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!

Universities Generate More Startups

One fact is for sure, the world economy looks rather complicated these days. Another true fact is that more research and entrepreneurship create jobs and growth. The good news is universities are ramping up their efforts to commercialize their research. Universities filed more patents, created more startups, and licensed more technologies in fiscal year 2010 than in prior years, according to a survey conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that patents has grown from 3,088 in 2009 to 4109 in 2010 and the number of startups based on university technology also increased from 555 to 613.

One challenge many of the university based startup companies are facing is their early-stage technology that may not be an attractive investment opportunity for venture capitalists until their idea is further developed. Some universities are working to fill that gap by creating their own commercialization funds or providing resources to finance experiments or prototypes that don’t typically have a place in academic labs.

Start-up Chile: A National Entrepreneurship Experiment

These last weeks there has been a heavy debate amongst Danish entrepreneurs about the Danish conditions for entrepreneurship – Martin Thorborg’s fiery critique of the so-called entrepreneurship tax and the Gus Murray case being the most noticeable. Meanwhile, in Chile the government has taken a very different approach towards entrepreneurship – an ambitious project aiming to transform Chile into the entrepreneurship hub of Latin America.

From Brain-Drain to Entrepreneurship Hub
As many other developing countries Chile has historically experienced young talent leaving the country resulting in a serious brain-drain. In an effort to reverse this negative development the Chilean government has launched the project Start-up Chile. The project aims to attract world-class early stage entrepreneurs to start their business in Chile with the end-goal of transforming Chile into the entrepreneurship hub of Latin America and changing the Chilean mindset by fostering a new entrepreneurial spirit through success stories.

Goal: 800.000 New Jobs by 2014
With this project Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera, has set the ambitious goal of creating 100,000 new businesses and 800,000 new jobs by 2014. A pilot project that ran in 2010 gathered 23 teams from all around the world. The teams where each given a 1-year visa and a $40,000 subsidy. The goal for 2011 is to get 300 participants, and by the culmination in 2014 to have 1,000 participating in the project. In this way the project is also a network experiment. The thought is that the entrepreneurs will bring their network and link it to Chile while they participate in the project. The project therefore puts great effort into linking the visiting entrepreneurs to the local society; i.e. universities, incubators and local startups. In this way Chile strives to become a network center of entrepreneurial persons and companies.

Lessons to Learn
There has been a lot of talk about how to export the success of Silicon Valley to other countries and cultures with never-ending debates about whether or not the Silicon Valley culture can be imitated. Start-up Chile is truly one of the most interesting initiatives attempting to actually create this type of environment in a country otherwise hesitant towards entrepreneurship, where thinking big is frowned upon, a mindset that we can recognize in our own Danish culture where the fear of failure often prevents us from trying. It will be very interesting to see how Start-up Chile manages to achieve these ambitious goals, and hopefully the spillover effect of the project will influence other countries with the same entrepreneurial aspirations, maybe even as far north as Denmark, where a change of attitude is certainly needed!

What do you think – would an initiative like this make sense in a Danish setting? What would it take?

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