The Week Ahead: the Uber of the Arctic

Would-be entrepreneurs gathering in Rovaniemi will find an economy that could be ripe for disrupting.

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There is no app for that. Yet (Kevin McGwin)

Pitching your idea as “the Uber” of something was once a sign that your table-top firm might just be on to something. Today, it just as often connotes a lack of the entrepreneurial thinking it is meant to convey. Even so, these are the years of turning industries on their ears, and Uber, for all the car-hailing service’s shortcomings, may best be remembered for upending an industry and generating tens of billions of dollars in investments in the process.

With that in mind, and given that the enthusiastic talk of the Arctic’s business potential (encompassing everything from minerals to reindeer cartilage) is rarely matched by investor action, an Uber of the Arctic might be an idea whose time is hasn’t yet passed.

Where might such entrepreneurial thinking be targeted? Areas such as mining, transport and telecommunications have long held promise as money-makers for the region, yet have only panned out to varying degrees. This ought to put them on the top of the list of industries in need of a new way of doing business that suits conditions in the region.

Moreover, like the taxi services which Uber has shaken up to a degree that operators have been unable to ignore, these industries face high barriers to entry. A lower bar lets in new, innovative firms and pressures existing firms to step up their games.

However, successfully employing platform-based business innovations of the Uber sort seems to require that a firm is consumer-oriented. These ideas may be of little use in the Arctic, where heavy industry dominates, and consumer activity takes place in small, often insular, domestic markets.

Entrepreneurs might have more success doing something related to tourism, given the growing number of travellers visiting the region. For example, Rovaniemi, which hosts a gathering of would-be entrepreneurs in the coming week, reported a 50 percent increase in flights and fully booked hotels last year. In some cases, such as Iceland, the number of visitors well exceeds the population.

Destinations can fall out of fashion, but statistics indicate the industry’s growth globally shows no sign of falling off its decades-long trend, meaning that, if cleverly managed, the industry could remain a significant source of income. The wave of innovation associated with Uber and, more appropriately, Airbnb, a service connecting home-renters with short-term tenants, would be one way of preventing Arctic destinations from getting into a rut. Regional collaboration, long a hallmark of Arctic organizations, could also speed the spread of the most successful ideas.

If there is a killer app in Arctic, chances are it will come closer to the surface this week during the fourth instalment of Northern Stars, a seminar organised by Lapin AMK, a technical institute in Rovaniemi.

The main event itself involves taking the classic approach of speaking at young people about things like entrepreneurship, innovation and business opportunities in the region, though a significant amount of time will be spent on offering insights into starting a business and surviving as an entrepreneur.

There will also be an opportunity to for people with an idea to present it in public, during a pitch session. Judges will evaluate their ideas and presentation skills. This could be the start of something Uber.

When and where
April 19-21; Rovaniemi, Finland 

For more information
Northern Stars Seminar 

Further reading
Finland wants to show the world what it means to be Arctic

 

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 17th annual session
When the UNPFII, the annual UN gathering responsible for discussing indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, meets for its annual two-week session starting this week, the official agenda will be “collective rights to lands, territories and resources.”

Despite the timeliness of the issue for indigenous groups in the Arctic and elsewhere, more closely watched will be the start of a three-year process looking into whether indigenous groups should get more of a say when the UN conducts business on issues that affect them.

This will not be the first time the UN has sought to address the way indigenous peoples are treated. The 2007 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example, establishes “minimum standards,” in the areas of the UNPFII’s remit. That leaves plenty of room for the process to make improvement.

When and where
April 16-27, New York

For more information
UN Division for Social Policy and Development, Indigenous Peoples

Further reading
Indigenous consultation is a two-way street
At UN, Inuit leader praises Canada for support of Indigenous declaration

 

High North Dialogue
True to its name, High North Dialogue will spend the better part of the two days over which it runs discussing ideas for how the region can move forward. Increasingly, action is becoming as important a part of the event as talk.

Firstly, the conference itself will seek to contribute to economic development in the region by presenting its Business Index North. Now in its second year, the index aims to provide a measure that businesses, public authorities and the media can all turn to when seeking to understand the region’s economy and its outlook.

In addition, the High North Dialogue will recognize the actions of others, handing out two prizes. Now in its third year, the High North Hero Award honors a person, organization or company who has contributed to the development of the High North during the previous year. This year, a second award has been instated. The High North Young Entrepreneur contest will select the best business idea from amongst a field of 16 entries. Ideas are judged on relevance and feasibility. True to the event’s approach, they will also earn points for originality.

When and where
April 18-19; Bodø, Norway

For more information
High North Dialogue
Business Index North
High North Hero

Further reading
American investor named High North Hero of 2017

 

Also this week

Yukon River Panel, semi-annual meeting
An advisory body composed of fishermen and users of Yukon River salmon resources from the U.S. and Canada, the Yukon River Panel makes recommendations about the river’s salmon stocks to management entities in the US and Canada

This week’s meeting will review the 2017 salmon harvests and release forecasts for 2018. Also on the agenda is a review of subsistence uses in Alaska and Canada.

When and where
April 16-18; Anchorage, Alaska

For more information
Yukon River Panel

Further reading
Permafrost thaw altering chemistry of Yukon River, signaling profound changes for entire basin

 

Pan-Arctic Workshop: Challenges in Arctic Navigation
Academics, businesspeople and public officials meet to discuss ways to improve navigation on land, air and sea in the Arctic. Of particular interest will be how best to improve satellite coverage of the region.

The workshop is a part of the ARKKI Project, launched in October 2017 in connection with Finland’s Arctic Council focus on connectivity issues. The project seeks to support economic growth in the Arctic and Baltic regions, as well as safer navigation, by coming up with ways to improve transportation.

When and where
April 16-18; Muonio, Finland

For more information
Pan-Arctic Workshop: Challenges in Arctic Navigation
The ARKKI Project

Further reading
Regional differences complicate efforts to bring broadband to the Arctic

 

North Pole Marathon
Initially scheduled for April 9, the North Pole Marathon is now expected to be held this week. The race’s website addresses the qualities participants need: endurance, resistance to cold, deep pockets. This year, patience is also a virtue.

When and where
April 16; Camp Barneo, North Pole

For more information
North Pole Marathon

 

Further reading
Runners brave cold and snow for North Pole marathon
The Week Ahead: Going with the floe

 

Canadian Senate Special Committee on the Arctic, committee meeting
The Canadian Senate’s temporary committee looking into the “significant and rapid changes to the Arctic, and impacts on original inhabitants” holds its seventh session since being seated in December. Among those addressing this session will be Alison LeClair, Canada’s representative to the Arctic Council. The meeting will be streamed live. Recordings of past meetings are available on the committee website.

When and where
April 16, 6:30-8:30pm (local time); Ottawa, Canada

For more information
Canadian Senate Special Committee on the Arctic

Further reading
Canada’s new Senior Arctic Official sees increased Arctic importance internationally 

 

25 years of Barents cooperation – Youth perspective for the future
Sweden, currently the chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, a forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the Barents, seeks to give young people a say about the the present and the future of the region. The conference, 25 years of Barents cooperation – youth perspective for the future, will offer participants from the national, regional and local level the opportunity the chance to hear what the next generation has to contribute to the development of the Barents as a distinct area.

When and where
April 17-18; Luleå, Sweden

For more information
25 years of Barents cooperation – Youth perspective for the future
Barents Euro-Arctic Council Joint Working Group on Youth

Further reading
Arctic Youth Forum discusses how to make the Arctic an interesting place to live for young people

 

Workshop on Arctic marine environment cooperation in the Barents region
Groups interested in strengthening research cooperation in the Barents Region and Arctic gather to discuss common ideas, new possibilities and potential research topics for joint collaboration in the region.

When and where
April 18-19; Helsinki, Finland

For more information
Workshop on Arctic marine environment cooperation in the Barents region

Further reading
Nordic countries launch new environmental support program for Northwest-Russia

 

Arctic Encounter Symposium
The fifth annual session gives an American perspective on the various aspects of the concept of “Arctic security,” including geopolitical, environmental, economic and energy-related.

When and where
April 19-20; Seattle, Washington

Further information
Arctic Encounter Symposium

Further reading
Trump’s National Security Strategy mentions the Arctic, but not climate change

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].