Norway helps accelerate startups in Shanghai

By Cui Can
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 13, 2017
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Knut Sørlie, country director of Innovation Norway in China, the trade and investment agency of the Norwegian government.

For the longest time, Silicon Valley was the destination of choice for tech startups. In recent years, however, the fastest growing startup scenes no longer belong to the American West Coast, but to other sides of the globe in China and Scandinavia.

Now, these two emerging tech communities are coming together in Shanghai with the debut of nHack, an accelerator program designed exclusively for Nordic startups interested in China's enormous market.

The Shanghai-based accelerator is partnered with Innovation Norway, Danske Bank, and WeWork, while collaborating with the Shanghai Foreign Investment Development Board.

"China has very attractive market for Norwegian companies, and we are looking forward to further enhancing our cooperation, especially between the small and medium sized ones," said Knut Sørlie, country director of Innovation Norway in China, the trade and investment agency of the Norwegian government.

"China is one of our key markets in Asia and our third largest importer," Sørlie said. "We have put it very high on the agenda."

The accelerator program was a part of five contracts signed during Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg's visit to Shanghai in April, which also included contracts on trade and investment and medical care technology.

The goal of nHack is to help Norwegian companies to rapidly launch products and establish sales while also accessing Chinese capital, investors, business partners, customers, and the country's hardware supply chain. The program welcomes startups from all sectors, but will mostly focus on smart cities, bio-economy, new energy, financial technology, ocean space, and health and welfare.

"The accelerator, which officially launched this September, will invest into qualified and accepted startups in exchange for 5 to 10 percent equity," Sørlie said. "Follow-on funding after the program is also an option, depending on the startup's performance."

So far, nHack is working with six startups in Shanghai:, Wiralcam,, Blueye Robotics, BreachVR, and Orkel.

"There is a plan for expanding the Norwegian accelerator from Shanghai to other cities in China, such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou," he says. "With China's growing e-commerce and technology development, it is a very good market for Norwegian startup companies."

He added that Shanghai is also a financial hub, so we see increasingly Norwegian fin-tech companies attracted by the business environment choosing to build up here, which can challenge the existing traditional banking companies.

Green shift

The bilateral relationship between China and Norway could be traced to 1888, when the world's largest ship classification society DNV established a presence in Xiamen, and later set up its Chinese headquarters in Shanghai.

Today, Norway owns many shipbuilding companies in Shanghai and other coastal cities in China, while contributing a lot of its technologies to China's shipbuilding industry.

However, although the country leads the world in maritime industries including shipbuilding, offshore oil and gas drilling, and maritime aquaculture, Sørlie said the harsh climate and cold winter in Norway is pushing it to develop new technologies.

Meanwhile, Norway is also striving for a shift towards green development as its major export -- oil, was hit by slumping prices.

Sørlie said that nearly 62 percent of the energy consumption in Norway now comes from renewable energy or resources. At the same time, the country is developing new ship types which are more environmentally friendly and more sustainable, going into that green direction. He said he looks forward to continued bilateral trade and cooperation in technology between Norway and Shanghai on greener, smarter, and cleaner development.

Outlook for innovation

Sørlie said that compared in general to Chinese companies, the Norwegian companies are relatively small and flexible. This meant they could rapidly adapt to shifts in technologies and markets, and this ability bred innovation, he said.

"The innovation is not only about the technology, but also about the talents who treat technology," Sørlie said. "Many of the competitiveness and advantages of Norwegian companies are the interaction between machines and man."

Norwegian companies are quite flat in organizational structure, where people can get information to flow freely, leading to a more transparent and efficiency system for enterprise innovation, Sørlie said.

With an eye on the future, Sørlie said that Shanghai is competing with Beijing and Shenzhen to be the most innovative city in China. To be successful, he said Shanghai could learn from Norway's experience in financially supporting the systematic establishment of business clusters.

So far, Shanghai and Innovation Norway have collaborated on ocean economy, bio economy, green smart cities, clean technology, creative industry, healthcare technology, and welfare service industry.

Sørlie said he believes that there will be more Norwegian companies coming to China interested in building businesses in these fields.

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