Danes do it differently: #CPHFTW and the birth of an ecosystem

Some of the volunteers that give up their time to make the #CPHFTW Townhall events a success (Image via #CPHFTW) Some of the volunteers that give up their time to make the #CPHFTW Townhall events a success (Image via #CPHFTW)

By Dennis Mitzner

Tel Aviv, Berlin and Stockholm have impressive and expansive startup ecosystems, but each city has its unique historical and cultural circumstances that have contributed to the initial growth and current success of the ecosystem.

Emerging ecosystems are often faced with the following dilemma: to copy or not to copy a success story of another city from a faraway land. While emulating a winning recipe might be a good idea, it seldom is enough to create a self-sustaining and continuously expanding startup scene bursting with creative energy. What works for Silicon Valley, might not work for a city like Copenhagen.

Historically lacking in the wild entrepreneurial spirit of the US and the sheer chutzpah of Israelis, Scandinavians tend to employ a different approach. Supreme technical skills with a calm and analytical approach coupled with a bit of Lutheran work ethic and humility can create great things. Stockholm is a proven success story with companies like Spotify and iZettle and Helsinki is dominating the gaming scene.

The next Scandinavian city making its way to the top is Copenhagen. Unlike Stockholm that has for years been a magnet for top talent and VC money from around the world, no one has really paid much attention to Copenhagen, although many great companies originate from Denmark.

While the local startup scene existed as a disjointed group of individuals, there was no wider organisation or movement actively working to put Danish startups on the map.

In 2013, a group of 70 people (Editors note: For full disclosure, I was one of those 70) comprising founders, investors, angels and other tech enthusiasts, gathered at a town house in Copenhagen to discuss, debate and deliberate the state of the local startup and tech scene. A new grassroots movement, #CPHFTW (Copenhagen, for the Win), was born.

“Initially it was all voluntary, but in 2014 the core group of 70 hosted an event at the old stock exchange building in Copenhagen, and asked the 300 people in attendance what the Copenhagen, for the Win should be about. It was our first town hall meeting. There was plenty of excitement and many wanted to contribute”

— Christoffer Malling, CEO of #CPHFTW

Now, two years later, the scope of the organisation has expanded from local to regional.

“We are representing all of Denmark and southern Sweden. All the startups that are part of the community don’t actually consider themselves as Danish or Swedish, but Nordic. People are participating and driven by self-interest, that’s why it works”.”

— – Christoffer Malling, CE0 of #CPHFTW

Since inception, the organisation has amassed 132 tech startups from Denmark and the Øresund Region (southern Sweden).

The movement has had several successes through its matchmaking activities.

“Startups in our network have raised 6 million euros as a result of our matchmaking efforts,””

— Martin Von Haller – One of the Founders of #CPHFTW

#CPHFTW itself has raised 200k euros to date in order to facilitate the expansion of local startup communities. Startups pay an annual fee that differs based on the company’s success rate: big and profitable pay more while those in pre-revenue stage pay nothing at all. With the funds, the organisation currently employs a full-time CEO – now Malling – and a part-time consultant.

“We have developed three models of contribution so that young startups can become a member for 2500 kr. per year, seed stage for 10,000 kr. per year and growth / IPO / exit for 25,000 kr. per year. Depending on where you are on the journey you contribute an amount that matches it. We ask all Danish and Øresund-based tech startups for support.”

— Christoffer Malling – CEO of #CPHFTW

A recent #CPHFTW Townhall event (Image via #CPHFTW) A recent #CPHFTW Townhall event (Image via #CPHFTW)

Malling refers to  #CPHFTW as a trade organisation for the Danish tech startups.

“We help founders and employees get the right contacts and professional sparring, we drive and offer several digital platforms, do PR and represent the startups in relation to all national and international stakeholders – helping them to meet with the right investors – particularly international VCs”

“This created a core trust and a mentality to ‘give back’, which #CPHFTW could later utilize to create a broader platform that opened the network up to budding entrepreneurs”

While Copenhagen was without an active startup community for years, the city has produced a number of highly successful companies such as Tradeshift, Unity, Sitecore, Trustpilot, Momondo, Siteimprove, Templafy and Simplesite.

#CPHFTW wants to continue the pioneering example set by companies like Tradeshift and Unity, but Malling would like the future Danish unicorns to find a home in Copenhagen or elsewhere in the region.

“We want to see companies grow out of the region because this creates a marketplace for talent and we already have a good ecosystem of angels and developers in place”

Malling would like to see further unicorns like Klarna and Spotify emerge in the region. Both companies grew out of Stockholm and still run operations from the city.

“We need more companies that are willing to stay here in Denmark and Southern Sweden – even when they raise $100 million.”

“In the tech world, things move fast and companies are born anywhere in the world. I’m able to have an ear to the ground with The Nordic Web – the content is fresh, local, and of high quality, which is exactly what you need as a seed investor.

In fact, it’s through Neil Murray’s newsletter that I first heard about Mapillary. Several months later, I was fortunate to lead our firm’s investment in the Company to help drive the creation of a crowdsourced visual representation of our world”

— Nathan Benaich, Playfair Capital

Dennis Mitzner is Head of Editorial at The Nordic Web. Dennis has contributed to a number of the world's leading tech publications including TechCrunch, The Next Web, Fast Company and VentureBeat.