Norwegian Wealth Spurs Start-Up Funding

By Juliana Wheeler - January 10, 2024
313
Office buildings and apartments in Bjørvika, part of the redesign of former dock and industrial land in Oslo known as the Barcode Project (Jørn Eriksson via Wikimedia)

For a small country with a population of 5.4 million (New York City: 8.5 million) and land mass roughly the size of New Mexico, Norway punches above its weight economically. Its significant oil and gas reserves account for 20% of its economy, making it one of the world’s most prosperous countries with the largest sovereign wealth fund. 

This wealth enables government funding that helps to fund start-up businesses. There are three main sources of government investment: The Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway and Enova. These government-funded investors often require co-investment from private sources of capital, such as venture funds, which encourages private investors to participate in Norway’s start-up market. 

Venture capital funding in Norway in 2022 totalled $1.9 billion, which was down 27% from $2 billion a year earlier, which had hit an all-time high, according to Dealroom. VC investment in Norwegian companies in 2021 was up significantly from the previous year, when $620 million of venture funding was put to work.

Given Norway’s proximity to the polar ice cap, the government has a climate investment vehicle, Nysnø, which invests in companies that seek to address the challenges of climate change and to build sustainable businesses and technologies.

Profile photo of Mads Qvist Frederiksen
Mads Qvist Frederiksen, Director of the Arctic Economic Council(via LinkedIn)

In addition to direct funding, the Norwegian government supports early stage investing in other ways. It offers various incentives, such as research and development tax credits. It has also created a business-friendly environment through programs like Innovation Norway, which provides funding, advice, and networking opportunities to help tech companies grow.

Mads Qvist Frederiksen, Director of the Arctic Economic Council, says Norway’s and other Nordic countries’ government support is critical to fund their economies and growth businesses now and in the future. He says: “The Nordic countries have over the recent years focused on venture capital and start-ups because there was a period with little entrepreneurship and the governments realized they must invest in the future as well. In Norway there is a lot of venture capital funding that has come from traditional industries like energy and fishing, which then goes into the start-up system.”

Knut Evensen, CEO of Lodestar and founder of OKEA ASA, a venture capital-backed company that was successfully floated on the Oslo Bors, says foreign investors are increasingly looking for opportunities in Norway.

Profile photo of Knut Evensen
Knut Evensen, CEO of Lodestar and founder of OKEA ASA (via LinkedIn)

“The Norwegian currency has weakened compared to major currencies, like USD, GBP and EUR, making investments in Norway more attractive to foreign capital. We are starting to see more interest from foreign investors,” Evensen says.

Frederiksen from the Arctic Economic Council says foreign investors are necessary to grow new businesses in Norway, and across the Arctic. He says: “With just four million people in the Arctic we need outside investors, including from the US. Various municipalities and regions have in recent years created organizations and structures to attract investment.”

According to research by KBNN, an economic research firm in Northern Norway, about NOK 1 trillion ($91.6 million) will be invested in Northern Norway by 2030. KBNN says future investment in Northern Norway is likely to be focused on three areas: renewable energy, food and raw materials, and electrification of air travel.

Space technology, hydrogen and technology are other attractive sectors for venture funding in Norway.  Climate tech attracted investment in 2021, but the sector has fallen out of favor because sentiment has turned and there are a number of companies struggling with negative cash flows, Evensen from Lodestar says.

BØRSEN Oslo børs Børsbygningen (Oslo Stock Exchange building) Tollbugata Street NORWAY built 1829, 1911 Monumental lettered facade facing Rådhusgata to the south Neoclassicism Doric columns clock Børshagen Park 2023-07-29b
The Oslo Stock Exchange (Wolfmann, via Openverse)

Early stage companies’ investors eventually want to sell their stakes to release their investments, and Oslo Bors, part of Euronext, plays an important role in the early stage financing ecosystem in Norway. Venture capital and private equity investors are able to exit their investments through IPOs on the exchange, which enables them to return funds to their investors. 

Industries that turn to the Norwegian stock market, which are also attractive to VC investors, include energy, shipping and seafood sectors, which benefit from the country’s geography in northern Europe and its traditional business.

Eirik Høiby Ausland, Head of Listing Norway, says: “Oslo Børs stand out from the rest of the Nordic markets with many new share listings, and a cost effective and speedy process for admission to listing.”

Oslo Bors has the second largest number of energy companies listed, second largest number of listed oil service companies and the greatest number of listed shipping companies in Europe. It is also the largest financial marketplace for the seafood sector, and owns a regulated marketplace for buying and selling financial salmon contracts. 

 

Venture capital firms that are active in Norway include members of the Norwegian Venture Capital Association:

Venture fund

Later phase (acquisition fund, growth fund)

Family offices

Corporate Venture

 

By Juliana Wheeler, a US-based communications consultant and freelance journalist. Editor: Marybeth Sandell