Startup accelerators in the Nordics - a guide.
Judging from the efervescence in the Nordic startup ecosystem, one may think that the related infrastructure is quite solid when it comes to startup hubs - be them incubators, accelerators or simple working spaces. It is solid, in a way, as there are many options where an entrepreneur can look for support in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway or Iceland.
We were however curious about startup accelerators options and dug in in order to see what a young company can do when it comes to joining an accelerator in Scandinavia, or simply finding good and relevant support for growing.
Firstly - it should be said that, as the name suggests, before considering joining an accelerator you need actually to have something to accelerate. That means a product that has some initial customer traction. If you don't, you may want to consider an incubator, there's more of those in the Nordics.
Secondly - you must know what a startup accelerator entails: cohort-based programs, fixed-term (usually a few months) that include mentorship and educational components in a common working space and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.
Accelerators can be generalist or sector focused and usually are a result of one or more combinations of the three: investor-led, matchmaker focused and resulting of an ecosystem (i.e. events, communities)
Since the application process is open to anyone, it can be quite competitive to get in. Usually the participation is free, as the costs are covered by sponsors or other business partners of the accelerators. Some provide modest grants covering expenses and some ask for equity in exchange.
The best accelerators in the world provide a seed investment in exchange for equity - YCombinator, probably the most popular worldwide, invests $120k in return for 7% of the company. We know cases which are not as favourable (i.e. EUR 25k for 8% of the company) but each startup knows its objectives and expectations and acts accordingly. Good accelerators usually provide very friendly terms and thusly are worth looking for.
A program lasts typically between 3 to 4 months. During this time, entrepreneurs receive mentoring and training, and they are expected to iterate rapidly. Programs end with a demo day, where the startups present their business ideas and concepts to an audience made of investors.
Now, getting back to startup accelerators from Scandinavia, the short conclusion is that we couldn't find as many and as good as we expected. That's probably a biz opportunity.
However, as you will see in the list below, there are a few startup hubs in the Nordics which seem to be at par with international ones - we specifically like the Katapult and StartupLab programs, both based in Norway.
Before applying and joining any program, we strongly recommend to set up clear expectations, understand what you can receive from such a program, check the background of the mentors and the people running the program, and contact some of the prior participants in order to understand how it worked for them.
Startup accelerators in Denmark
They claim to be the leading seed accelerator in Europe, but this type of PR claim is a frequent positioning syndrome, especially for startups. :-) It is certainly a solid option in Denmark - they run 6 vertical accelerators and besides the standard mentoring and resource access, have an optional investment of 67,000 EUR (500,000 DKK) as a convertible note applicable to the Technology Accelerator only.
Startupbootcamp is a network of industry-focused startup accelerators founded in Copenhagen, setup headquarters in London and with a presence worldwide. There doesn't seem to be a Denmark-based accelerator program per se but since they're Danish at origins, there's no harm in contacting them in learning more details (they were at Tech BBQ 2018 for example). They don't take equity and sometimes make investments, and provide participants with €15K in cash per team to cover living expenses.
Founders calls themselves a startup studio and usually incubate their own ideas as they run as a combination of lab and investors. They are open to outside ideas, also run some cool events sometimes and probably this the best way to get to talk to them and see if it's your cup of tea. If you're in Copenhagen, that is.
inQvation runs a working space that belongs to the Zibra Group. However, they also claim to incubate startups and this caught our attention, since they announced two investments in August 2018 - in Goodiebox and Cortium. Not an accelerator per se but worth checking out, especially if you are a Copenhagen resident.
Startup accelerators from Norway
Katapult Accelerator was launched in 2017. There's not too many similar ones to be found in the Nordics, and a very straightforward, by the book accelerator - startup program offering mentorship along with investments up to $150k in a 3-month incubation program in Oslo.
StartupLab is the other accelerator from Oslo (and Scandinavia) that is pretty much standard, compared to what you may be able to get from top accelerators in the world. NOK 1.2M investment (if Norway-based they can hook you up to 3MNOK including public grants), 3 months program, strong network and plenty of great alumni. They have a companion investment company, Founders Fund, which makes the investments and can followup in additional rounds if necessarry.
The Factory is another interesting accelerator option from Oslo. The provide funding of up to NOK 350k ($38k), a lot of other perks, access to networks and knowledge providers. They also have a companion investment company, FintechAngels, with LPs made of a group of local business angels.
ArkwrightX is rather an incubator, not an accelerator, also based in Oslo. It is the initiative of a Norwegian management consulting company, Arkwright, leveraging its resources outside the core business model. They also provide equity investment upon entering in the program (NOK 500k - 1M) and claim to have a network of potential co-investors.
Startup accelerators from Iceland
We have found one startup accelerator in Iceland, Startup Rejkjavik - a 10 week long mentorship driven seed stage accelerator program that runs from June to August each year from Reykjavík, Iceland. They don't take equity nor do provide investment, but the participating companies receive $22,000 (2,4 million ISK) in funding, on top of the usual (i.e mentoring, networking, working space, matchmaking). It is an international program, accepting startups from in or outside Iceland.
Startup accelerators in Finland
The Vigo programs
Finland has a fragmented ecosystem with many local and small startups events and initiatives, be them incubators, startup competitions or working spaces. You may find several programs calling themselves accelerators but we couldn't find too many options making a proper cut. The Finnish government is behind a program called Vigo which is a state-owned blueprint accelerator running programs under different names, depending on the partnerships, usually made with a venture company from Finland. As of 2018, Vigo runs programs with Cleantech Invest (which now is called Loudspring), Avanto Ventures, Icebreaker, Gorilla Ventures, Helsinki Ventures, Newventures and Royal Majestics. Best way to find details is to contact them directly as there's not too many public about how they want to accelerate startups.
Vertical is one of the known Finnish startup accelerators, based in Helsinki at Maria 01. Vertical runs corporate-sponsored programs looking for international startups running in specific verticals. In 2018 they seem to be running 3 programs - one with Stora Enso, one with Samsung and one with Orion Pharma. They don't take equity, don't provide funding, just access to network and resources.
xEdu is another known startup incubator from Finland - they claim to be Europe's leading business accelerator for edtech startups creating transformative learning solutions with pedagogical impact. xEdu provides both startup incubator services and accelerators - 2 acceleration program for edtech startups per year: Spring and Fall. They take 3-5% in equity for their services, being part of the 3 moth program and access to network and resources.
Icebreaker is actually an early stage investment company from Finland and does not provide an accelerator per se. However, it can be an interesting accelerating option as they run a program called "Pre-founder project", which is a pre screening project for interesting founders and startup ideas. If they like you and your idea, they may provide a €50k-350k investment.
Turbiini Accelerator has been operating as a startup accelerator for students in Vantaa Technopolis since 2015. What they mean by an accelerator - a 10 week sprint starting from idea to quick protytping and go to market. Starting with fall of 2018 they also run a program in Helsinki. They don't take equity, don't provide funding, just access to resources, network and matchmaking services, both among founders and with investors.
Startup accelerators in Sweden
Sting is the most proeminent startup hub from Sweden, based in Stockholm, financed by the Swedish government and private investors. Sting provides both incubation and startup accelerator programs, supported by pre screening processes such as coaching sessions, generalists or by particular verticals. They take 2-6% stock options to cover the costs, and they have an investment arm, Propel Capital, which upon entering STING programs may provide a convertible note of SEK 300k ($37k).
Chalmers is another important Swedish startup hub, based in Göteborg, and which is run under the Chalmers University patronage. Chalmers provides access to all sorts of valuable resources, besides acting as a venture company per se - it runs both a startup accelerator (Stena Accelerator) and a startup incubator (Vasa Startup Camp & Encubation) covering company stages from ideas to scaling phases, with staged-investment from SEK 50k to SEK 15M
Think Accelerate is a startup accelerator based in Helsingborg running a twelve-week program with an international mentor network. Being part of Think is free, they don't take equity and don't provide investment funding, the program culminates with a demo day for matchmaking with investors.
Fast Track Malmö
Fast Track Malmö is a startup accelerator part of Minc, a startup hub from Malmö. Minc is running both Fast Track Malmö and an incubator - Minc incubator. The accelerator program provides $35-70k investment through the angel-backed fund Fast Track Capital and accept applications on an ongoing basis.
Sweet Studio is an interesting option, especially if you have an idea in the gaming vertical. The company is part of Sweet Capital, an investment fund created and funded by the founders of the gaming company King. They claim to co-found companies, dedicating in-house resources for crystalizing and getting them to market.
Other interesting options
Apart from accelerators, incubators and other startup hubs - i.e working spaces, startup competitions, or other programs, there are a few more other mentions worth considering:
The solo founder matchmaker
- Founders Institute is active in Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. They provide classess for entrepreneur wannabes ($1000 for the course) during which you will be walked through an entire process of starting from an idea to funding.
- A similar program but with a different twist is Antler, newly launched, ready to start its first class in January 2019. They source talents aka potential founders, for which they provide knowledge support, matchmaking for co-founders (if needed) and an individual grant to help cover your cost. They do however take equity in the company, if you set up one as a result of the program.
Tinc is an intensive 4-week accelerator program based in USA and run by the Nordic Innovation House (a joint governmental entity) especially for Scandinavian startups looking to validate product/market and business model fit and potential for global scale. The program was started by Innovasjon Norge in 2011 and now it is available for all the Nordic startups, with two programs, one in Silicon Valley and the other in New York.
nhack is a Chinese accelerator led by a Norwegian (Jon Eivind Stø) and sponsored locally by Danske Bank. Not clear how it's working out and whether they also have a Nordic physical location, but they aim to help Nordic businesses expand to Asia/China and invest small amounts in companies either through equity or convertible loans, then typically help these companies with prototyping, manufacturing, sales or raising further capital.
Did we miss any other notable option? Drop us a line.