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Copenhagen: The startup city guide

Despite being branded ‘The Coolest Kid on the Nordic Block’, Copenhagen has often remained a bit of a mystery to those outside Scandinavia. Inside the city lives a startup movement which over the past ten years has gathered significant pace, and has begun to force the rest of the world to take notice. Denmark has been named by Forbes as ‘The Best Country for Business’ and we wanted to find out what makes its capital city’s startup ecosystem really tick. We went and asked those who know.

With help from NordicBAN’s Nicholas Hawtin, marketing consultant Noel Toolan and Christoffer H. Malling, Head of #CPHFTW we’ve put together this guide to a city emerging from the shadows of its Nordic counterparts.

Scandinavian minimalism isn’t just flatpack furniture

Copenhagen is beautiful. As the ‘happiest’ and most ‘visitable’ city in the world, its beauty is something that cannot be disputed. But there’s more to this city than that.

Relaxed, organised, happy and trustworthy are just four of the words used to describe the people of Copenhagen. This makes for a society where taking a risk is encouraged and supported. “It’s a super flat society where people don’t suffer that much if it doesn’t work out. You’re not living in a cardboard box on the street. There’s a really high level of trust here so people work together really well,” says NordicBAN Co-Founder Nicholas Hawtin.

Corporates are finally coming on board to the benefits of working with startups. According to The Nordic Web €226m has been invested in Danish startups over the past six months, €38.4m of that in the past month. A seriously high total considering the relative size of Denmark in comparison to its larger European counterparts such as Stockholm, London and Berlin. This city is punching above its weight.

And it’s no surprise when you look at the foundations of the city. There’s a high level of understanding of how to work together, and how things should be built. Scandinavian minimalism isn’t just flatpack furniture, it’s the whole system. The idea of efficiency is harnessed from a young age – at school, there is a particular emphasis on group work and working together.

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Figures from #CPHFTW – an excellent startup resource in the city

On the map

Copenhagen startups that have raised the largest amount of money in the last five years

  1. 1. Trustpilot
  2. 2. Tradeshift
  3. 3. SiteImprove
  4. 4. Vivino
  5. 5. Falcon Social

Top Copenhagen investment funds

  1. 1. Sunstone Capital
  2. 2. Nordic Venture Partners
  3. 3. Northcap
  4. 4. Seed Capital (Oresund)

Top social influencers

  1. 1. Thomas Madsen-Mygdal – Co-Founder & CEO – 23
  2. 2. Martin Ferro-Thomsen – Founder & CEO – Conferize
  3. 3. Jens Reimer Olesen – Co-Founder & CEO – Ontame
  4. 4. Pia Ella Elmegard – Co-Founder – Trendsonline
  5. 5. Rasmus Bjerngaard – General Partner – Northcap

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Connected Copenhagen – Influencer Identification Network from Web Summit

Top industry verticals

  1. 1. Software
  2. 2. E-Commerce
  3. 3. Mobile
  4. 4. Advertising
  5. 5. Social Media

Startup life in Copenhagen

The perception from the outside looking in is that Copenhagen is an expensive city. Something with which those living there don’t fully agree.

“People can adjust. There’s loads of two rooms flats. It’s not crazy expensive where you have to commute from miles and miles away, it’s definitely not London. It’s super liveable – you wouldn’t get people coming in from all over the place if it wasn’t liveable” says Nicholas.

At the heart of the city, on Njalsgade you’ll find Founders House, a shared invitation-only workspace for scalable startups.  Down the road, not even a five-minute walk away, is the harbour. It’s gorgeous, and swimmable. During the summer months workers from around the city drop down before work, or during the day “You can go down for a swim at lunch, and then you’re back at your desk. They’re opening another six or seven places to swim on the harbour next year, and already have four or five. On a sunny day everybody’s jumping off the pier,” says Nicholas.

It’s easy to get around, with strong public transport, including a metro which is 14 years old this year, and expanding at a pace. It’s not quite Amsterdam when it comes to bikes, but it’s not that far behind with five times as many bikes as cars.

There’s also Amager Strandpark, a big beach and 2km-long artificial island close to the city. If you need to be even more relaxed than normal you don’t have to look very far.

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The Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen

While it may feel like sink or swim for some startups, the overall scene has improved greatly over the last few years, meaning that now in 2016 it can now pitch itself as an excellent place for early-stage companies to grow.

It starts with a really efficient government. You can set up a company online in five minutes.

The number of startup events has tripled in the last three years. There’s no rivalry or bitterness either, with meetups people are transparent about what’s working and what’s not working.

“People are open with their networks, people keep their word, people are straight. And they are also really skilled, so you can get the people you need.” says Nicholas.

The developer workforce remains a Copenhagen strength. A lot of young people move overseas in their 20s, but move back to the city once they start having kids. They want their children to go to Danish schools which, like everything in Scandinavia, are well organised.

This means that the city boasts a very strong pool of homegrown talent, upon which large scale-ups can rely. The city has produced some hugely successful companies over the past 15 years. JustEat, Trustpilot, Zendesk and Falcon Social are just four of the names that jump off the page.

However achieving massive scale from this northern European base has not been the norm.

Often times you will see Danish companies open a commercial office in New York or San Francisco, while the development team remain back in Copenhagen. JustEat moved to London. Trustpilot moved to the US, as well as Zendesk. Scaling outside of the big cities is still a relative unknown.

“We don’t have as many scale-ups. We’re getting our first scale-ups now. You’ve got more angels coming onto the scene, the VCs have started to get involved in Seed Rounds and Series A, compared to Series B previous,” says Nicholas.

The ecosystem is hotting up. “A big difference is more foreign VCs coming to Copenhagen. Two years ago everybody used to say you had to go where the VC was, and now they’re coming here,” Nicholas says. With a seed round in the city generally around a million crowns, startups are starting to get more funding.

In the evenings startups often head to the Meatpacking District, a creative cluster with great restaurants and nightlife. For many of the cities startup workers the traditional Danish beer is confined to history. Craft beers and cocktails are the new order. “There’s a place called Mikkeller, he’s opened in Brooklyn or Williamsburg as well – mega-hipster. You’re not drinking Carlsberg unless it’s free,” says Nicholas. 

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The Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen

Take it from us

We spoke to our Copenhagen contributors about some of the ‘top fives’ in the city. Each of them had interesting views, and we couldn’t include them all so we’ve mixed and matched and chosen these top fives.

Top accelerators/incubators

Accelerace – Scandinavia’s leading accelerator and among the top 10 best accelerator programs and investors in Europe.
SCALEit – Bringing Denmark and Silicon Valley closer together.
Next Step Challenge – Attracting exciting startups in the city and beyond to take part in an innovative business environment.
Danish Tech Challenge – A startup competition focused on hardware.

Top media supporting the Copenhagen startup scene

The Nordic Web – Excellent resource for facts on the Nordic tech scene.
Trendsonline – In Danish, excellent resource for early-stage startups.
Oresund Startups – Focused on the big cities, this is a great resource for Copenhagen, Malmo, Lund and Helsingborg.
Nordic Startup Bits A news resource for early-stage companies, with a lovely Danish focus.
Tech.eu – Covering all of the European startup scene, but beneficial to each city to see progress and competition.

Top places to get a drink/go out for dinner in Copenhagen

Fiskebaren –  Great fish, even better atmosphere.
MOTHER – Probably the best pizza in Scandinavia.
Mash – Fantastic steakhouse chain when you have had enough of complicated cuisine great sides, cocktails & wine to complement a staggering range of meats.
Mikkeller – Cocktails & Craft Beers – it’s the place to be hip.
Frk Barners Kælder – On Helgolandsgadde near Central Station. Great traditional Danish Fayre at a reasonable price.

Cool co-working spaces in Copenhagen

Founders House – Invite-only shared workspace for the best of the best in the Copenhagen startup scene.
Rainmaking Loft – In London & Berlin also. One house with 300 entrepreneurs.
Rocket Labs – Nice spot on an old factory floor, with a games room and state of the art facilities for the cities most-promising tech startups.
Dare2Mansion – Geronimo inspired & very hipster, with second hand furniture available for adoption, yes! Graffiti is a constant in the Mansion.
KPH Projects – A community in the city working on social, cultural and environmental initiatives.

A city looking after its people

“If Copenhagen were a person, that person would be generous, beautiful, elderly, but with flair. A human being that has certain propensities for quarrelling, filled with imagination and with appetite for the new and with respect for the old – somebody who takes good care of things and of people.” Connie Nielsen.

What’s your view of startup life in Copenhagen? What have we missed? What are your recommendations? Let us know on Twitter @WebSummitHQ or in the comments below.

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