The Norwegians are coming

Norway’s rise as a major technology innovation hub

Last month I had the pleasure of co-hosting Oslo Fintech Fest, the biggest fintech event in the Nordics which was attended by many influential thought-leaders, entrepreneurs & investors. In only its second year running, this event was a great success with attendee numbers having increased from just shy of 300 last year to 1,000 this year. It was clear to me that Oslo is serious about making its mark as a fintech hub!

The Nordics already host some of the best tech events in the world, from Slush in Helsinki to TechFest in Stockholm, and it is evident that this region is at the forefront of innovation. I believe Scandinavians are naturally innovative as they have a positive mindset when solving challenging problems and a unique Jante Law that prevents them from delivering poor products and services. Sweden has traditionally been the frontrunner when it comes to securing investment into its technology sector. However, Norway is quickly catching up. The country, which for decades has been heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry, so much so that innovation in ICT and digital have suffered, has recently started taking a significant amount of investment into its start-up ecosystem (The Nordic Web, Murray).

Even though Norway has yet to create a fintech ‘unicorn’ like some of its neighbours, it has always been an early adopter of fintech products and services.

When I left Norway for the UK in 1998 it was a shock to receive my first paycheck as a cheque. I was used to using chip and pin pretty much everywhere from taxies to small shops and I rarely used cash. My debit and credit card had my picture and ID number on it which made authentication easier and the subsequent introduction of internet banking possible sooner than most other countries. This early innovation has part been down to Norway being a small, transparent country with high levels of trust between people but also towards new technologies. This is a common theme across the Nordics detailed in the recent report by Fintech Mundi (Fintech Mundi report, 2017).

Currently, the small Oslo fintech start-up ecosystem is increasingly working closely with the major financial institutions which in return are succeeding with their own initiatives called Vipps, MobilePay and mCash. DNB, a leading Norwegian bank, also went as far as stating that their aim is to transform into a technology company offering bank services. Once the attitude of Norwegian corporates and the public sector changes, the rest will follow which is why the start-up community is applying intense pressure on the government to appreciate the opportunities that lies ahead.

Some of the key takeaways from the event:

  • Investors in Norway are increasingly active — with small but growing deal flow, Angels and VCs are more active and engaged in the ecosystem. Even without investing they are adding value in educating entrepreneurs and the ecosystem as a whole.
  • Crowdfunding in Norway is becoming increasingly popular — the start-ups pitching opportunities at the event was quickly oversubscribed and the public’s level of trust meant this could potentially be a new investment opportunity for the average oil-rich Norwegian.
  • Most start-ups in Norway are still at ‘Garage stage’ and many are happy with only serving the Norwegian or Nordic market. However, those same companies are also well looked after by the incubators such as StartupLab, MESH and the Factory. With their international network and the sheer volume of start-ups means we could see the next Nordic Unicorn being Norway’s first.

For over a decade the team at 360Leaders have monitored the Nordic leadership pool from London and we have witnessed a change in attitude towards innovation and risk. Traditionally Norwegian candidates have been far more hesitant to join start-ups than their Nordic neighbours. The notion of working more for less with out of date tax systems and unattractive stock options schemes, has not made a move to a start-up a particularly appealing option. Thankfully the perception of start-ups is changing from mad inventors to the leaders of a prosperous Norwegian economy. Fintech is at the very heart of this shift and could help Norway take pole position globally as a digital innovator.

About the author: Martin Falch is CEO & Co-founder of 360Leaders, a leading executive search firm for tech and digital advising startups and corporates on hiring and developing leadership talent. A Norwegian national with 18 years in London, Martin has a combination of recruitment and startup experience, and a passion for helping Scandinavian companies go global.

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