The Nordic One project strives to create an ecosystem for young and experienced entrepreneurs alike with a focus on international growth from day one.
Starting a company is a daunting task, no matter which market one starts out in. But being from a city in the Nordic region that would be considered a town in the US – perhaps a very cool town, but a small town nonetheless, can create major obstacles for startups. Obstacles such as limited access to early-stage funding, distance from markets, and lack of outside resources. The leaders of the Nordic One project believe that the answer to these challenges lies in creating an ecosystem in which new Nordic entrepreneurs can be matched with successful ex-entrepreneurs through a founders fund and that a Nordic alliance of incubators can be forged to establish a stronger access to both Nordic and international resources.
Formerly known as the Ping Pong Alliance, referencing the knowledge exchange that such a collaboration is built to spark, Nordic One aspires to become one of the leading tech incubators in the world and consequently fostering a highly competitive source of ambitious Nordic tech entrepreneurs. Initiated by Rolf Assev, partner at StartupLab in Oslo, the members of the alliance are, apart from StartupLab, Sting (Sweden), KoppiCatch (Finland), ScionDTU (Denmark), and Innovation House (Iceland). The project is supported by Nordic Innovation, both in a financial and strategic respect.
“At StartupLab we realised very quickly that in order to grow the companies in the lab we needed to have a truly international focus from day one. To present a stronger community we wanted to make this a joint Nordic project with leading players from all of the Nordic countries,” says Assev.
Internal Drive Rather Than External Pressure
Hosting events for an international audience is one of the focus areas of the project. One such event was hosted at Innovation House in Iceland last May where a group of local entrepreneurs gathered with the partners of Nordic One. A rather informal event yet with talks from extinguished guests such as Ragnheidur Elin Arnadottir, Minister of Innovation, Ms. Cecile Landsverk, Ambassador to Norway in Iceland, Thor Sigfusson Founder & CEO of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, and Paul O’Friel, Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Iceland. Rolf Assev used the opportunity to introduce the Nordic One alliance and Jon Von Tetzchner, Founder of Innovation House, shared his vision for building international knowledge networks.
Innovation House is located by the ocean in the vicinity of Reykjavik’s old harbour area, now booming with innovation in technology, marine life sciences, and gastronomy. Von Tetzchner is an Icelandic-Norwegian serial entrepreneur and founder of Vivaldi and Opera software. With Innovation House, Tetzchner has built a bridge from the Nordic region over to Gloucester, Massachusetts with the aim of providing opportunities for Icelandic and other Nordic startups in North America. Tetzchner stresses the importance of being guided by an internal drive rather than external pressure and frequently brings his dual-coast team (from Iceland and Norway) over to Gloucester along with their families where they create a harmonious working environment with room for family time as a means of support for his team members as well as their families. This is also available to the inhabitants of Innovation House in Iceland who have the chance of bringing their teams and even families over to Gloucester for shorter or longer periods of time. We will surely be seeing more events like the one at Innovation House hosted by the members of the alliance and their partners in the future.
It’s About People and Networks
Two other main focus points of Nordic One are talent acquisition and public relations.
“I think the key in any startup is to be able to hire the right people to grow the company. This is a hard job and we believe that the members of Nordic One can play a significant role in this process. We want to integrate business people into the startups at an early stage and we need both fresh and experienced people to help grow the companies. PR is another task that is very important. We need to get the stories known. PR and active use of social media is key here. One of the joint programs we are running is to find a PR partner for us in the U.S. that can spend time in the Nordics as well as working from the Silicon Valley to pitch stories,” Assev explains.
The final and perhaps the most challenging focus of Nordic One is funding with two main issues to tackle. The first one being to encourage job creation in the region as well as keeping the companies Nordic by facilitating Nordic funding rather than all of the companies seeking funding from outside the region with the danger of the headquarters and jobs moving across the ocean. The second one being to facilitate the investment of smart money in the startups, that is finding investors who have enough relevant experience to bring into the startups along with their funds in order to grow on an international scale. The StartupLab Founders Fund is a good example of that. Started in 2013, the fund offers support, access to their joint network, and entrepreneur friendly initial funding while partnering with the Nordic investment community. And that is the core of it all according to Rolf Assev.
“I think the biggest value so far has been to introduce startups from all over the Nordics to a big joint network of people,” Assev concludes.
Featured image: Team Nordic One – from left to right Fredrik Rosengren, Rolf Assev, Maria Thorgeirsdottir, Kjetil Holmefjord, Sofie Wandrup, Helle Nielsen-Eelgard, and Juuso Koskinen.
Photo credit: Haraldur Gudjonsson.