What do the unicorn startups Skype, Zendesk, Spotify, and iZettle all have in common?
They were all founded in the Nordics, a region which consists of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Despite being a relatively small region with a total population of 27 million people, the Nordics in 2016 established themselves as a veritable “unicorn factory,” producing more billion-dollar exits compared to GDP than any other region in the world. Moreover, in 2018 Denmark was ranked first in all digital ecosystem indices in the European Union Joint Research Center’s European Index of Digital Entrepreneurship Systems and third in ease of doing business by the World Bank. We are international leaders in Government, Health, and Clean technologies and are also innovating rapidly in areas like food technology. Additionally, the Startup Genome Project’s annual global report (available for download here) designated Denmark, Sweden, and Finland as having top-notch ecosystems for technologies relating to education, artificial intelligence, and finances.
It is hard to think of a leading startup ecosystem without images of Silicon Valley coming to mind. That is understandable, given the success of many tech startups there; however, building a startup ecosystem is not one-size-fits-all, nor should it be. Different regions have different strengths and weaknesses, and they should build their ecosystems in order to bolster those strengths and improve upon those weaknesses accordingly. The Nordic tech startup ecosystem has always been full of talented entrepreneurs and groundbreaking ideas.
That’s why in 2019, it is in the best interest of tech conferences in Northern Europe to move away from comparing themselves to places like Silicon Valley. There is great value in building an ecosystem that highlights its own strengths – and weaknesses. Nordic tech conferences need to shift their focus onto the unique values upon which Nordic entrepreneurship and technological innovation are built.
The Nordic way of doing things is based on promoting the values of openness, trust, inclusion, understanding, and mutual respect in all of our affairs. Denmark and the rest of the Nordics are beginning to establish themselves as power players in the international startup community, and so it is important to show how such a small region continues to have such a big impact. At the same time, it is vital to examine the roadblocks that Nordic culture may possess in terms of becoming the innovative and technological frontrunners that we aspire to be.