The latest Silicon Viking event explored the topic of “Nordic Startup Journeys: Challenges and Opportunities” and was held at Babson College, one of the top ranked business schools for entrepreneurship in the world. The event featured a panel of Nordic CEOs, founders and advisors, including: Erik Harrell; David Helgason; Ari Tulla; Emil Eifrem and Lars Johansson. Jennifer Vessels, CEO of Next Step Growth, moderated the evening’s discussion. Attendees had ample time for networking and were able to ask questions in an extensive Q&A session.
Ms. Vessels began the night’s proceedings with an informal survey of the audience, which revealed that the vast majority of the audience was born in another country or worked for a Nordic based company, reinforcing the Nordic region’s status as an entrepreneurial powerhouse.
As the panelists introduced themselves and recounted the creation of their companies, an energetic aura could be felt, reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit existing among the panelists and attendees. Mr. Helgason, founder and CEO of Unity3D, described working in a garage in Copenhagen with “two beds and three guys” and “a mission to change [video] game systems.” Mr. Eifrem, Cofounder and CEO of Neo Technology, also built his business in a garage and then revolutionized data storage by rejecting the traditional “row and coloumn” system and instead modeled his storage system on the human brain’s network of neurons and synapses. While the rest of the introductions continued, the panelists engaged in a friendly and playful banter between one another.
Mr. Harrell, CFO of Opera Software, grew his business not from the ground up, but through a series of eight major acquisitions, now boasting 350 million users. Mr. Tulla, Co-Founder and CEO of BetterDoctor, described the tremendous growth of his company, helping 10 million customers to find healthcare over an 18 month period, while simultaneously dealing with the inherit complications of the healthcare system. Mr. Johansson, Emerging Growth and Venture Capital Partner at K&L Gates, helps international businesses move to the United States by providing legal counsel on employment, distribution, immigration and other issues. Such a law firm is truly vital when transitioning from the Nordic region to the United States.
After the introductions, the moderator prompted a discussion by asking, “How do you all define success?” The panelists defined success by a variety of metrics, such as survivability, achieving lofty goals (while still having fun), creating staying power, providing wider Internet access and thus creating universal knowledge, and having enough profits to give back. The general consensus was that “success” is more of an American obsession and that Nordic countries more highly value equality.
The moderator then asked, “What has helped the most” on the entrepreneurial journey to the United States. The answers comprised of learning from failures, acquiring local talent, the pay-it-forward culture, sharing experience between one another, legal counsel, choosing the right team, and coaches and mentors.
The Q&A portion of the event covered a wide array of topics, including: regional differences among game designers, innovations in the gaming industry, understanding local markets, the issues of securing proper visas as an entrepreneur, overcoming and adapting to cultural differences, and regional differences in office hierarchies.
After the scheduled discussion, audience members had time to talk to the panelists one-on-one in a less formal setting.