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Looking to Build a Startup Community? Go Beyond Silicon Valley

These days we here a lot about different ecosystems in different countries, yet the prevailing sentiment of majority is to compare it to the Silicon Valley. Not to understate it’s significance – Silicon Valley is surely an extraordinary place of innovation and entrepreneurship. However it’s sometimes beneficial to look at it from different angle(s), at the end of the day success stories can come from anywhere in the world. During his presentation at Startup Istanbul, Martin von Haller, partner at Bird&Bird and an ardent startup community activist, offers to take a look up north, to the Nordics.

Nordic ecosystem can surely be labeled as a success story. With only 3% of Europe’s population they have taken 11% of the whole European VC funding volume and have consistently created $3.9B of exit value each year. Comprised of 5 countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland), the Nordic ecosystem has arguably proved to be a hotbed for world-class innovative startups. Notable exits include Mojang (Minecraft), King (CandyCrush), Just Eat, Supercell and Zendesk. But what can Nordic scene teach ecosystems around the world?

Look at the Big Picture

The Nordics arguably couldn’t have become the startup powerhouse they now are without underlying structural reasons. Nordic countries are in top 10 of countries in the world by GDP per capita, consistently topping other indexes such as Most Innovative Countries, Doing Business, Where To Be Born Index and others. Overall macroeconomic competitiveness surely adds formidable energy to the startup ecosystem, but it has to be accompanied by supporting infrastructures: legal system, tax incentives, vibrant talent pool and sustainable policies. In these settings, tech sector investments can provide necessary financial diversification to the overall economy! Win-win.

 Love Thy Neighbor… For His Strengths

 Rarely does one country have all the sufficient requirements for a successful ecosystem. Even when it does, it can always benefit and learn from those in geographical proximity. The reason why we are not talking about Swedish, Danish, Finnish or Norwegian ecosystems and referring to them as “the Nordics” is the cluster of overlaying networks and similarities that allow all countries to benefit from openness. So look for close trade partners, look for countries with similar legal infrastructures, look for countries with similar infrastructure integration. The perks of this? Building a regional brand for startups (size does matter), integration of human resources and finances (how to hire people from one country to work in another and how to attract investors from one country to invest in another). Innovation needs openness and the ecosystem will definitely get rewarded for it – larger fundraising market, greater market exposure and bigger community for learning and growing.

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─ April 4, 2016