Trends in the Nordics Tech for Impact Ecosystem

As we opened the call for the 12th edition of the Tech for Impact Awards, we are thrilled to receive applications from various places in Europe. The impact tech ecosystem is growing and developing extensively and so are the programs and accelerators that work to support them in various aspects of their development, such as building a strong business model, relations towards investors, establishing a network, professionalizing their business and assessing and monitoring their impact.

Located in the heart of Zurich, SEIF is working to contribute to this fast-growing impact tech ecosystem, and we are convinced that Switzerland has the prerequisites to become a leading Tech for Impact hub. However, to be successful, we need to align and unite the growing number of impact tech stakeholders in our ecosystem. Hence, Prof. Mariana Christen Jakob, Founder and Managing Partner SEIF innovation, Co-Founder SEIF invest highlighted, “if we in Switzerland want to strengthen the Tech for Impact ecosystem, we need strong networking, cooperation and collaboration activities between science, the private sector, the public sector and investors, these are the pre-conditions to accelerate the development of Tech for Impact start-ups.”(1)


The Nordics in the Spotlight

We’re leading the way in Switzerland when it comes to University Tech for Impact, but the broader ecosystems in the Nordics are definitely strong as well.”  Julia Binder, Deputy of the Vice President for Innovation and Head of Tech4Impact at EPFL (1)

Indeed, the Nordics have a strong background in being front-runners for sustainability. Therefore, the stakeholders of the tech for impact ecosystem who are grounded in this region are key collaboration partners. We are happy to observe that support programs in the Nordics are growing, they are dynamic and support a pool of promising start-ups stemming from the region and further. Among them are the Katapult Accelerator and the Norrksen Impact Accelerator, two impact-tech programs working with entrepreneurs that make use of scalable technologies to solve environmental and societal challenges.

On the one hand, the Norwegian-based Katapult Accelerator has a deep belief in exponential technologies, helping impact focused startups scale faster while solving global challenges. We talked to Managing Partner & CEO, Haakon Brunell, about impact entrepreneurship and technology as a key driver for change.


Impact and profitability go hand in hand

Haakon Brunell highlights the fact that impact and finance go hand in hand. Rather than a trade-off between impact and profitability, he rather observes a positive correlation: “We even see the potential to receive above market return by investing in solving the biggest problems out there, as these challenges could also be seen as the biggest opportunities” (1). But further than awareness raising, what is needed is examples showing that impact investing is an attractive investment.

On the other hand, the Norrsken Foundation is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs solve the world’s greatest challenges. The organisation has raised several venture capital funds, manages an accelerator program for early-stage startups and operates co-working spaces in Stockholm, Sweden and Kigali, Rwanda. Its ultimate vision is to drive more capital to positive impact initiatives by proving that impact leads to superior returns.

Just like H. Brunell, Agate Freimane, General Partner at Norrsken VC, is convinced that impact and profit are two faces of the same coin. Indeed, she argues: “We realised that the biggest opportunity lies where impact and profit have an equal importance to the company. In other words – for every unit of sales, there’s also a unit of impact” (2). As any business willing to grow needs resources and finance to scale, and to scale their impact, both finance and impact dimension should go hand in hand. She also mentioned: “it is widely accepted that yes, you can generate impact and profit at the same time, and I would even go as far as saying that impact is now seen as an investment strategy in its own right” (2). Beyond an investment strategy, impact is also an ideal way to attract talent. Especially among young people who are looking for meaningful companies in which they want to put their work force to good use. It is also a powerful argument for investors and clients, even when they are not impact investors per se.


A dynamic ecosystem of impact-driven entrepreneurs

We are witnessing a tremendous amount of dynamism among the impact-driven entrepreneurs. Katapult has registered a growing number of applications in the last years and when entrepreneurs come together, it is always the mission of wanting to make the world a better place that unites them and creates a great dynamic among the community. Norrsken has put a lot of attention on entrepreneurs: “Our main idea was that entrepreneurs building scalable solutions was our best bet to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges” (2).

Brunell shares his feeling that Norway has sometimes lagged behind the tech scene compared to other Nordic countries, despite a long tradition in sustainability. However, on the side of entrepreneurs and investors alike, there is an evolution and increased interest in Tech for Impact solutions around the world. Founders are looking to regions of the world where the focus is on positive impact, such as the Nordics.

His advice for impact-driven entrepreneurs looking to grow their business? “Try all things possible to move your business forward. Maybe we need to teach our Nordic startups to be a bit more American in this context. We can be a bit too humble up here, which I think goes also for the Swiss. ” (1)

On her side, Agate Freimane highlights the relevance of tech for good in providing solutions to current global challenges ranging from health to environment and that all its power has not reached his full potential yet. Despite this, technology is not a panacea and carries a series of risks that should not be overlooked. To avoid drifting from the “good”, the SDGs are an indispensable tool for measuring impact: any long-term solution must address at least one of them (2).

At SEIF, we are also convinced of the high added value of entrepreneurs to contribute to solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges. That is why every year for the past 11 years, we are offering a program for impact-driven entrepreneurs founders who are working to tackle one or more SDG: the Tech for Impact Awards.


The SEIF Tech for Impact Awards

The Tech for Impact Awards is a program targeting Europe-based early-stage impact-driven entrepreneurs applying innovative tech solutions to tackle current social and/or environmental challenges. In collaboration with its corporate partners Julius Baer and UBS, SEIF offers these entrepreneurs with a unique opportunity to increase exposure to a European wide network of experts, corporates and investors. For impact entrepreneurs, this is a first step towards increased recognition and gaining first financial support: since 2019, the Awards finalists have raised so far more than 86 million Swiss francs. This year, each participant gets the opportunity to win a prize amounting to a total of 30’000 Swiss francs and non-financial support of the corporate partners.

Applications open until March, 31

 

(1) “Building the Swiss Tech for Impact Ecosystem”

(2)  Maricel Sanchez, January 26 2022, “The biggest opportunity lies where impact and profit have an equal importance to the company”: Interview with Agate Freimane, General Partner at Norrsken VC