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Natalia Brzozowska
Startup Extreme

Startup Extreme: How to Be Extreme in the Nordics

In a way, Startup Extreme is just like many events for entrepreneurs – pitches, talks, networking and lots of coffee. And yet, thanks to the extreme networking experience that is the Voss trip, a strong focus on scaling and the uniqueness of the Nordic startup ecosystem – it’s not. We were there to observe and chat. Let’s take a look at what stayed with us.

Startup Extreme begins!

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway started the event with some ceremonial flag planting before moving on to deliver a great speech. Innovation, progress, population growth, the human condition – how are they intertwined, and what predictions can be made? There’s always a bigger picture for innovation, and it’s good to be reminded why and what it might be. A fitting presentation for the future King in the North.

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We were also impressed by James Brooman, who really put the ‘extreme’ in the event’s title. With his stories of pushing himself to the limits, he truly captured the spirit of entrepreneurship. In a way, he reminded all the people in the room that they shared some very particular traits. To be honest, the idea of walking across Australia makes my inner couch potato recoil with terror. On the other hand, there’s no way you can be an entrepreneur if you don’t know what risk and fear taste like. We guess ‘risk’ and ‘fear’ were the common denominators for all who joined the Startup Extreme Voss trip: a networking experience mixed with extreme sports.

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Startup pitches

To be honest, we’d listen to this all day. It’s not only about hearing cool ideas and wondering if we’d be a good technological match (although that’s mostly what we did). It’s also about seeing if one or two people are able to take those two minutes (it’s way shorter than you think) and convince the audience – especially those few key people in suits – that they’re going to be making real money soon. It’s a lesson in handling stress and being able to connect with your audience. The variety can be mind-boggling. Translator marketplace Skiwo definitely caught our attention, as did ScanReach: clearly filling a unique Nordic gap. We listened to startups just starting out, professionals with a strong base in medical research, and those who simply required another round of funding to get to a higher level. In the late afternoon, five top startups competed for funding. We were especially impressed with Milla Says, a platform for those with speech impairments.

The big issue: the secret sauce of scaling

And while we’re on the topic. We were naturally most curious about scaling-related presentations. Here are a few thoughts that remained with us from the Startup Extreme afternoon presentations.

  • When you’re thinking of scaling, you don’t necessarily need to think about new countries. Maybe it’s possible to scale your product within your own market. Can you open up to new audiences, or diversify sales by branching out into other cities?
  • One of the toughest hurdles to cross is obviously finding the right people. Those who understand your business, know your product and can guarantee at least some measure of success. Getting them on board is a long-term process and requires the founders’ individual involvement. It’s hard to find a good salesperson in another country if you’re not there, if you don’t meet that person and if you don’t sell them on the idea. They need to share your passion!
  • The base for scaling a business is a happy team. You want your employees to really be a part of your idea? Then they should feel excited about coming to work on Monday. It’s your job to make them feel this way.
  • Many startups look to the the United States, the land of the free… and the land of great risk when it comes to scaling. A few things you need to remember that before you decide to conquer a new market. First of all, know your client. Know your competition. Know which message to get across. To use a metaphor, sometimes it’s easier to understand your neighbours than a distant cousin.

 

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There’s something about Norway

So, north Norway is all dark forests, fjords and black metal. Not so. We enjoyed 20+C weather, a lovely stroll on Bryggen and sunshine (OK, until midnight). However, Startup Extreme might be the only place in the world where tiny food for tiny fish wins a 1mln NOK funding challenge, and no-one is surprised. The pitch was convincing, the idea obviously well-researched and it was the air of professionalism and genuine chance for decent ROI that might have clinched the deal for MiniPro. There is clearly something special about Nordic startups in general, and the ecosystem in which they grow. We’ve been working with Nordic companies for a while. Actually, we’ve written about this already, so why not take a look?

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