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.
Fancy a month in Palo Alto?
Applications are welcome to Innovation Norway's flagship business development program, taking place in Silicon Valley this Fall.
The third Tech INCubator (TINC) program gives selected participants a foot in the Valley, with startups leaving the program having "developed and verified a roadmap to internationalization", according to Innovation Norway.
In practice this means desks at a Palo Alto incubator and entry to the Kauffman FastTrac TechVenture program. You'll also be exposed to pitching sessions where you can test your concept on potential customers and "friendly" investors.
Apps4Norge was a competition organised jointly by IKT Norge (ICT Norway) and Difi, the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment. Prizes worth NOK 150,000 (€20,000) were on offer for apps and ideas utilising public data to benefit society.
The government did its bit by opening up a raft of new datasets. Location and weather data were the most utilised in the 50 ideas and 38 prototype apps submitted to the jury. The most interesting ideas combined multiple datasets, such as a map application for sailors combining location and weather data.
The digital eyes of Europe are on Amsterdam today as The Next Web's sold out European Conference gets underway. Leading the Norwegian contingent is Swipe, one of 20 finalists in the eagerly awaited Microsoft BizSpark Startup Rally.
Co-founders Horia Cernusca and Håkon Eide have been hard at work perfecting their presentation software since winning Oslo's last Startup Weekend. Today they unveil their product, billed as "a new way to deliver and watch presentations - from any device to any number of devices, in real-time".
This past week we had the opportunity to participate in MESH's 1 year anniversary, and finally check out co-working space that's bringing together the community necessary for an entrepreneurial ecosystem and making some noise about it.
A startup ecosystem is sorely needed in Norway. There are some cool startups popping up there, but despite having the same population as Helsinki and a major tech companies like Opera located in Oslo, you really don't hear of many startups outside the oil and gas industry.
But MESH is making a movement happen by being a grassroots space 'by and for' entrepreneurs. Their 2500 m2 building located right in Oslo's city center offers around 50 desks and 9 offices. On top of that they have an entrepreneur-geared cafe, a new bar (which divides into three meeting spaces during the day), and a nightclub with a retractable roof, which doubles as an event space for 400 people. It's... a nice place.
And the space is growing in cool areas. On top of constructing a bigger community space, they're adding a sound studio for artists that need equipment, and right now they're putting together a Maker Space with 3D printers and hardware tools for hackers and artists to come up with new inventions.
Rocket Internet Is Heading North - Launches CupoNation in Finland With Norway And Russia Next On The List
Rocket Internet is one of those companies that create a lot attention and there are mixed feelings about what they do. However, it is hard to argue with their success, as most of the companies that are a part of Rocket Internet are largely highly profitable.
From live questions on a panel debate to fan comments at a sports game, more and more TV output incorporates social media content. never.no's Interactivity suite offers its clients the ability to monitor, filter, approve, and harvest user-generated content from around the web - using Twitter hashtags for example.
Most ArcticStartup readers will know all about Startup Weekends. In Norway the 54-hour events have been the breeding ground of many innovative businesses, including Soundrop, ClickLift, Pido and Swipe.
Now all the way from San Diego comes an event with a twist, as Startup Weekend Oslo's Project Manager Erik Holthe Eriksen explains.
“We see veterans of the armed forces as a great resource, and understand that the transition to civilian can be difficult for some. We want to help make this transition easier, by helping to release the unique skills, experience and potential into the world of entrepreneurship.”
Norway-based WiMP is bringing some innovation to their music streaming platform through the launch of WiMP DIY, allowing unsigned artists to upload their music, and take in 70% of the income. WiMP offers a more editorially focused take on a music streaming service, and with it, these unsigned artists have the possiblitly to be featured in WiMP's NewSound campaign, which highlights new, local music, or to be put in playlists next to international acts.
"We launch this offer to cover a market demand. WIMP DIY is not intended as an alternative to a conventional record deal, but as a push in that direction. WiMP wants to invite artists who do not yet have a record label supporting them, but who have got ambitions of reaching out with their music," says Sveinung Rindal, Head of Editorial at WiMP.
Co-founder Patrik Berglund claims their company might not look that sexy, but to me, disrupting prices in the absolutely massive container shipping industry is incredibly easy on the eyes. What Oslo-based Xeneta does is similar to what Glassdoor did for employee wages. They offer a price comparison service for sea freight, and yesterday announced they received €1.2 million in financing led by Creandum, with Norwegian private investment company Alden co-investing.
Berglund and one of his co-founders, Thomas Sørbø, got their start at Kuehne & Nagel, a freight company. After leaving in 2011 for shipping and logistics consulting, they realized pricing is extremely volatile, and there was really no transparency in the industry. So they set out to do for sea freight how you buy airline tickets - prices are there in front of you.
If you haven't been paying attention to The Pirate Bay in the past week or so, you're missing out on a bit of swashbuckling pirate tricks and stormy seas... you know, the normal pirate life. We'll give you a little history because we haven't covered them since Elisa, the Finnish operator, was required to block the bittorrent site, among others around a year ago. The Pirate Bay was founded in Sweden in 2003, making it a decade old now. A documentary on the history of the site has been released, called TPB AFK, and is available to be watched for free.
Well, we can follow one Opera story after another. Opera has announced 300 million active users, but the big news is that they're moving from Presto, their own rendering engine, to WebKit. With Safari, Chrome, and now Opera now using the engine, well over 40% of the internet will be displayed through Webkit. The main motivation for this move is likely cost - contributing to another engine is cheaper than maintaining and building your own.
"The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need," says CTO of Opera Software, Håkon Wium Lie.
Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv reports Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner has sold shares in the company valued between NOK 180 and 200 million (€24-27 million), as shown in recently released shareholders' statements. After the sale Tetzchner has 5.18% ownership stake in Opera, which is below the 10% limit where Von Tetzchner could have blocked acquisition deals.
Dagens Næringsliv reports on the history of Von Tetzchner's relationship with the publicly traded browser company: