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While the UK, the US and other countries around the world have only recently been setting out plans to increase investment in sustainable projects and infrastructure, Nordic countries are ahead of the curve.
Digital startups in the region are developing software to support the green revolution, with tech entrepreneurs leaving lucrative careers to use code to take on the problems of climate change.
“Increasingly, people around me are leaving prosperous careers to focus on building more sustainable innovations,” said Tomer Shalit, CEO and founder of Swedish climate software company ClimateView – an interactive dashboard and platform to help visualise climate roadmaps.
Shalit himself was one of those people back in 2017 when he decided to focus exclusively on climate change, using public climate data to first create a minimum viable product before the Swedish government became ClimateView’s first client. Now four government agencies, hundreds of public users and an increasing number of cities and regions are using the tool to build their own maps.
The company is also attracting highly skilled workers who are looking for a challenge, said Shalit. “In our own ongoing hiring of developers – both front- and back-end – we are contacted by extremely skilled people from around the globe,” he said. “The fact that we are working to address climate change plays a role in this as developers tend to be drawn to complex problems.”
The Nordics, and Sweden in particular, have firmly latched on to this trend’s momentum from within the startup community.
Karma is another example from Stockholm. It is dedicated to battling one of climate change’s foremost issues – food waste – via an app that helps people rescue unsold food. Since it was launched in 2016, more than 725,000 users and 5,200 food outlets have signed up across Sweden, London and Paris.
“Compared to the US, we seem to be a bit further ahead when it comes to sustainability,” said Elsa Bernadotte, co-founder and COO of Karma. “The reason for this is probably a combination of several factors – it could be the political or social context you experience when growing up. At least in Sweden, we are quite focused on the collective over the individual, which I think could have an impact on what Swedish entrepreneurs choose to build companies around.
“Also, Sweden has been at the forefront of climate discussions lately in the media – epitomised by the rise of Greta Thunberg – and, at a very basic level, Swedes are taking personal responsibility for the impact they make.
“From reducing air travel to climate compensating, sustainability and climate change is triggering an urgent response from our younger generation.”
Read more about startups in the Nordic region
- In this e-guide, discover how the Nordic tech startup scene could rival the US’s Silicon Valley. We also take a close look at some of the hubs on offer, with features on Google’s investment in Finland.
- The Nordic tech startup scene is attracting funding from a variety of sources, with private equity firms, banks and traditional IT companies all keen to put money in.
- Tech startups focused on the enterprise sector are attending the Slush startup event in increasing numbers.
Making a contribution to solving “humanity’s greatest challenge”, as ClimateView’s Shalit puts it, seems naturally aligned to the ethos of digital startups, which feel the urge to tackle seeimgly impossible challenges through technological innovation.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of the Nordics’ prevalence in this space is that, despite being ahead of the curve, they still believe they are not doing enough.
Peter Holme Jensen, CEO and co-founder of Aquaporin, is certainly of this view, having watched his technology to reuse nature’s way of filtering water on an industrial scale gain early traction internationally.
“The concept behind our company is to replicate nature’s way of filtering water by producing a stable and active formulation for the aquaporin protein,” he said. “Fundamentally, the world is lacking clean water, so naturally such trends support commercial viability and continued long-term market growth.
“I don’t really understand the need for startups that are not sustainability-driven, in fact. Startups should create the future, and if we are looking for a sustainable future, then climate change and sustainability are obvious places to start.”
Shalit added: “People are increasingly beginning to take a gamble on sustainability as a commercial proposition, but there are still too few innovations out there, in my opinion.
“As more people in more industries start to realise the growth opportunities surrounding sustainability, such as clean energy, I believe we will see mass migration towards innovations of this type. At present, I believe we are still in the very early stages of the cycle.”
Capital follows growth
To reach the next stage, Shalit is joined by Jensen and Bernadotte in calling for an improved support network around the entrepreneur community, starting at government level via policies that bring calls to action around green innovation, culminating in an investor community that concurs in its assessment of green financing as a sustainable commercial proposition, as well as a sustainable focal point.
“Businesses like ours need investment to work, and the more investors that are willing to support sustainability-driven tech, the more success we will see in the field,” said Bernadotte. “In order to really solve global issues, we need to reach the mass market, and to do that requires bigger corporations behind these initiatives.
“For those to join, it is important to get across the fact that they don’t have to choose between cause and profit any more. We can have both.”
Jensen agreed that it is the financial sector, not necessarily digital startups, that holds the key for this trend to move forward, adding: “Green financing can help make the sustainable future that people want, a possibility.”
And, according to Shalit, there are signs of promise in this area. “Green financing is undoubtedly on the up,” he said. “This is partly driven by a willingness to contribute, but mostly by the massive growth that is being seen in the sector.
“Capital tends to follow growth, and this is certainly something we are beginning to see on an increasing scale within the Nordics.”