Denmark as a Start-Up Nation?

Greatly inspired by my recent visit to Israel, I’d like to jump into deep water and ask this question: Can Denmark become a Start-Up Nation?

Why is this even controversial in the first place? Denmark is one of the three countries in the world spending the most (public) money per capita on start-ups. At the same time, we are far behind when it comes to driving this innovation to growth in Denmark.  According to an analysis made by the Danish Ministry of Business and Growth in 2011 Denmark ranks somewhat lower than the OECD average when it comes to producing growth companies, whereas we are right in top when it comes to the number of startups.

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem I met with Israeli and international entrepreneurs, incubators and accelerators, as well as NGOs, VCs, visionaries and even the municipality-backed Library. The latter had taken the consequence of a decreasing number of loaners to extend part of the library into a great and very affordable incubator space for young entrepreneurs. In summary, I was introduced to a solid and healthy high tech ecosystem.

An afternoon visit to the successful venture capital fund Jerusalem Ventures Partners was particularly rewarding for me, as I was looking to find a role model of government’s role in stimulating entrepreneurship being brought to fruition. JVP runs a program for early-stage start-up companies that is partly government-funded; as the companies progress into acceleration, private funds take over entirely further investments into the companies.

So back to the question, can Denmark mirror this? What I saw in Israel and what we see here in Silicon Valley everyday is that diversity amongst entrepreneurs is a strong driver of a thriving ecosystem.  In Denmark, there is still too large a gap between international companies and our incubators. One of the deals I set up with the help of the Danish Embassy in Tel Aviv is that we exchange entrepreneurs between Denmark and The Library in Israel. This will hopefully kick -start the Israeli influence on the Danish start-up scene as well as taking the Danish user-oriented and design-driven way of doing high-tech innovation into Israel.

Another deal was to have JVP be partners either in one of the Danish acceleration programs, or in the one that we conduct on behalf of Denmark here in Silicon Valley, SCALEit.

It obviously takes a lot to become a Start-Up Nation, but looking to great role models like Israel should be our first step.

By Camilla Rygaard-Hjalsted, Executive Director

From Nokia to Entrepreneur with ICDK!


Four start-ups founded by former employees at Nokia arrived in Silicon Valley to explore the limitless possibilities of the valley – and Innovation Center Denmark led the way.

While Nokia is for the most part leaving Denmark, they are leaving behind great buildings, excellent high-tech equipment and smart employees. They could have been like so many others and got rid of the buildings and left the employees on their own – but they didn’t.

Instead Nokia’s old Development Centre in Copenhagen will transform into Aalborg University Copenhagen’s new Innovation Center and their former employees will have the opportunity to get funding for new start-up ideas.

Four of these start-ups went to Silicon Valley, where Innovation Center Denmark setup for them a very interesting program introducing them to the necessities required to make it in Silicon Valley.

The start-ups where introduced to legal matters by some of the Valley’s most experienced lawyers. They learned how to set up a business in Silicon Valley, what was the correct “way of doing things”, how and how much to pay in taxes, how efficient confidentiality contracts are, how long it takes to start a company, and what the legislation in relation to employees is, etc.

The Innovation Center brought in a number of communication consultants to teach the start-ups the American “way” of pitching and the importance of getting it right, the first time. They learned how to present an idea to a venture capital firm: what they want to know, what they don’t want to know, in what order they want to know it and most importantly, how to ask for money.

They were also introduced to networking facilities and got a glimpse of just how important networking really is in Silicon Valley. They also met other successful start-ups from Denmark who shared their experiences with starting up businesses in Silicon Valley, and much more.

All in just one intense week.

In short they learned that going to Silicon Valley is not as easy as one might think – however, with the right guidance you can overcome the obstacles in no time!

Steve Case (AOL) på Stanford Entrepreneurship Week

Silicon Valley er stedet, hvor de største successer bliver skabt, og som man siger i Silicon Valley: “Failure is part of Succes”. Ud fra denne læresætning var det helt naturligt, at Steve Case der grundlagde internetudbyderen America Online (AOL), var en af hovedtalerne ved Stanfords E-Week. AOL var pionererne for internetadgang og interaktive services, og sammen med Altavista var de forløberen for services som Google og Facebook, men det var dengang…

America Online, bedre kendt som AOL, bragte internettet ud til amerikanerne. Kan du huske Opasia der i 1990erne sendte billige internetopkoblinger ud til danskerne, og som vækker minder om den karakteristiske lyd der lød fra enhver moderne PC? Sådan foregik det også i USA, og her var det AOL, der var altdominerende. AOL eksisterer den dag i dag, men det er virksomhedens storhedstid i 1990erne, der for altid vil blive husket af amerikanerne. Historien er både en læresætning i at skabe store succeser, og en advarsel til alle internetservices der ikke følger med den teknologiske udvikling og som mister gnisten.

People, Passion and Perseverance

Steve Case var ikke kommet mange sætninger ind i sin lange og lidenskabelige talestrøm inden han præsenterede nøgleordene i form af de tre “p’er” people, passion and perseverance. Steve Case inddelte karrieren i tre perioder. Den første AOLs vækstperiode, den anden fusionen med Time Warner og den tredje etableringen af investeringsfonden Revolution. Fusionen mellem AOL og Time Warner er til dato den største fusion mellem to firmaer, og AOLs værdi pa NASDAQ var inden it-boblen brast mange gange større end Google og Apple er i dag. AOL har ikke formået at rejse sig siden boblen brast, og står i dag i skyggen af andre services, der har langt flere besøgende. Steve Case var i sin tale klar til at forklare, hvorfor det gik så galt. De tre p’er var efter fusionen med Time Warner alle i en sørgelig tilstand. Kulturen var forskellig i de to firmaer, og derfor kunne medarbejderne ikke samarbejde. Passionen manglede ligeledes fra nøglemedarbejdere – inklusiv Steve Case selv – og man var ikke vedholdende, da man ikke troede på en fremtid hvor bredbåndsforbindelserne ville afløse dial-up modemet. I stedet for at innovere sit produkt var strategien at få så mange penge ud af produkterne og kundebasen som muligt.

Patriotisme

I Silicon Valley er iværksætter-kulturen meget anderledes end i Danmark. Men iværksættere er ikke kun rockstjerner, de er også dem der skal få den amerikanske økonomi tilbage på sporet. “We need innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship to get the country back on track”. I USA, og i Californien i særdeleshed, er arbejdsløsheden blandt ingeniører og programmører høj. Steve Case mener, at iværksætterne kan forandre denne tilstand:“Entrepreneurship is important because of the underlying economic climate of America and it’s critical for our nation’s future.”

Tro på din ide – vær vedholdende!

Entreprenører er drevet af en trang til at forandre verden, og en tro på at forandring er mulig. Det var ikke anderledes for Steve Case, der i 80erne læste Alvin Tofflers Third Wave, der beskriver det post-industrielle samfund som et informationssamfund, hvor materielle ressourcer erstattes af information. I dette samfund bliver forbrugerne til ”prosumers”, der selv er med til at producere de produkter, de forbruger. Steve Case troede på, at denne revolution ville finde sted på computeren. Derfor opsøgte han firmaer, der arbejdede med computere og interaktivitet, og det var på dette tidspunkt spilindustrien omkring Atari-platformen, der var pioner indenfor interaktion. Steve Case etablerede i 1985 sit første selskab Quantum Computer Services, og selskabet gik i partnerskaber med computerfabrikanter, der ønskede at forbinde sine kunder til internettet. Apple var blandt kunderne til det banebrydende produkt, der introducerede instant messaging og grafisk brugergrænseflade. Den nye service var dog lidt for banebrydende for Apple, der opsagde partnerskabet og gjorde det klart for Case, at produktet måtte stå alene. America Online blev valgt som navn for det nye firma, og specielt efter det blev tilladt at implementere kommercielle services på internettet i 1992 gik det stærkt, og da boblen brast var der over 25 millioner AOL-kunder (i dag er tallet lidt over 5 millioner). Steve Case forsvandt ud af firmaet i 2005 og investerer, som så mange andre it-millionærer og -milliardærer, i dag sine penge i teknologier og forretningsideer der alle har til fælles at de vil forandre verden. Som det kan læses i det følgende citat, er han stadig tro mod sine oprindelige fremtidsvisioner.

“Founded by Steve Case, Revolution seeks to drive transformative change by shifting power to consumers and building significant, category-defining companies in the process.” revolution.com

Hele Steve Case’s speak er tilgængelig her

Most memorable week ever – in Silicon Valley

“What’s the next big thing?” That is one of the questions that haunts young entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other people from all over the world visiting Stanford University Entrepreneurship Week (further e-week).

It will be difficult to park the car or to find a seat in the auditorium if you come late, but it will be fairly easy to find someone to talk to about your new venture or an idea you are working on in order to be the next “Google”.

People you meet here will most likely be very friendly and inquisitive (in a positive way). They will enjoy talking to you about your business as well share their personal experiences from failing and starting their own ventures.

My name is Kristina Sedereviciute and I am finishing my master degree from Aarhus School of Business this year. I had a chance to attend this year’s Stanford e-week in team with four other bright students from Denmark.

A trip to Stanford was a prize I earned while winning a Silicon Valley Factor competition initiated by Innovation Center Denmark in 2009. The first competition of its kind was oriented to students from Stanford and Danish Universities.

Winning the challenge on SV Factor
The key idea of the SV Factor competition was to get familiar with Silicon Valley start-ups, analyze them and construct a portfolio of the best five start-ups (“the next big things”). Contestants were provided with a list of sixty companies from which they could form their “tops”. The trick, however, was that during the competition the initial portfolio could only be adjusted once. Moreover, only two out of five companies could have been changed. As a consequence, one had to make a good start in order to have a chance to go to the top.

The next big things/industries
The companies I had in my portfolio and that brought a great add-on in winning the SV Factor competition this year where start-ups such as: Dropbox, Foursquare, Scoopler, Heyzap and Playdom. I diversified my portfolio upon the “next big industries”, which I believed it was social gaming, real-time search and mobile social networking. My diversification proved being right, however, a thorough research and an individual product testing assisted me most in making final decisions regarding the portfolio.

Most memorable week ever!
Participation in both the SV Factor and Stanford e-week rewarded me with some unforgettable experience.

This year’s e-week program has introduced some rich and exiting sessions regarding entrepreneurship. I had a chance to attend panel discussions with Robert Scoble, MC Hammer, Loic Le Meur (founder of Twitter desktop client Seesmic and Leweb conference) , as well as to participate in more active events such as start-up job fair and idea pitching workshop with Theresa Lina Stevens (founder of Lina Group, Inc.).

It was also exiting to hear Steve Case (co-founder of AOL) sharing his story as well as get introduced to new ideas within cloud computing industry by Waren Packard (managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson) and Andrew Fieldman (CEO of Seamicro).

Company visits from Facebook to IDEO

In addition to e-week program we have also met the following companies: Facebook, Plug and Play tech center, IDEO, Intuit, Better Place, Younoodle, Soonr, Innovation center Denmark and Twitter.

It is impossible to judge which company is better than the other. All of them have unique cultures that are reflected in the way they work, arrange surroundings and present themselves in general.

For me personally every visit was exiting and rewarding. Even though I am keen on social media, I really enjoyed discussing the electric vehicle situation around the world while visiting Better Place, Inc. It was interesting to hear their predictions regarding electricity consumption in Denmark during the „boom“ of electric car industry. It was exiting to visit Facebook and capture Mark Zuckerberg (founder and CEO of Facebook) having a meeting with his colleagues or walk around Plug and Play tech center offices, where many great start-ups are situated and where phrase: „we can easily get five million dollars on that deal“ is very common around the corridors.

(Picture from the left: Mie Femø Nielsen, Kristina Sedereviciute, Marie Roloff Clausen, the winners of Global innovation tournament in Denmark: Bjarke Christensen, Anna Holst, Martin Lyng-Petersen)

Iværksætteri fra et finsk persektiv

mickos-vesterbacka

2. Runde af Europæiske foredragsholdere på Stanford University løb af stablen i mandags, denne gang med fokus på Finske iværksættere og deres erfaring med virksomhedsopstart i Silicon Valley. Der blev lagt meget vægt på de kulturelle forskelle finnere og amerikanere imellem og én ting som man som dansker blev klar over er, at finnere rent mentalt ikke er  så langt væk fra den danske mentalitet. Continue reading “Iværksætteri fra et finsk persektiv”

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