Business development · 5 May 2016

Not just Vikings and brooding detectives: Micro business lessons from Norway

startup Norway

Informal is the new normal

it’s very important to us that the StartUp Lab is not school, emphasised Holmefjord. Smart people are going succeed one way or the other. Probably, they’re not going to want to be lectured on how to do XYZ. Rather, they’re likely to want to find out where they have in issue, where they need some input and advice and then they’re going to come and ask. If you don’t have the ability to work that out, as an entrepreneur, you’re probably not going to be successful.

The onus that this relaxed atmosphere puts on those trying to make a success of a young business has been difficult for Mathews to adjust to. One of the biggest challenges of working here has been that, as a Canadian, were very open, and Ive been growing a network for my entire life. There are solid formal mentorship programmes, people are used to taking others under their wings, and giving younger people a chance. In Norway you have to really earn other people’s respect, and work hard for that.

The importance of informal learning is something which Holmefjord is evidently passionate about. Just coming and sitting down and listening to someone talking, that’s not going to help you. There are so many good videos out there on YouTube were not going to be able to teach you any better than that, he argued.

‘so we have lawyers, we have accountants, we have IP consultants. But they’re not giving lectures. they’re sitting in an office and you can knock on your door if you have questions, when you have those questions. Of course you save time and money compared with if you had to go an make an appointment. But, most importantly, it lowers the barriers, so you actually ask for help it makes it more likely that you ask for help when you actually need it.

There is a pervasive attitude in the Lab that learning doesnt just come from these experts, but from the other people that small business owners happen to be chatting too over coffee, too. All of the management team have entrepreneurial experience Holmefjord’s in Silicon Valley and he is a firm believer that quick chats rather than long, structured training days provide the best way to get this across to the resident business founders.

it’s very efficient for us to work with these companies in this way we can have five different ten minute meetings in an hour. We can do workshops too, but we can also just be there for a quick question, which again lowers the barriers to asking for help or asking for an introduction.

More Silicon Valley expertise comes in the shape of Anders Eikenes, the co-founder of disruptive teleconferencing startup Kubicam. A former optical engineer at Norwegian firm Tandberg, he was part of the company when it was acquired by Cisco for $3bn. Despite being at the helm of a company with just 12 employees and one client, the fact that client happens to be Google puts him in a position that the majority of small business owners will never reach.

all the 60 companies that have been here since it launched, it’s been very interesting to learn from all of them, he explained. We all help each other. Weve just graduated in a way our office is just outside the main StartUp Lab. But being able to pop in and still be part of the community here is invaluable, said Eikenes. I wouldnt have met you if I hadnt have been here, right

His final point was certainly an apt one. Our visit to the StartUp Lab, which was planned just a couple of days in advance, saw Holmefjord wander around the open plan space seeing if anyone wanted to talk to a British journalist.

don’t forget about work-life balance


Across the whole of Norway, the average working week of 33 hours is one of the world’s lowest. With young companies famous for the 24/7 commitment they require from founders and employees, the idea that quite so low a commitment would be conducive to a successful startup seems inconceivable.

Indeed, for Holmefjord, a willingness to put in the hours when necessary is a key component of what makes a young company founder a promising contender for investment. Do the team members show up early and work late? There’s a huge failure rate with any early stage business, and you need to have more than just a good product to overcome that.

But there’s also a sense of pragmatism ingrained in the attitude of both the StartUp Lab manager and the space’s resident businesses. Although I work at least 60 hours a week, the cultural focus on work-life balance definitely impacts on the atmosphere within the lab, explained Mathews.

we as a team are super-supportive of each other. We don’t believe in burning out, we don’t believe in not enjoying life, and we support each other on that. We work really hard, we have really tight deadlines, and we are very passionate about our work, but were also very understanding of one another.

there’s no pressure to be able to say: look at me, I was at the office for 12 hours today there’s no one-upping each other. When I think back to Canada, and even living in Switzerland, it was very much about the clock. Here it’s a lot more about how to work effectively, get the job done and if you need to take a personal day, you take a personal day.

The grass isnt always greener on the other side of the world



Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics as well as running a tutoring company.

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