An Exclusive Interview with Crown Prince Haakon on Norway’s Future as a Tech Hub

As the majority of you will likely know, I go to a lot of events. Why? Mainly because I can grow my network and solidify existing relationships.

Recently, there’s been someone else I’ve noticed outside of the usual crowd who’s started to attend all of the events I have, perhaps even more. Yet, their reasons for doing this aren’t necessarily as obvious as mine. The next King of Norway, Crown Prince Haakon.

Whether it’s addressing the crowds gathered at Slush to open the Nordic Showcase, opening Startup Extreme or attending the Norwegian Classroom at BETT, the Crown Prince has been omnipresent in the Nordic tech event calendar in the last six months.

While much has been written about the Crown Prince’s presence at these events, not much has been said about why the Crown Prince is spending so much time and energy on the Norwegian (and Nordic) startup scene, and why now. Eager to delve beyond the soundbites, I had the pleasure of sitting down one-on-one with HRH last week in London.

Never one to be shy, I immediately asked whether tech and startups was a genuine personal interest or whether it was just part of his duties.

 

“It’s definitely an interest of mine, I think it’s inspiring and worthwhile to work with engaged people that really think they can change our society and way of life for the better, and many of these entrepreneurs have that type of energy, so I really like working with them. Many of them are young and have that energy as well which is a good thing.

In addition to that, it’s really important to Norway, that we do diversify, that we do find new ways of creating economic growth and if we can do that in a way that benefits both Norway and the world at the same time that’s fantastic. So this is one way of me trying to help out a little bit in that direction.”

 

Keen to dig further into the latter part of this answer, and to get a better sense of where technology ranks in terms of priorities for Norway as a country right now, I asked just how vital tech is to the future of Norway.

 

“We are a fortunate country in many ways, we have a solid economy and a lot of things are going very well in Norway. However, we also need to think about what our income should be in the future, how can we make sure we create new business in the way that our country can prosper and the startup scene is an important part of that as we need that innovative culture.

Not just for the startups but also for the established companies and how we can develop them and ensure that the companies that are already doing well can continue to do so. I think that those links between the larger and smaller companies is really important so that’s something that I’d like to see improve, that the cooperation between them is growing and working well.”

 

While these two answers may be a little political in nature, the Crown Prince’s enthusiasm while speaking about entrepreneurs and startups shone through, and His Royal Highness was equally as passionate about the Norwegian startup scene as a whole.

 

“It’s fascinating and meaningful to follow the Norwegian ecosystem now and how it’s developing. I think there are many things that it has going for itself now, we’ve seen this at Slush and BETT where I’ve been today. We see more and more Norwegian companies go there and make a real mark for themselves internationally.

And I think what we’ve seen in the last couple of years, is that the whole ecosystem, from the entrepreneurs themselves, to the funders and to the Government, are all becoming more in-tune and working better together as a whole and as a team.

I definitely think that we are situated now in such a way that we will see quite substantial outcomes in the years to come. But of course what we need now is for more of those companies to reach real scale, so that’s what we are all hoping for.”

 

*Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media

 

I asked the Crown Prince to elaborate further as to why he believes this is the biggest challenge facing the Norwegian ecosystem right now.

 

“We have companies that have grown a lot and that are doing a really good job but obviously we would like to see more of that. I think once we have a few more that really get going, its easier for the companies behind them to reach the same level so once we get that critical mass we should be able to really grow many companies to an International scale, which is the main goal.”

 

These answers wouldn’t be out of place on one of The Nordic Web’s Norwegian analyses and demonstrated to me the level of understanding HRH now has regarding the Norwegian tech ecosystem.

Innovation Norway has played a key role in introducing HRH to the Norwegian and Nordic tech and startup scene, and Pal Naess (A subscriber and instrumental in making this interview happen), Director of Entrepreneurs and Startups at IN can often be found by his side. While I expected to hear nothing but praise, I wanted to know how HRH saw Innovation Norway’s role in establishing Norway as a tech hub.

 

“I work closely with them, and Pal advises us and we work quite closely on how to do things. Innovation Norway is of course the Government side in this. They have the network, the capital and they want to make sure that the know-how is there as well, so they facilitate that in many different ways. It’s an important part of the way the system is set up.”

 

What about his message to investors who are yet to invest in Norwegian companies or have yet to spend much time there.

 

“Come and visit us, there’s so much going on now all around the country, of course in Oslo and Bergen but also in Stavanger, Trondheim, Tromsø and all around the country. I also visit Haugesund which is a small town on the south west coast and there’s a lot going on there as well.

I think that there’s been quite a shift in the last 5-10 years, where the whole ecosystem has been catching up. In Norway, the petroleum sector has taken a lot of our time and energy and while we’ve had great technological breakthroughs and very impressive developments in that sector, we sometimes tend to forget that when we look at Norway and innovation.

This innovation culture in other areas has also been catching up with some of our neighbours now in the last 5-10 years. Of course Finland, Sweden and Denmark have been doing a good job but we are now possibly developing faster than they are when it coms to our ecosystem right now. (HRH is clearly reading The Nordic Web)

So in my mind that should tell investors that this is an interesting market and will be for the next decade, so it would be wise to pay us a visit.”

 

When asking HRH which other sectors he spent the majority of his time in I believe I got to the crux of his own interest in the tech and startup scene.

 

“My wife and I work a lot with young people. Young people that need a slightly different way of finding their way back into education and work, so we work with companies that are specifically good at that, bringing youth that may have had a hard time following the regular education system. Finding a way to get the potential from every individual is really important for us as a society and for any society.

I work a lot with the UN and development issues. Especially, goal number one, the goal to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. I think that’s a big goal for the world but one that we can definitely achieve. So, I work across a number of different sectors, but they’re all interlinked though, because in order to eradicate extreme poverty, we need growth in the economies and the way to do that (or one of the ways) is to create this entrepreneurial culture and finding new solutions for business and development, so it’s all interlinked.”

 

The theme that stands out to me in HRH’s answers (besides the desire to grow the economy) is that his interests all include youthful fresh-thinking, innovation and world-changing potential. These three things can be found in abundance in the tech sector and likely sit at the core of the Crown Prince’s keen personal interest.

It’s rather a paradox for such a traditional institution like the monarchy to be so forward-thinking, but if I had to choose one word to sum-up my impression of HRH it would be just that.

Towards the beginning of our meeting I asked HRH what he thought and hoped the tangible outcomes would be of his increased involvement in the Norwegian tech scene and he told me that he’d leave it up to others to judge his contribution.

So, with that royal blessing, after the time spent I with him, I’d judge that Norway and the Nordics are lucky to have someone who understands both the opportunities and challenges that exist for the tech industry who will be in a position to play an important role in how we approach these in the years to come.

Neil S W Murray founded The Nordic Web in 2014 in order to provide the Nordics with the quality coverage it deserves. As well as being Founding Editor of The Nordic Web, Neil is also an active community builder in the region, participating in a number of initiatives, and has previously worked for Tech.eu.