BARN shelters new Nordic businesses in the US
A new network connects Norwegian businesses with American mentors
The Norwegian American
On March 4, Norway House hosted an introductory webinar to the Business Accelerator Resource Network (BARN), a recently formed program designed to help Nordic businesses enter the U.S. marketplace. BARN emerged both out of need and from earlier business committees at Norway House.
“Over the years, many companies and delegations have approached Norway House, but without a formal process in place this can be a challenge and not the best experience for all involved,” explained Britt Ardakani, director of business outreach for BARN. “A group of people from the Norway House board sat down and created a strategic plan to start what has now become BARN.”
Christina Carleton, executive director of Norway House, added, “Our mission statement is to connect with contemporary Norway through arts, business, and culture. We have had a strong connection to Norway through our arts and cultural arms, [but] we realized that our business initiatives could use a dedicated and committed staff person and a more formalized process. [Now] we have a practiced and effective service to offer, and there is a demonstrated interest from many of these Nordic companies.”
BARN connects Norwegian businesses and entrepreneurs with American mentors to help them navigate entering the U.S. market. This can include finding the right distributor for their product, creating the right packaging and labeling, understanding and meeting U.S. rules and regulations, and building up their network.
“When a company is matched with a mentor, the mentor and the business will meet to discuss their thoughts, needs, and challenges in depth to make sure the mentor understands the specific issues and wishes the company has,” said Ardakani. “The resources and network the mentor has is almost as important as the specific knowledge, as is the ability of the mentor to explore different avenues in order to find what works best and best aligns with the needs and wants of the company.”
Stine Aasland, founder of Nordic Waffles and co-chair of BARN’s executive committee, knows firsthand what it is like to start a business in the United States. BARN did not exist when she was starting Nordic Waffles six years ago, and she traveled across the country looking for ways to make her dream of bringing Norwegian waffles to America a reality. After a few months on the road, she came upon Norway House entirely by accident, and the resources and network Norway House provided her with changed her situation entirely.
“With my experience of coming to the United States knowing no one and with no idea where to go, I gained a lot of experience navigating through getting established here,” said Aasland. “Now that Nordic Waffles is established across many different states and operating in different fields of the food industry, I hope my experience can help others.”
Aasland notes that there are several things that encourage Norwegian businesses to start in the United States. The American market is considerably larger, with 330 million people, compared with Norway’s 5.3 million. The United States also has a demonstrated history of supporting entrepreneurs and businesses.
“The ecosystem for entrepreneurs here is fantastic!” explained Aasland. “An investor in Norway takes so much more than an investor in the United States. I think Norwegian investors have a lot to learn from American investors.”
There is less bureaucracy constraining entrepreneurs in the United States, making it relatively easier than starting a business in Norway.
Aasland was one of the speakers on the March 4 webinar. In her presentation, she said that some of the most challenging things about starting her business in the United States were navigating the difference between American and Norwegian laws and regulations, adapting her product from the Norwegian market to the American market, and not knowing the right people.
The first three businesses of BARN are currently in the process of working with their mentors to establish themselves in the U.S. market, and there are several other businesses due to meet with BARN to find mentors. Two of businesses already working with BARN, Sylvsmidja and Epiguard, shared their experiences so far on the webinar. Both noted how useful it is to have a mentor who listens to their questions and concerns and helps connect them with the right people to move forward.
Dave Wahlstrom, a member of the BARN executive committee and a mentor, presented on the webinar as well. A passionate consultant and proud Scandinavian American, Wahlstrom encourages people with solid domain knowledge and networks, as well as a desire to give back to the community, to consider being a mentor through BARN. He spoke of how rewarding it is to share knowledge and work with businesses and entrepreneurs looking to enter a new market.
BARN’s future looks bright, and there is a lot of hope for the critical differences it can make for Norwegian entrepreneurs and businesses. They are currently working on expanding their network with both mentors and preferred service providers so they can help even more businesses. “It gives me goosebumps to be so fortunate to be a part of building an organization that is exactly what I needed when I came [to the United States],” said Aasland.
BARN is currently seeking new mentors for upcoming rounds of applicants. If you are interested in helping Nordic businesses enter the American market as a mentor, contact Britt Ardakani at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.