I spent a lot of my formative years in Norway, and have been periodically checking in on the Norwegian startup scene. The first time I went and had a look around was about five years ago, and what I found back then was pretty dismal. So, when I headed back to Norway this week to take a deep dive into the Norwegian startup scene at the Startup Extreme conference, I have to admit: My expectations weren’t that high. And boy, was that unfounded. In just a few short years has gone from been a pretty bleak affair to being a real — if nascent — startup ecosystem.
Norway has been a bit of an underdog in the Scandiwegian startup scene for a few years. Need proof? Quick! Name one Norwegian startup that isn’t the obvious one… But despite not basking in the limelight, it hasn’t exactly been withering away in the shadow of the relative successes of its other Scandinavian brethren either.
For one thing, partially in response to the cratering price of oil — on which Norway has traditionally been heavily reliant — the Norwegian government has doubled down on supporting startups both financially and through training and advice, with what appears to be one of the most supportive environments for startups I’ve come across yet.
A strong level of support is going to be important for a number of reasons: In a lot of successful startup ecosystems, there’s a strong drive to help new startups. This may take the form of ‘smart money’ (i.e. investors who don’t just drop money into the startup for equity, but also offer advice, contacts, or other ways of championing their investments), procedural advice, or operational know-how. For example; if you are in a very active startup ecosystem, it’s possible to get a lot of advice around how to set up employee share options, how to deal with operational challenges, or how to deal with brand protection or patenting. Peer learning is a powerful first step to form a baseline for what to expect before getting swept away by lawyers and accountants — in a new ecosystem, the peer learning isn’t as readily available, and seeing the government working with the startup scene to help plug that gap is refreshing.