From my last trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, I wanted to share some observations concerning Nordic startup scene, and what Silicon Valley (which I visited this January) could learn from them.
Denmark is a successful social “experiment”. Combination of welfare state and free market economy works here more than efficiently. Social safety, free colleges and healthcare, training programs, gender equality, work-life balance due to e.g. short work week and a year paid parental leave - and in the same time one of the highest incomes per capita among the developed nations and a number one country for business according to Forbes (while U.S. is only 18th) (1). Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
A healthy lifestyle
The first thing I’ve noticed in Copenhagen is that there are no traffic jams, since many people ride bikes instead of using other means of transport. Public bike system and infrastructure promote that lifestyle, which not only improves health (proved prolonged life expectancy) but also reduces carbon emissions. According to The Huffington Post half of commuting in the capital is by bike (2). 70% of Danes exercise minimum once a week and one third exercises at least four times a week (3). Combined with conscious food consumption, focus on prevention rather than curing the result is Denmark spends half less on healthcare per capita than the US (4).
Denmark is known for world-class academic standards, not to mention the fact that it has the highest expense on higher education in the OECD (5). Universities are free of charge and each student can get a workspace for free for three months (office on the campus). University offers help in preparing a presentation to find an investor, client or financing. There are coworking spaces, professional trainings, workshops for startups offered as well. Universities encourage entrepreneurship, collaborate with business and industry.
Denmark is really pretty, I mean not only architecture, but how the public space is organized for the citizens, how the transport works e.g. 24/7 subway, ferry for bikes in Copenhagen - all rarely met and influencing healthy lifestyle and social activity.
Happiness and relaxed attitude
Denmark is the happiest country (6), which results from all the factors mentioned before - among others social/financial security, work-life balance, low crime rate, healthy lifestyle, freedom to make life choices, opportunities - they all compose overall satisfaction with life. That is why many groundbreaking ideas and innovations may be born here.
Working and doing business in Denmark
Danes value work flexibility, often they may choose the work hours or working from home. They have a very short work week and minimum 5 weeks of paid holiday for each employee. Danes proud themselves at protecting workers rights. At the same time Denmark is a number one country for business, with strong property rights, contract enforcement, low free trade barriers, and overall ease of doing business.
Denmark is an influential European hub for technological/software companies. It is a major world player in the field of biotechnology. Just to cite some of the rankings: 2nd in Europe in Innovation leaders, 2nd in Talent production, 4th in Most IT-advanced countries, 4th according to Global Creativity Index (5).
The community in Denmark is really active, huge amount of young people work every day in well-known corporations such as McKinsey and Deloitte, on business strategies for banks, refineries, and insurance companies, finally just to set up own startups and use contacts and experience gained to raise an investment.
People are open-minded and investors, because of the fact that they have a lot of saved capital, really willing to back the young founders. Being in Copenhagen startup community you immediately get lots of support from others. People feel and show a responsibility to one another and commit to make society work (2).
Startup Economy workshop that I held during Startup Safary CPH Startup Safary Copenhagen
SV vs Nordic startup scene
While Silicon Valley is the leader in the startup ecosystem, it's worth to mention Nordic region is the #2 most prolific tech hub in the world on a per capita basis (7), so the leader needs to beware and learn from the second placer.
- Startup Guide Copenhagen, 2015, p. 1.