For the last few years, the Nordics have tried to gain a foothold at SXSW, the unparalleled tech festival that collectively brings over $300 million to the city of Austin, Texas, every March. Every year, over 80,000 registrants stream into the conference, trade shows, and festivals. Past keynote speakers have included President Barack Obama, and this year saw Joe Biden, Corey Booker, and Adam Grant take the stage.
Nordic participation has been sporadic since the festival’s inception in 1987, but previous years have included Swedish “SvantesBurgers” with Swedish celebrity caterer Chef Linnea Johansson, Icelandic blues music, and of course the Finnish sauna bus.
This year, over 20 Nordic companies collaborated together under the #nordicmade umbrella at the SXSW trade show to hack it out in front of a sea of international investors, potential clients, and partygoers. But what differentiates Nordic companies above all others competing for the registrants attention? Is there a common thread?
Many will point to the high-trust, equality, and transparency of Nordic countries, which form a common foundation for shared values and sensibilities among Nordic founders. But founders at the #nordicmade booth felt the commonality goes much further.
Nordic countries are known for their simple, sleek designs in everything from furniture to food, and this vision has carried into the Nordic startup world, where “Nordic tech” is a byword for simplicity, sustainability, and smooth UX. As Marcus Olsson, the founder of SceneThere, which creates tools of companies and brands to create realistic and interactive virtual worlds based on 360 film, explains,“Nordic founders have a great understanding of design and user experience.”
Peter Green from Rehaboo, a company that creates virtual physical therapy solutions by gamifying exercises, agrees: “Nordics as doer -types, it is fast from planning to production. Nordics are also simple in design, the service design, UI and UX are well thought and usability is the key,” he says.
Nothing is sacred
Nordic equality means more than just flatter organizations and more women in the workforce. It also means that when it comes to business, nothing is sacred: even low-level employees can argue with the CEO over his decisions.
Thomas Badinad from Swimlap sees another side to it. “The Nordic culture is based on equality of all people and that nobody is ‘untouchable’. This also carries to business and the way to do things, meaning that the Nordic people have no issues with rethinking the way we do things,” he says.
Swimlap is a startup that aims to transform the swimming pool into a more social place, which offers interactive swimming training and let’s you broadcast your swimming live to your friends. In essence, Swimlap aims to rethink the basic activity of swimming.
“Nothing is holy, you only focus on the best way to do it. This allows Nordic people to be very creative and successful in redesigning the way we do things. Moreover, the socialist part of the culture enables also founders to focus on changing the world more than making money.”
Crushing your enemies skulls with axes
The Nordic countries are famous for their viking history. From the 8th to the mid-11th century, the vikings pioneered intercontinental voyages through their advanced shipbuilding, and thus jump-started modern global trade.
And while the viking culture is now mostly manifested in the long beards of Danish hipsters in Vesterbro, the global vision of shared exploration is still a part of Nordic culture.
Frederik from Clerk.AI, and AI accounting service, explains:
“There is no elbowing your way forward within the Nordics – we stay together and united we explore how we can bring riches from around the world, like our ancestors did but this time around without crushing our enemies skulls with axes. At least not all the time.”