Power in numbers

As the 11th annual Oslo Innovation Week kicks off, Fiona Shaw talk to Oslo Business Region’s managing director Fredrik Winther about the city’s innovation scene, sustainability and how lovely life is in Oslo.
Published —
10.18.16
Writer —

Oslo is fast making a name for itself as an innovative, socially-responsible business hub – Europe’s fastest-growing capital city has a focused cluster of businesses using technology to solve problems, and a strategic development plan to grow and develop them. Kahoot, Nimber and Huddly – to name but a few – have all expanded beyond Norwegian shores, making a splash in the world of edtech, sharing economy and tech, respectively. 

Fredrik Winther is the managing director of Oslo Business Region, the organisation responsible for the city’s business development and running Innovation Week. As a city, it attracts a broad and ever-changing range of inhabitants. ‘Norway scores in the top tier in global quality of life measures,’ says Winther. ‘And as the capital, Oslo is a natural choice both for Norwegians and international talents who wants to combine a serious professional career with a high quality life. Not many cities allow for that combination. In the end of the day, you only live once, and why not do it in a high quality compact Nordic capital?’ 

Oslo’s entrepreneurs are using technology to solve problems. The preceding weekend saw a gathering of Oslo’s techfugees, all pitching ideas to solve the issues encountered by the 65 million refugees around the world. Its culmination saw three finalists presenting their ideas, and a winner announced at the opening press briefing. Cutting Edge looks at how scientific research and tech can be used to solve problems around future transport, space, medicine, digital, materials and a combined global future. Other events look at virtual reality, social innovation and shareable cities.

Innovation Week’s recurring themes involve ideas around innovation, technology and collaboration – a conscious effort to move reliance away from oil and gas towards a knowledge-led economy has thrown a focus on creating value from research and technology. The country has a clear idea of its direction amid a global fall in oil and gas prices. Winther says: ‘The positioning of Oslo Innovation Week is a combination of the “perfect storm” created by decreased oil prices and new global tech trends. Both investors, tech experts, business heads – and everybody around – wants to tap into the development of new high tech companies, partly derived from what used to be knowledge-led oil and gas tech companies, and partly from the increased hunger to create companies with a real impact. The United Nation’s goal for sustainability is fast becoming subsidies for the traditional industry clusters and established business verticals.’

Oslo’s fast-growing population is highly educated, and putting its learning to good use. Sustainability, social value and responsible business lie at the heart of the city’s prolific start-up base. While few would describe themselves as social enterprises, a responsible attitude and sustainable ethos unite scores of new businesses. It is, says Winther, the Oslo way. ‘These days – and for the coming generation of investors and tech startups in Norway – if you don’t deliver on sustainability, social value and responsibility, you will simply not be able to attract talents – or get through the door of the many tech incubators in Oslo. To solve real societal problems is becoming and integral part of all business development.’

In 2016, investment in Norwegian start-ups rose 300% – nearly three quarters of them in Oslo alone – accounting for more than €9 million. Winther says: ‘Over the last four to five years, the Oslo start-up scene has gone from what could be seen as a teenagers experimenting and searching for identity, to a more grown-up situation, and a city who wants to lead the way, contribute to shape the trends of future of sustainability and global business.’ 

This years 70+ events fall under the banner of ‘power couples’, an idea due be rolled out as unique to Oslo. The theme emerged as a specific response to creating future innovation – great minds thinking not alike, but bringing the great minds of different disciplines together. Winther says: ‘There is neither a lack of new tech-startups nor capital in Oslo right now. But there is a relative lack of experienced and competent venture capitalists. This is really well compensated for by bringing in a cooperation between the traditional global players within advanced technology and finance like Telenor, Kongsberg, DNV, Microsoft, DNB, and connecting them to the startup ecosystem. That kind of “power coupling” is growing fast in Oslo, we like to frame it “The Oslo model”. It’s something you would not find to the same extent in Stockholm or Helsinki, for instance – places more know to be more crowded with traditional VCs.’ 

The city adds 10,000 new inhabitants every year. They are young and tech-friendly. Introducing Innovation Week, governing mayor Raymond Johansen points out that Oslo has the ingredients for radical innovation. ‘Innovation happens, he says, ‘when you connect previously unconnected knowledge. They are solving challenges. They’re not opposites, but synergies of the future.’

It’s easy to see the impact of collaboration in such a small, walkable city. Distances are short, both geographically and politically. ‘Compared to the rest of the world, Oslo has no hierarchies, and is an egalitarian society,’ says Winther. ‘We have a very short distance between people and power, and between words and action. We are used to collaborating across disciplines and titles. So it is very natural for us to put powercouples on the world’s agenda.’

OIW 100 Pitches, a popular Innovation Week staple, shines a light on the city’s start-up scene for all visitors. ‘I’m looking forward to it,’ says Winther. ‘It gives an accurate picture of the level of early phase startups from the Nordics right now. In the finals more than 20 of the winners from the entry rounds will present, and as always the start-ups will both represent great investment and partnership opportunities, as well as a collective crystal ball into the future of tech.’ 

PHOTO CREDIT: GORM K GAARE / EUP-BERLIN.COM

Ethos will be reporting from Oslo Innovation Week throughout the week, including a ‘Best of Oslo’ email for our subscribers on Friday. To sign up, click here.