As commonly reminded to us by popular culture, Scandinavians used to make a serious living out of piratism. Vikings, as the Nordic version of pirates were called, left a trail of countless of burned villages wherever they set sail, pushing nations to rethink their defences largely. Indeed, the Vikings’ bloody adventures went as far as to define the very existence of the country we today call the United Kingdom.
Today, roughly a thousand years later, the Scandic civilizations are still fond of piratism, though luckily for the rest of us, the piratism they do now is of less aggressive nature.
I never really liked the idea of young kids using Facebook: I feel like there's plenty of other things children could/should be doing then stupefying their minds with superficial ego-fishing. And as if the attention-driven environment wasn't enough of a reason to keep the young'uns out of social media, there's plenty of discussion going on about cyberbullying, the online version of old-school bullying, which has driven many youngsters face to face with serious emotional distress, and in some cases, even suicide.
Worried parents can now cease to fear for the online safety of their children, all thanks to Kuddle, the Norwegian picture sharing app especially designed for kids.
Norway's Soundrop has gone through a few pivots since it released it's first product back in 2011. At the time it won Startup Weekend Oslo and was riding on the Turntable.fm craze of social listening rooms - which it plugged into Spotify. After pivoting its listening rooms in October of 2012, it then started expanding to mobile, Facebook, and Deezer. With their listening rooms in place, in early 2013 Soundrop realized that putting musicians in their chat rooms and driving the playlist created a fun social experience for artists to connect with their fans.
For a long time apps have been brushing up on the edges of psychology, like your to-do apps and other motivational trackers. But somewhat recently we're seeing startups, like Hoa's Tool Shop and now Norway's Mindfit trying to solve grander problems, such as working as your in-pocket psychologist or therapist to help adjust your emotions and day-to-day life. Two sisters have recently launched an app out of Trondheim, Norway that attempts to act like a mini psychologist in your pocket to help you become more aware of the positive things happening in your life.
Talking to Norwegian entrepreneurs over the years we've heard two things about the state of their early-stage funding. We've heard that there are no investors, or if there are, they're government backed funds managed by people with backgrounds in Finance or the Norwegian government - not exactly smart money. Every nation's entrepreneurs cry loudly about how little money is available, but the data backs it up. According to the Norwegian Venture Capital Association, in 2013 only €2.2 million was invested by Norwegian PE firms into Norwegian companies. Finland, a roughly equally sized country, had double that.
Now we've received word that Alliance Venture Capital, an Oslo based firm, is bringing in a network of former IT entrepreneurs and managers as a network and has announced a NOK 510 million (€60.63 million) fund to focus on early-stage investments in IT called Alliance Venture Spring which will invest 2-5 million NOK (€240,000- €600,000) into companies primarily in Norway.
The Norwegian social delivery service Easybring has announced that after a successful launch in its home country it will be bringing its cheap environmentally friendly platform to the rest of the world.
Since we profiled TransferGo in November life has been moving quickly for the boys from Lithuania. They got in touch during their launch into Norway to catch us up on what’s been happening in the world of digital remittance and tell us some stories.
In our second installment of "social video apps from Norway", a fun app to have in your pocket is Blink, sort of a Vine-meets-Snapchat-meets-Tinder that came out of Startup Weekend Oslo, the weekend-long hackathon. According to Blink co-founder Martin Jensen, the app has a good founding story:
There are some problems that most of us can only dream of having, one of which must be to be rich enough to qualify as an institutional investor. Edgefolio, a Norwegian fin-tech startup is working on fixing the way the 2.4 trillion dollar hedge fund industry markets itself to this group. Founded by London-transplant Leopold Gasteen in 2013 they are currently in beta fine-tuning their product.
Coworking across northern Europe is thriving thanks to the likes of Oslo’s MESH, Stockholm’s Entrepreneurs Church and newly opened SUP46 and Arctic Startup’s own Minimum Viable Office in Helsinki. Activity and networks cluster around these centres and momentum builds, benefiting everyone.
Everyone that lives in these cities, of course.
In the startup world everyone is physically connected to their laptop - and therefore Skype - but looking outside our bubble people communicate differently. Conference calls are still a major part of the communication landscape because pretty much everyone has access to a phone, but not too much tech has been infused into the industry. Norway-based Confr says they hope to challenge the big global telecom players that deliver old school and expensive solutions to businesses, and to create something that should just work efficiently.
The term “smart home” first appeared in the early 30’s. The technology boom proved to be too young at the time to revolutionize our household lives, but today, smart homes are more practical and discrete than their clumsy, noisy and inefficient counterparts of the past.
Perhaps one of the easiest approach towards a simple communication between you and your house can be provided by Norwegian startup Viva. Their service promises that a few simple procedures can help you take your first steps into turning your home smart, without the need of electricians or broad technological understanding.
We always suspected it; all those photos of the beautiful fjords, the picturesque houses, cultured lawns and towering evergreen forests; Norwegians love their trees. The National Library of Norway decided to confirm that once and for all when they announced plans to digitize their entire collection, and since there is this thing in Norway called The Norwegian Legal Deposit Act all published content, in all media, must be deposited with them.
Confession time. I’ve not seen the Northern Lights. I know I know, I’ve lived in Finland for a year now and still not made the long trip north to see them. Two things have put me off, one is how everyone complains about the cost of staying up in the Arctic Circle at this time of the year when all the tourists flood in, and the second is how it’s really down to luck whether you even get to see them. The thought that I might spend a lot of money to specifically go and see the Northern Lights and then come back without having done so discourages me from even taking the risk. Well it seems like Norway is trying to convince me, and you, to visit them and catch the Lights.
Last week came the announcement that Innovation Norway had appointed Alliance Venture Spring in Oslo and ProVenture Management in Trondheim to manage two new national seed funds. Each of the funds will be about 500 million Norwegian Krone, which works out at a little over €60M each, with a 50-50 split between private investors and the government.
While the ProVenture Management fund is targeted at the oil & gas industry Alliance Venture Spring has been tasked to manage the money that will foster new IT successes. Although the fund is based in Oslo it will have a nationwide reach. In other words small businesses located in other parts of the country will be able to benefit from the investment fund as well as those based in the capital.
Introducing Zwipe, an Oslo startup enabling integration of fingerprint authentication on contactless cards. Zwipe sits alongside industry colleagues and fellow Norwegians Signicat, Encap, and Ensafer, providing security technology for the digital economy of the future.
Zwipe's primary feature - the fingerprint scanning and matching functionality - works in less than 1 second, and its cards are ISO 14443 compatible, meaning it works with existing contactless readers. Fingerprints are saved on the card itself not on an external database.
How many people read press releases for fun? There can’t be many I’d think. How many people want to read five from one company in a single sitting? That’s got to thin the already small crowd hasn’t it. Five press releases from a single company in one day seems intense but it also tells you they’re active and possibly doing something important. But who will read all that text to find out what’s going on? I will gentle reader, I will, just for you.
Have you heard of mCASH? It’s a Norwegian mobile payment platform that connects all your funding sources (credit card, debit card, loyalty card, etc) in one payment app, and enables you to pay to anyone, anywhere. Well if you hadn’t heard of them before then get prepared for that to change. They’ve just signed some significant deals with major Nordic banking service providers, as well as Nordic retailers and restaurants.
Every once in a while a product startup comes along that puts a smile on my face.
Whether it's due to the funky design, the clever copywriting (strong as an ant, smart as an elephant), the successful $20,000 crowdfunding project, its sheer simplicity, or the fact the inventor spent months researching the idea in public restrooms around Europe, I'm not too sure.
Weather Wear took home the prize at the 7th Startup Weekend in Oslo last weekend. The app will advise parents on the best way to dress their children for the day based on the weather forecast.
The idea of a visual weather report is not entirely new. US-based Swackett is a well-established solution to the question, "is it sweater, jacket or coat weather outside?", but Weather Wear takes a different approach. It's aimed squarely at parents of young children, and with features like recommending the required number of layers, seems to be particularly suitable to the Nordic climate. The app will also remind parents of clothes to buy for upcoming seasons and events.
Meanwhile as the tech scene is picking up in Norway, thanks to new coworking spaces and investors, Oslo-based Opera Software is building a bigger presence in Silicon Valley by tripling office space and doubling its workforce.
Part of this new growth is comping through a new acquisition of Skyfire, a movie cloud-based solutions provider, that Opera has thrown under Opera Mediaworks, their new mobile advertising subsidiary.
"Venture capital in Norway is dead," is how Brain Weisberg of betaFUND the new Norwegian seed fund, started by the founders of Trolltech and Kelkoo, starts off our call. "Despite an obsession with disrupting other industries, VC's haven't changed their own business model since before the dot-com boom of the 90s. And their poor investment performance and lack of support of modern entrepreneurs are two symptoms of a larger problem."
Weisberg points to few big problems with the investment scene in Norway. For instance, the average initial investment in a company is around 10 mNOK (€1.23 million) which is a pretty high average, no matter if a beer in an Oslo pub will set you back €10. Additionally there isn't a lot of smart money. If you were to run profiles on the average VC in Norway, most would come from the financial or government support scene, not the technical or startup scene, which somewhat limits their creativity, or mentoring opportunities.
As a result, Weisberg can quote crazy sounding facts, such as since 2010, no Norwegian investor invested in a Norwegian company's seed round according to the Norwegian Venture Capital Association. The NVCA's data is spotty, and there is no data out for 2013, but realistically if there were a perfectly active ecosystem there should be a number of blindingly obvious seed rounds to include in their data.
Today Oslo-based Soundrop announces it has picked up a 20 million NOK (€2.5 million) round led by Northzone and Investinor. The company has had a good run so far, it's service is available as an app for Spotify, on the web, on any Facebook page, and as apps for iOS and Android. Last year, Soundrop was the second most used app in Spotify's App Finder.
Their new investor, Investinor is Norwegian government backed investor with €525 million in management, and Northzone has also invested in Soundrop's first €2.2 million round last June, as well as into Spotify, suggesting there could be a tighter integration of Soundrop coming, much like what we saw with Tungio, a playlist app acquired by Spotify.
It's Friday afternoon, so play around with this tool to get a slice of Norway 3D printed for a mantelplace heirloom. The folks at Bengler have pulled the open data from the Norwegian Mapping Authority to allow you to print your own slice of the landscape, or send if off to Shapeways, where they'll print it with gypsum and colored ink for about $100.
Catching our attention this week is Fønd, a new option for Norwegians looking to crowd fund their projects.
A criticism often leveled at Norwegian entrepreneurs is their focus on the home market and lack of international ambition early enough, so is a crowdfunding platform in the Norwegian language really a positive development for the community?
"We see a market because of the lack of Government support to Norwegian entrepreneurs, especially within tech, where we are miles behind the girl next door, Sweden" says co-founder Jon Erik Andersen.
"She is faster, tighter and quicker than the old Norwegian fish. Sweden has delivered world wide innovative services like Spotify and Skype. By building innovative new services for the Norwegian market, we believe we can achieve a change, a more open Norwegian environment for developing and supporting new great innovations through open innovation. It is too hard to cross the chasm in Norway today and Fønd will make that gap smaller."
It's the evening before a big pitch and suddenly you realise your Mini-DVI adaptor is missing. What do you do? The answer may soon lie In the basement of Oslo's Innovation Park, thanks to the folks at SkyLib.
SkyLib is an app that makes your physical stuff searchable, to you, your close friends, your local community or the entire world. You can search around your current GPS position for something you need right now, and borrow or buy it.
The original idea came to CTO Geir Engdahl when he needed to borrow a special screwdriver to repair his laptop, but the project has grown into something far greater, with global ambitions. SkyLib is currently in beta mode and you are invited to try it out at www.skylib.com.
Oslo's mobile authentication firm Encap has announced a major new investment from the ProVenture seed fund. The exact amount hasn't been disclosed, but rumours circling the web put the figure around the $2 million mark.
It's the second major investment in Encap from a Norwegian backer, adding to earlier money from Alliance Ventures. Norwegian startups tend to look abroad for funding rather than rely on the small domestic VC scene, so today's news is a welcome change.
Digital publisher Propell hopes to take advantage of the shift towards streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix as they launch a subscription library of children's entertainment.
Propell is a digital publishing company specialising in children's books, established in 2010. Their 20 published titles are available in 13 languages and have been downloaded over 300,000 times. Their new app is aimed squarely at parents who lend their iPads to their kids, explains CEO Per Harald Borgen:
Oslo co-working space MESH recently celebrated its first anniversary - and what a year it's been. There can be no doubt that MESH has raised the profile of Norway's startup scene both within Oslo and across the region.
The team at MESH aren't sitting back and relaxing though, far from it! Instead, they now turn their attention to linking up Oslo's design and engineering communities with a low-cost entrepreneurial environment, through a brand new Makerspace.
It wasn't just Helsinki that enjoyed some startup fun at the weekend. We had a blast over in Norway too!
Social drawing platform Drooodle was the popular winner in Oslo. The service takes inspiration from Instagram, but allows users to upload doodles rather than photos. Instead of replying with text comments, Drooodlers (as we assume its users will become known!) reply with doodles of their own. Simple - and fun.
Your time to doodle is limited to ensure the fun experience is preserved and to prevent the platform becoming a digital painting competition. The prototype also included very easy sharing to Facebook and Twitter, a key factor that helped traffic to Drooodle grow significantly the day after the awards.
Undoubtedly the most "aww"-inspiring talk of InnoTown was delivered by Jay Shuster, Production Designer of Pixar Animation Studios and the man who played a leading role in bringing Wall-E to life. Shuster's opening comment "we don't ever really grow up" was evident as he took us on a whistle-stop tour of the Pixar campus in California, where designers work inside garden sheds and the office of one senior executive is crammed floor to ceiling with rare toys.
Amid the colours and excitement, there were some useful takeaways for entrepreneurs.