A Silicon Viking’s Effort to Help Nordic Edtech Entrepreneurs Succeed


A Silicon Viking’s Effort to Help Nordic Edtech Entrepreneurs Succeed

By Tony Wan     Jun 23, 2016

A Silicon Viking’s Effort to Help Nordic Edtech Entrepreneurs Succeed

Nordic countries may be sparsely populated, but their companies sure know how to make an outsized impact. The region has blessed the world with games such as Angry Birds and Minecraft, and now entrepreneurs are applying that playfulness to schools with some success. Kahoot, a Norwegian startup gamifies quizzes and other classroom activities, now claims 30 million users across the globe.

Hundreds of other Nordic edtech entrepreneurs are also hard at work, according to Eilif Trondsen. To track of these efforts, he is spearheading The Nordic Edtech Network, a project that aims to connect and support the region’s edtech entrepreneurs.

“There is an explosion in interest in entrepreneurship, and as a result we’re starting to see interest building around edtech,” Trondsen tells EdSurge.

Trondsen is a former economist at SRI International who’s been “bitten” by the edtech bug and has spent nearly 20 years doing research and consulting on education technology companies. Since 2011, he has overseen the Entrepreneurship and Learning group at Silicon Vikings, an organization that aims to support and connect startup communities in Nordic and Baltic regions with Silicon Valley’s community of entrepreneurs and investors.

The one-year project, which will operate on an estimated $50,000 budget, is partially funded by Nordic Innovation. One of the goals behind Nordic Edtech Network is to educate and prepare entrepreneurs to compete globally. “Some of the entrepreneurs are a little naive when it came to the international marketplace,” observes Trondsen. His aim, through the Nordic Edtech Network, is “to help these companies becoming realistic in what they can accomplish against global competitors.”

Already, some of these entrepreneurs have proven they can apply principles in the Nordic education culture—which prioritizes play and spontaneity—to schools in other countries with a heavier emphasis on tests and homework. Minecraft, developed by Swedish company Mojang, has been a hit among teachers and students (and its new owner, Microsoft, is creating a version of the game specific for use in the classroom). Kahoot claims 20 million U.S. students, which make up 75 percent of its traction. Another Norwegian startup, WeWantToKnow, has enjoyed more than 700,000 downloads for its math game, Dragonbox.

“The concept of play has been a pillar of everything we have been built on,” Asmund Furuseth, co-founder of Kahoot, tells EdSurge. “The whole idea behind play has become a little forgotten in schools, so we want to bring it in a simple and inclusive way.”

Not all Nordic edtech companies are building games, of course. One of the major tasks for the Trondsen’s team is to map a directory of edtech companies and organizations in the Nordics (which encompasses Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). So far it counts more than 280 groups. Expect that number to grow; each country has a team leader responsible for keeping the list up to date.

Trondsen has called Finland the “trailblazer” of the five countries when it comes to public support for edtech entrepreneurs. Tekes, a publicly-funded organization, has financed more than €30 million worth of research and events around learning technology. The capital, Helsinki, is also home to an edtech accelerator, xEDU, that provides testbeds, connections and €10K to €300,000K in funding. But Finland’s neighbors aren’t sitting idle; there’s an Oslo Edtech Cluster and EdTech Sweden, among other groups, seeking to galvanize the local communities.

Connecting these talents, resources and networks is the goal of Trondsen’s Nordic EdTech Network. In addition to building connections and a directory of companies, the site will include detailed profile for each company, which will details around their product, traction, competitors and other salient metrics for potential business partners and investors. There are few Nordic venture firms, Trondsen says, which leads many entrepreneurs to turn to bridge organizations (like Silicon Vikings) to connect them to foreign investors.

For Nordic entrepreneurs looking to generate more global buzz, Trondsen offers this first recommendation: create a version of your website in other languages. After all, he asks, “who reads Finnish?”

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