A Look Inside Oslo's Startup Lab

I first called in at Startup Lab almost 18 months ago to interview a startup based there. While I was impressed with their work, I didn’t take away a great impression of the environment. Having heard whispers of change, I returned to Startup Lab this week and was greeted by an entirely different atmosphere.
Startup Lab Oslo

Based at Oslo Science Park (Forskningsparken), the incubator is home to 65 fledgling companies, with a further 17 having outgrown the facility and moved on. Some startups have private offices but many sit together in a giant open plan workspace, complete with moveable desks.

“We have a very flexible setup. It’s low cost, easy to terminate the agreement with just one months notice, and everything is on wheels. You can add or remove desks easily so there’s no need to commit to a certain size of office months in advance. On top of that is our value-add services, such as the Founders Fund, weekly workshops and free sessions with external experts” – Kjetil Holmefjord, Incubator Manager

Despite the feel of a coworking space, Startup Lab is an incubator and companies must apply, as over 450 have done. There is no automatic acceptance. In fact, Startup Lab feels more like the “next step” for those ideas that were conceived in coworking spaces. Just one in five applicants are accepted, so there’s a feel that the startups you meet here are genuinely “best of breed”.

“It’s not only the idea, but also the individual. Do we believe in that person’s ability to lead the project and grow the company internationally? If you only have the ambition to do something in one part of Norway then this is not the place for you.” – Tor Bækkelund, Partner at Startup Lab

Trondheim is represented by digital receipt startup dSAFE, presentation system SlideDog, and DirtyBit Games, all of which originated from projects at NTNU. Other startups that caught my eye include the social-focused film streaming marketplace Filmgrail and enterprise architecture documentation service Ardoq. There’s an interesting group of media startups too, including travel guide builder Stay.com, advertising network United Bloggers and journalism-startup BylineMe.

Startup Lab from above

Funding the next generation

A major project within Startup Lab is the Founders Fund, a new take on angel investment. Primarily intended for members of the incubator, the fund takes a maximum 15% equity but works as closely with them as if they were majority owners.

The Founders Fund offers a one-time investment only, although the group do help startups ready to raise more money with introductions, etc. And of course, individual investors from the Fund are free to invest further privately. The individuals certainly have the capability to invest further, as most are influential names from some of Norway’s technology success stories including Opera Software, Chipcon, GET and Mamut.

Resident companies

A window to the world

Much like we do here at Technoport, Startup Lab encourages its members to think global first. Despite having desk space at Nordic Innovation House, the partners encourage startups to get out and network on a trip to Silicon Valley.

“What’s the point in going to Silicon Valley for a month? It’s to network, test your idea, gain feedback, and improve your product, so why sit with fellow Scandinavians? We encourage startups to utilise our network of incubators and sit with Americans.” – Tor Bækkelund

Til Fremtiden!

Founded in 1984, Oslo Science Park began on the land of the University of Oslo with the aim of helping to grow existing businesses. In the early days of the internet a lot of internet companies were founded here, and the first node for Norway’s internet sits in the basement. Startup Lab itself was only founded in 2012, As much as the history of this site is important, it’s obvious the focus is on the future.

There’s lessons to be learned here for Trondheim and other Norwegian cities in how to build an incubator that puts the interests of startups front and centre. Bækkelund told me he believes the centre will produce several major startups over the next five years, and from what I saw, everything is in place to achieve that.

Open Desk Space


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