Doing business the Californian way
“Talking” their way through Gründerskolen summer
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Amund Risa Fylling and Eirik Sars Grøner had an interesting start to their 10 weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area in summer 2022 as part of the University in Oslo’s School of Entrepreneurship’s Gründerskolen™. They went to breakfast in the city center.
“This guy was a consultant and came up to us and paid for our breakfast,” said Fylling. “We talked with him for two hours. There’s a lot of these spontaneous interactions with other people.”
What Grøner, then 25, Fylling, then 23, and Fredrikke Slemdal, then 26, most learned was talking, whether it was in their entrepreneurial class at the University of California at Berkeley, their internships, networking events, meeting people from all over the world or in and out of their fields, even Uber and Lyft drivers and the city’s residents.
They were happy to share their experiences on a podcast produced by the Royal Norwegian Consulate in San Francisco, in a series highlighting Norwegians in California. They were interviewed by Oda Sanaker, who was serving a six-month internship at the consulate.
“I have never talked with so many strangers in different places than I have in the States,” said Slemdal. “Our Lyft and Uber drivers have some of the most fascinating stories to tell. I’ve had a lot of great, small talking experiences.”
“There’s people from every country in San Francisco, so you get to experience a lot of different cultures,” said Grøner.
Nils D. Christophersen of the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo started the School of Entrepreneurship in 1999. Gründerskolen™ is a collaboration between the universities in Norway (the program is coordinated by UiO), Innovation Norway, Boston University, University of California-Berkeley, and University of Toronto (to be relaunched in 2024). There have been programs in Houston and Singapore.
“The applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree,” explains Helge Klouman Marstrander, acting consul general in San Francisco. “There are no requirements to be connected to any specific educational institution. The students have to be Norwegians and if their upper secondary education is from an educational institution outside the Nordic region, they must document their proficiency in Norwegian.”
There are two parts. From January to May, students study “Introduction to Innovation Processes and Business Establishment” and “Entrepreneurship and Internationalism” at UiO. For 10 weeks in the summer, the students go abroad, take an entrepreneurship class one day, and intern at a start-up the other four days of the week. They have to write a reflection report and discuss a “fake” company launch. About 30 students participate, receiving 30 credits at master’s level.
Grøner notes there are “more than 2,000 alumni, the biggest network of its kind in Norway.” Slemdal says, “The overall objective is to give us a taste of entrepreneurship, help us better understand local business culture, and stimulate ideas that will be valuable for us in the future, inspiring us to be entrepreneurs and start our own businesses.”
They found differences between instruction at UC-Berkeley and in Norway.
“Our lecturer at Berkeley was very involved with the class,” said Slemdal. “You have to be prepared because you will be asked questions about your opinions. You have to argue for why you think that way. A big part of our grade is participation. You cannot be anonymous as in a Norwegian classroom. It’s very beneficial for us to be challenged like this.”
Guest lecturers enabled them to “learn from these people and their experiences,” said Grøner, while Fylling said he learned “the importance of doing proper market research before pursuing a business idea, selecting the right team members, making sure the target market is large enough, and creating a clear and structured pitch for investors. Work attire is very different from back home. One talk I went to, we sat in bean bags. People wore sweatpants and sweaters. They could shop in flip-flops.”
Their internships were interesting and they got hands-on experience. Grøner worked at FoundersSuite.com, “which started in 2013 and developed software for raising capital and managing investor relations. The software includes investor customer relationship management and investor databases and many features to help investors raise capital on a daily basis. I researched investors, added them to our database, did outreach to incubators, accelerators, angel groups, and early stage venture capital firms to create strategic partnerships.”
Fylling worked at an AI company tomtA, “a data privacy company, which transforms sensitive data into safe data, so it can be shared, using it in AI models, creating a lot of opportunities for companies that need a lot of data to research, and find new solutions to big problems. I learned a lot because I didn’t know much about data privacy and got hands-on experience. TomtA is at a very early stage, so it was just me and the founders. It’s cool to see important decisions being made on a daily basis and contributing my opinions.”
Slemdal’s assignment was at Telesence, where the CEO, Naeem Zafar, was also their Berkeley professor. “It is an agritech company focusing on grain monitoring solutions to reduce spoilage and maximize the value of post harvest grain. I didn’t have any background in it but it’s a tech company focusing on agriculture. They have purchased a Danish company so they’re equal European and American.
“Seeing the differences in how they approach the market with a similar solution is very interesting. My intern partner and I were invited into the cockpit of the company. We were allowed to attend all the meetings, the bad, the good. We were introduced to every element. We sat there with our notepads, noting everything we observed. They’re more open to show things here than back home.”
Grøner and Fylling worked in a co-working space, which allowed them to talk with even more different people.
The trio highly recommends staying at International House. The Norwegian students hosted a Norwegian coffee hour with Norwegian music, waffles with brown cheese and candy, the cheese and candy procured through the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. More than 150 people from around the world attended.
“A lot of the networking was done through IHouse,” said Grøner. “Berkeley is one of the best universities in the world. It has a lot of clever students in many fields. I have a business background. It was cool to talk to the technology, computer science, and engineering students. That’s been really valuable, the casual interactions at dinner and lunch.”
There were many outside networking events, too, and students receive a discount. Grøner went to an event where Bill Gates spoke.
Applications for Gründerksolen 2024 can be accepted beginning in August with a deadline of Oct. 15.
“Start the process pretty early,” suggested Fylling. “Spend time making your application stand out. What are the qualities that make your application unique? I would also recommend visiting grunderskolen.no to get more information about the program.”
“I would advise you to apply no matter your field of study because we have a lot of business and computer science students, but we don’t really have any other fields of study,” said Grøner.
“If you have more of a technical background, you can meet a lot of people that could be your future employers, or you can find synergies with,” said Slemdal. “Together, maybe you can find the new oil for Norway, figuring out what can make Norway more sustainable long term.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.