Aalborg, Denmark: the next Nordic startup hub?

Aalborg is a lot of things:  it is a student city, a trade city, and the fourth largest city in Denmark- but the most interesting thing about Aalborg is that there are approximately 1,000 new businesses every year, many of which are tech startups.

BusinessAalborg, Aalborg Kommune’s business department, offers free, one-on-one advice and the possibility of financial assistance for services such as accountants, lawyers, marketing assistants, etc.  “Compared to e.g. the capital of Denmark, we go that extra mile to ensure that entrepreneurs are well prepared before startup,” says Lisbeth Røjkjær Ørtoft of Business Aalborg. She explains:

“Aalborg as such doesn’t have one unique feature that makes the city an ideal place for new companies. Instead it’s a combination of several factors. Aalborg has become a young, vibrant city with attractive education possibilities. A total of 2,500 people move to Aalborg each year – primarily students who enroll at e.g. Aalborg University or University College of Northern Denmark. As a result, new ideas and new ways of thinking are in the air. Moreover, we see spin-offs from  Aalborg University i.e. new companies arise on the basis of research at Aalborg University.”

Steffen Andersen who studies IT management at Aalborg University, and who has created an app at this year’s Startup Weekend, notes that in addition to the services offered, high prices in the capital area will keep him in Jutland. Moreover, Startup Weekend’s marketing manager Alexandru Balut outlines that Aalborg is “…ripe for entrepreneurship on several fronts- economic, geographic, and cultural.” These points however, have get to gain strength, which according to Balau, has created “…a great moment of opportunity for an entrepreneurial model to thrive.”

Startup Weekend showcases burgeoning student startups

In fact, BusinessAalborg and Aalborg University’s program SEA (Strengthening Entrepreneurship) work together to not only strengthen existing businesses, but to support aspiring students. The university’s influence over the entrepreneurial atmosphere in Aalborg was thoroughly felt at this past weekend’s Startup Weekend. For the fifth time, students, graduates, and professionals, totaling 80 participants, meet to discuss ideas and participate in launching a startup in 54 hours.

I was able to participate in the final pitches at Startup Weekend, and spoke to a few participants, coordinators, and mentors who had participated throughout the weekend. Rene Vohlert Rasmussen, former CEO of Peerpilot, notes that while the pitches and final products from the weekend were not market ready, students and those interested in entrepreneurship were offered the opportunity to experience first hand the difficulties in starting your own business.

George Joranov, a participant at StartupWeekend, adds “Startup weekend gives a crash course on entrepreneurship in only 54 hours … at the same time however, it gives a false time perspective of how fast startup development it… its more like a marathon than a sprint.”

VEAR, who specializes in light and breathable rain pants, managed to convert the sprint speed of Startup Weekend to the marathon that is entrepreneurship. Currently, VEAR has been experiencing a great deal of success in their Kickstarter campaign, raising just over 17,000 dollars out of their total goal of 20,000.  However, it seems that there is little to no success for tech startups created during this weekend.

Low prices, high services

This lack of success for technical startups is however, not due to access to support for new entrepreneurial ideas. In addition to creating your own business, participates were introduced to local companies and organizations who offer services to new startup ventures.  Among those were VÆKSTnord, BDO and HjulmandKaptain, who offer free services. Coupled with free services, and what Balaut describes as the perfect moment in time, Aalborg has begun to set its course for entrepreneurship success.  In addition to Startup Weekend, and the services advertised there, BusinessAalborg has recently experienced yet another success in their “Entrepreneur Evening” with over 900 inspiring entrepreneurs in attendance.

Startup Weekend and Entrepreneur Evening are just two out of many examples of how the city of Aalborg has been investing in the young, student population. Jordanov notes that Aalborg offers “…a good balance between working opportunities, an academic environment and activities [like Startup Weekend].” This, coupled with the physical facelift the city has become ripe for new innovated ideas. Those considering starting their own business should look to Aalborg, as the prices are low and the services are high.


Photo:  Students at Startup Weekend, Aalborg.

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