Startups in Helsinki and Stockholm lead Nordics on global outlook

Whether or not a startup scales has a lot to do with their motivation. A new report -— published by Nesta as part of the Startup Europe Partnership -— shows that there is substantial variation in entrepreneurs’ motivations to grow and seek finance across Europe. How do Nordic startups fare compared to their European counterparts?

By Charlotte Reypens

The Nesta report identifies the key determinants of European entrepreneurs’ motivations to scale, but here we zoom in on three with a focus on the Nordics: entrepreneurs’ growth ambitions, scaling mindsets and global outlook

Based on data from Startup Genome, our report reveals that Nordic entrepreneurs are at the top of the class when it comes to their growth ambitions. Among the nine surveyed European startup ecosystems, the Helsinki and Stockholm ecosystems host the most ambitious entrepreneurs. Almost 40 and 25 per cent respectively expressed the desire to develop a new product and to target a market of over $30 billion. This finding indicates that Nordic entrepreneurs may be more ambitious than those in other European ecosystems, including London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona, where less than 20 per cent reported high growth ambitions.  

Nordic entrepreneurs rank high on ambition

What drives such growth ambitions? We suggest that part of the answer lies in entrepreneurs’ scaling mindsets. Interviews with 26 scaling founders across Europe -— including nordic-based scaleups Fishbrain and Invesdor -—  uncovered four mindset features that may be shared by high-growth entrepreneurs. Typically, these entrepreneurs want to create a positive impact on society, innovate, become a dominant player in their field and create value. For example, Lasse Mäkelä, CEO and co-founder of Invesdor, the first equity crowdfunding platform in the Nordic region, told us his motivation to scale was to create novel value by building his business: “I can focus on building new things, but I can also help many companies to raise funding and help investors to find interesting new opportunities that they couldn’t find before.” Johan Attby, founder of Fishbrain, initially based in Sweden and now the world’s leading social network for anglers, expressed a strong desire for innovation and being a dominant player: “We need to continue to innovate to stay ahead of competitors,” he said as he shared his vision for his company, “our vision is not to be just an app for anglers, but also the platform for the entire ecosystem. It will take years and a lot of money.”

Helsinki and Stockholm lead on global outlook

Alongside the ambition and mindset to grow, entrepreneurs also need a global outlook to build a scalable business. Compared to other ecosystems including Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt, startups in Helsinki have a strong global orientation: around two thirds of founders developed a product with the needs of a global market in mind and are immediately targeting global markets. Around 60 percent of founders in Stockholm also develop a global product, although they seem more hesitant to target a global market first (only 37 percent do).

Alongside the ambition and mindset to grow, entrepreneurs also need a global outlook to build a scalable business. Compared to other ecosystems including Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt, startups in Helsinki have a strong global orientation: around two thirds of founders developed a product with the needs of a global market in mind and are immediately targeting global markets. Around 60 percent of founders in Stockholm also develop a global product, although they seem more hesitant to target a global market first (only 37 percent do).

Despite high ambition, dedicated policy actions are needed to helps startup scale

These findings indicate that the Nordics are in good shape to become a thriving scaleup ecosystem. However, to translate these growth ambitions into practice, dedicated policy actions are needed to support high-growth entrepreneurs on their paths to scaling.  In our report, we emphasise that the path to scaling puts large demands on entrepreneurs, which can hinder and even discourage some to pursue growth. Not only do they need the right motivation, mindset and skills to grow, they also need to know how and where to seek finance to fuel that growth. To help more startups achieve their growth ambitions, policy makers are advised to nurture entrepreneurial mindsets for growth, improve entrepreneurs’ awareness of and access to resources for growth and create spaces to facilitate risk-taking. 

Read the full Motivations to Scale report with key policy actions and best practices across Europe here

The interviews with scaling founders are compiled in the Paths to Scale report, which serves as an educational and inspirational finance guide for entrepreneurs in Europe. 

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