The Norwegian Winners of the Nordic Startup Awards 2015

The Norwegian startup community got together at Ingensteds, central Oslo last week to discover who will be competing against the other Nordic startups at the Helsinki Grand Finale of the Nordic Startup Awards this year.

By Thorunn Jonsdottir, photo credit Noor Dawod

The evening was organised by Oslo Business Region and Startup Norway with a crowd of around 200 people and Neil Murray of The Nordic Web as the event’s host.

The Nordic Startup Awards (NSAwards) is a unique award show committed to celebrating Nordic ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit across the Nordic startup ecosystem. Being the only award of its kind, it also fosters greater collaboration among the Nordics. NSAwards is part of the brand Global Startup Awards (GSA) which is also connecting regions on a global level.

At the occasion, Fredrik Winther, Managing Director at Oslo Business Region said:

“Great role models are the main motivation for startups. The winners today demonstrate how international growth and success can be done, and not least, that it can happen fast. They inspire the startup ecosystem and are the real heroes in placing Norway and Oslo at the international startup map.”

And the Winners Are

The winners of Nordic Startup Awards in Norway 2015 are as follows:

Accelerator: TINC Silicon Valley
Bootstrapped: Dirtybit
Developer Hero: Simen Sommerfeldt
Founder of the year: Johan Brand, Kahoot!
Investor: Founders Fund
Journalist: Maria Amelie
Newcomer: Unacast
Office space: MESH
People’s choice: Wake
Social Enterprise: Superplus
Startup of the Year: Kahoot!

Just Getting Started

Johan Brand of Kahoot! was voted founder of the Year and Kahoot! won as Startup of the Year. Kahoot! is a game-based platform that helps the way schools, universities, and businesses teach and learn with a mobile and tablet friendly pedagogy. 

“We are a game based platform. Unlike products based on gamification that relies on a veneer of rewards we truly evoke the emotions and behaviour that makes play such a powerful learning strategy. There’s a reason why nature equipped us with with the ability to learn through play from birth. We validate our methodology and pedagogy on the observed behaviour in classrooms and reported results from our one million teachers,” says Johan Brand


Kahoot! From left: Morten Versvik, Åsmund Furuseth, and Johan Brand, Kahoot! Photo credit: Noor Dawod

When asked about the impact winning the awards could potentially have on the team and its opportunities, Brand talks about unity and positive challenges. 

“It’s always nice to be recognised as a team and the effort we put down. It builds unity and sense of achievement in a small startup. Awards can be good for press and I have feeling Nordic Startup Awards will give us the opportunity to spread our story wider. Personally, the award feels like a positive challenge, now we have to prove that we deserved the award. The work has just started,” he says

“Knowledge and Play, it’s in our DNA!”

In the EdTech space along with Kahoot! is this year’s Social Enterprise, Superplus. The company was started a year and a half ago with support from Innovation Norway with the single mission to improve the lives of children with special needs. One of the questions they are trying to answer is how we can use childrens’ natural attraction and fascination with technology and games in a good way.

“We are uniquely positioned to bring a new generation of experiences and tools into the special needs space. Our team brings a broad mix of competencies and skills to the table. Our four founders include a science professor who is a parent of a non-verbal autistic child, an experienced special needs educator, and two successful game developers. This set of skills is a solid base in the science and research related to children with special needs and helps us unlock in scale the practical day to day work of special needs teachers by combining it with our years of experience of creating games played by millions of players around the world,” says Kirsten McLoud, Marketing Director at Superplus.

Kim Daniel Arthur, Superplus. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

Kim Daniel Arthur, Superplus. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

When asked about the future of EdTech Kirsten McLoud says that when used correctly, technology and gaming can be a huge catalyst for what Superplus believes lies at the heart of education; social interaction, motivation, and the sense of mastery

“Technology has truly become an enabler for those who before have felt excluded in the classroom and in education in general. Through technology, teachers and students can engage in completely new ways, creating a more open classroom where children of any level can get an education that is more streamlined and adapted to their level of development and ability,” she says

Growth Hacking via Multiplayer Experiences

Best Bootstrapped startup of the Year went to one of Norway’s first and most successful indie gaming studios, Dirtybit. Founded by two university students in 2011, Dirtybit’s Fun Run is the first successful real-time multiplayer mobile game with 50 million downloads (March 2015), and again with Fun Run 2 with 15 million downloads (February 2015).

Aurora Klæboe Berg, VP of Business and Marketing, says that with a $0 marketing budget the gaming studio has focused on growth hacking. In that respect, multiplayer experiences play a big role as that allows for a form of viral growth through the game’s users. She adds that having a name that is easy to understand and remember and using hashtags on twitter and other social media have played a key role in the game’s marketing success.

Nicolaj Broby Petersen, Dirtybit. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

Nicolaj Broby Petersen, Dirtybit. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

When asked what impact winning this award will have on Dirtybit Aurora Klæboe Berg says:

“The most important impact will be the awareness of that it’s possible to manage what we’ve achieved without external funding. We hope it will encourage other startups to push themselves further and think creatively about how to spend their money.”

Business Before Technology

Founded only 8 months ago, Unacast, Newcomer of the Year, has an aggressive game plan; to build the global backend of all proximity technologies (Beacons, NFC, Wi-Fi etc.). 

“In these first months we have focused on building the product alongside expanding our global reach through partnerships. We are already the world’s largest proximity network,” says Kjartan Slette, co-founder and COO  

Unacast has been highlighted several times as one of the most exciting new companies in Norway and the Nordics based on their rapid, and what Kjartan Slette refers to as non-typical Norwegian growth and aggressive mindset. Having recently closed a seed round of USD 1.6 million from investors in the Nordics, US, and UK, they are now opening offices in Oslo, New York City, and London. 

“We will be working with global retailers and brands to help them bring their offline data online, so that they communicate with their customers in both domains. Something that has not really been possible before Unacast,” Kjartan Slette says

Martin Abelson Sahlen, Unacast. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

Martin Abelson Sahlen, Unacast. Photo credit: Noor Dawod

But this is not the team’s first startup ride. Previously in management of WiMP/TIDAL, recently acquired by Jay Z, they have extensive experience in business development and working with commercial contracts on a global scale. When asked what they have learned from their past successes and failures as entrepreneurs, Kjartan Slette lists five main lessons.

“1. If you are working 24/7 anyway, you might as well own the company yourself and create value for YOU.
2. The world is not a scary place, act global from day one.
3. Business before technology, build what you customers need and want.
4. Luck does not exist. Work harder than the ones around you.
5. Have fun. This is the only life you have, make it count.”

The winners of the Norwegian Nordic Startup Awards will compete against other Nordic finalists at the Helsinki Grand Finale on May 26th 2015.

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