By Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Chair, Special Interest Group on Entrepreneurship and Learning, Silicon Vikings
Full Disclosure Note: Since I have been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for about 6 years and serve as the Chair of the Special Interest Group of Entrepreneurship and Learning, I cannot say I am a “disinterested party in promoting the Nordic Brand.” Silicon Vikings have for 20 years been promoting “thinking and doing Nordic” from our HQ in Silicon Valley and our nodes in the Nordic & Baltic region. Over the last year, we have also had support from Nordic Innovation for a project to build a Nordic Edtech Network (see various posts on this in our blog), and Nordic Innovation is very much supporting and promoting the Nordic brand.
Silicon Valley, more specifically, Palo Alto, also is the home of the Nordic Innovation House (NIH), led by Gro Dyrnes (who is also the Director of Innovation Norway) and other Nordic colleagues, also with support from Nordic Innovation. NIH is a great addition to the Nordic presence in Silicon Valley, complementing and augmenting (to a Nordic level) the work by Innovation Norway, Vinnova, Tekes, Finpro, Team Finland, and Innovation Center Denmark. Nordic startups are among the greatest beneficiaries of the presence of NIH and the Nordic organizations in Silicon Valley, and they all help connect entrepreneurs, but also large enterprise representatives who come to Silicon Valley to seek new partnership or technology as part of their open innovation strategies.
The explosion in entrepreneurial activity in the Nordics over the last five years or so has helped strengthen the Nordic brand in tech, and has helped create growing interest among US (and European) investors in Nordic tech companies. And interesting signs are pointing to new areas—such as AI, or specific areas of AI, like machine learning—where we may see growing presence of strong Nordic startup companies in the future. Just this morning, an article described a new initiative to accelerate the building of education, research and competence development around Artificial Intelligence. Norway’s Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab. This is being established with funding from the Norwegian telecom company, Telenor, tech research contribution from Norway’s leading technology university, NTNU, and SINTEF, the leading Norwegian research organization (similar to SRI International in Silicon Valley) focused on the commercialization of the AI technology coming out of the lab. As I read the article, I wondered about:
- What similar initiatives have been launched or are under consideration in other Nordic countries for AI-focused research (basic and applied)?
- What potential Nordic collaboration opportunities exist around AI research as well as around commercializing and building companies around AI-related technologies (like machine learning)?
- And if larger, Nordic initiatives could be launched, would it not make sense for these to have a few representatives, either permanently or on a rolling basis, sitting in NIH in Silicon Valley as a way to connect with the many AI-focused initiatives and companies—small and large—that operate in Silicon Valley? At our Silicon Vikings event on Digital Transformation last week, one of our panelists was Nicolai Wadström, of Swedish background, and now heading a very interesting and unique venture capital investment firm, BootstrapLabs Group, that is focused on Applied Artificial Intelligence. Nicolai has for some time had a “front row seat” at AI developments not only in Silicon Valley, but also in Asia and other parts of the world, and I suspect he would be interested in building bridges to Nordic AI initiatives.
Many other, similar opportunities no doubt exist in other technology areas, such as Blockchain, for instance. After reading Don Tapscott’s book, Blockchain Revolution (after I attended his book launch seminar in San Francisco in June of 2016), I have seen an explosion of interest in the Blockchain technology, with numerous consortia and companies emerging to explore how to exploit the technology. A friend of mine took a leadership position in an Oslo-based accelerator—TheFactory (running two parallel programs, FintechFactory and InsurtechFactory)—and reported growing interest in Blockchain startups. In conversations with a Finnish edtech platform company I therefore suggested that they should consider using their platform to create a Nordic Blockchain Knowledge Community to connect Nordic experts and companies focused on Blockchain, and to encourage dialog and collaboration across the Nordics.
Another development that I am hoping to see before too long, is more sizable investment funds focused on Next-Gen Nordic Tech, ideally of the magnitude similar to what Atomico’s recent tech venture fund of $765 million (Atomico is a London-based venture firm started by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom). Funds of this size would help accelerate the growth of Nordic companies in AI, Blockchain, and other key technologies of the future. Again, Nordic collaboration in creating large investment funds for risky tech ventures across the Nordics would help sustain the strong startup growth that the Nordic region has experienced in recent years.