The lure of America continues

NORDICNYA helps Nordic startups expand into the US market


Photo: Crusher International
The environmental road construction company Crusher International is a smaller Norwegian company that the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce is helping expand into New York. According to the Crusher website, “Instead of laying layers on asphalt, we cut down to mountains. This creates solid roads in areas where asphalt has previously been used to create (the road). Normally, old asphalt is run in stock, then crushed, driven to asphalt for recycling, and then transported out to be laid as new asphalt. Our solution is to recycle old road on site. This leads to considerably less transport activity.”

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The United States is once more luring Norwegians to its shores, but there is a huge difference from their exodus of the last century plus. Today, they are not coming hat in hand to do menial work in order to stave off starvation. Now they are coming cash in hand with fresh ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit.

“Startups are mushrooming in Norway as the nation seeks economic diversity outside the dominant oil sector, with as many as 60,000 startups formed in 2018, compared with 40,000 in 2009,” the New York Post recently wrote.

If you are looking for a larger market, what to do? Look to America, specifically to New York City.

Another advantage to doing business in NYC for Norwegians is lower taxes. This fact was also pointed out in the Post article, adding that New York is appealing due to its less stringent regulations and the fact that “New York is a financial center, and one of the fastest-growing regions in the world when it comes to venture capital investments.”

What about the exorbitant and rising cost of living that makes native New Yorkers and longtime residents cringe? This doesn’t even make a Norwegian’s eyelash bat.

This news first came to my attention when I heard about Nordic New York Accelerator (NORDICNYA), a technology accelerator in NYC for Nordic startups, from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) Global. “Selected Nordic companies attend an intense three-month program at ERA in NYC, with industry-leading mentors, landing services, followed by investor presentations at the Nordic New York Accelerator Pitch Night in New York,” says the company website.

ERA also offers partners, an entrepreneurs roundtable, a mentorship program, 165 alumni companies, and a demo day attended by investors. It has gravitas. “ERA portfolio companies have raised more than $350 million and are worth more than $2.5 billion.”

But it was and continues to be the Norwegian government that has made a concerted effort to encourage entrepreneurs for more than 150 years. The result can be seen today in the agency Innovation Norway, which was formed in 2004 by merging the Norwegian Tourist Board, the Norwegian Trade Council, the Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund, and the Government Consultative Office for Inventors.

Funded by the government and serving as a development bank, it has a far reach and history; its antecedents began in 1852 to finance farmers. They later assisted fishermen and factory workers so that each would have their own bank. After WWII, they created a development fund for northern Norway, which had been devastated by the scorched earth campaign. In more recent years, they recognized the importance of expanding Norway’s tourism industry.

Innovation Norway has had a big presence in NYC and works closely with the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) USA. The latter was founded in 1915 in NYC and is still headquartered in this dynamic city. This is a wonderful pairing of two countries that thrive, celebrate, and depend upon their entrepreneurs to drive their economies.

I spoke to Live Sletten Diakolios, general manager of NACC USA in New York to get her insight into the increase in Norwegian startups coming to NYC. She took over at the chamber a little over a year ago and spoke about her interest in meeting the needs of smaller Norwegian companies looking to the NYC market. “I came in the door here and saw a huge number of untapped members,” she said. “Some of these companies have been here for two-and-a half to five years.” She began to focus on their needs.

“Our role is not working with small companies thinking of coming to the United States,” Diakolos said. “We work closely with Innovation Norway with companies that are preapproved. They send a chosen company to New York to enter the American market.”

The phenomenon of Norwegians startups looking to come to NYC is changing the NACC. “We are trying to create events and content of interest and value to these smaller companies. To introduce them to the right people. To prevent them from closing down.”

Wisely, they are working collaboratively with the other Nordic chambers, pooling their resources and hosting monthly events “geared to smaller companies. If we are going to continue to grow and be relevant, this is necessary. Otherwise we are spreading ourselves too thin if we all do separate things. It’s a solid brand—the Nordics.”

For instance, “smaller companies don’t have an HR Department. They start to hire locally and are lost. The Nordic chambers will be offering networking and a panel of experts to build their network here. We will also be hosting one event on food sustainability.”

One hurdle needs to be conquered: opening our immigration policy so these entrepreneurs can soar. I have heard horror stories of Scandinavians who opened and ran successful businesses in the United States. They hired locally, paid taxes, and could not get their paperwork approved for them to stay, thus forcing one business to close and one to sell.

In the past, the possibility of emigrating to the United States was a godsend for Norway; a release valve relieving a poverty-stricken country that struggled to feed its own people. Will this new version of the dream of America open markets to Norway or be a brain drain? Will these entrepreneurs continue the legacy of social responsibility set by those who preceded them in the last century, founding hospitals, homes for the aged and children, theaters, sports organizations, and all manner of societies? Time will tell.

This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.