the Epicenter terrace. I can’t possibly sum up a day like this in one sentence, but I can say this much; the terrace