When Scandinavian start-ups compete against the giants of Sillicon Valley
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Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight (one short hour in the dead of winter) that inspires coders, but it’s a fact that Nordic countries rank at the top of the European innovation scoreboard. With events stimulating creation and exchanges like Slush, this region of the globe is to watch.
Cumulating only 3% of Europe’s population, Scandinavian countries represent more than 50% of its stock market with valuations in the billions of dollars since 2005. As the cradle of major successes like Skype, SoundCloud, Klarna, Rovio (Finnish creators of Angry Birds), and especially Spotify (based in Stockholm), the Northern countries alone generate 10% of the world’s start-ups.
Slush: the best of the best from the Nordic tech scene
Little known outside Scandinavia, "Slush" is an attraction for entrepreneurs, start-up dreamers, investors, partygoers, and volunteers. This tech conference, trade show, and festival brought together 3100 start-ups, 1800 investors, 20,000 participants from 130 countries, 2400 volunteers, 450 business leaders for two very full days in December – with outdoor temperatures never rising above 2°C.
From machine learning to deep tech, with breakthrough innovations galore, Slush covers an enormous range of topics featuring AI, VR, and AR, especially for the FinTech and healthcare sectors.
During this event, we found out that Europe can feel relieved of any inferiority complex with Silicon Valley. This year, in fact, Europe has twice as many initial public offerings (IPOs) as the US, including Spotify, whose IPO generated $26 billion in market value.
The latest issue of The State of European Tech, published yearly by Atomico and presented at the start of the Helsinki event, reported a record $23 billion investment in European technology, compared to $5 billion just five years ago. Seventeen new companies crossed the $1 billion market valuation threshold this year, more than double last year’s figure.
Considerable challenges: from regulation to diversity
The only drawback is that Europe has had difficulty getting exposure for its nearly 2 million researchers in this ecosystem – a factor that Slush is trying to remedy with the annual Science Pitching Competition.
Another obstacle when it comes to competing with the US and China is regulation, particularly the recent EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which puts additional constraints on development, even though the majority of start-ups regard the GDPR as beneficial for their customers.
Another disadvantage is that having imported, copied, and pasted in the Silicon Valley model, Europe now has a serious diversity problem in its tech sector. Indications of this can be seen, despite everyone’s best efforts, in the very male-dominated roster of Slush guest speakers. This issue was also raised in the talk given by Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner for Competition.
Slush 2018 was also the occasion to announce Slush Academy, an entrepreneurship training program backed by major academic partners – Saïd Business School (Oxford), London Business School, Aalto University, UC Berkeley, Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the Stockholm School of Economics – with internships for students in leading companies and start-ups, and personal mentoring by major entrepreneurs. Eventually, this free program, with its strong AI component, will offer fully personalized career paths that include internships, mentoring, and international job positions for each student. The Slush Academy is officially scheduled to launch in spring 2019, with some 30 students selected from around the world.