I know airports, and Kastrup, the main international airport serving Copenhagen, is one of the best. Why? If you travel as much as I do, you do all your shopping in airports. Copenhagen has some of the best shops and food and it’s all laid out in those clean Scandinavian lines.
Denmark is a country with some attitude. Eight years ago I went to Copenhagen, and thinking that it was in the Eurozone, I made the mistake at the duty-free checkout of expecting them to accept my euros. You’ve never seen such a look of horror. But first and foremost, Denmark is a nation of some considerable entrepreneurial talent.
Example Number 1: Lars Christensen, founder of Saxo Bank. In a moment of desperation one evening ten years ago, I cold-called the Ayn Rand Institute in Los Angeles and asked the receptionist if there were any other libertarians in Europe. Silence at the end of the line, and then she said, “I think there’s one. His name is Lars Seier Christensen. I’ll put him in touch with you.”
And she did. Lars and I have been friends ever since. And what he did next was quintessentially Lars: I received a hundred hardbound copies of Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, at my office the next day. We’ve bonded over a shared worldview of the power of the individual to design his or her life ever since.
Saxo Bank, a Danish investment bank, was founded as a brokerage firm in 1992 by Lars, Kim Fournais and Marc Hauschildt and was given its current name when the company obtained a banking licence in 2001. It has become one of the most important ‘new’ investment banks globally that have built their position in two decades through embracing technology.
Example Number 2: Mikkel Vestergaard, CEO of Vestergaard, one of the world’s most important ‘for profit’ humanitarian development firms. Vestergaard fights the good fight for those who can’t. It is resolutely committed to bringing malaria nets, fresh water, food security and other services to those who are at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Started as a textile firm by Mikkel’s grandfather, the firm now has an HQ in Lausanne, and more than 1.2 billion people have slept under one of its malaria nets. Watch this space as Vestergaard brings the so-called developed and developing worlds together. This is a team that has mission, purpose, passion and momentum.
Example Number 3: Nikolaj Nyholm, a partner at Sunstone Capital. Nikolaj joined Sunstone in 2010 from image recognition company Polar Rose (acquired by Apple), and previously founded Speednames/Ascio (acquired by Group NBT);
Imity (acquired by Zyb/Vodafone); and Organic Network, a now defunct WiFi startup whose legacy is OpenWRT.org, the leading open source WiFi project.
I first met Nikolaj at an event years ago, and it was quite obvious that he had a lot to offer to entrepreneurs as a VC. Well done to Sunstone for having swept him up. He is a near perfect example of how entrepreneurs can back other entrepreneurs exceedingly well.
Denmark is also a hotbed of expertise and leading edge companies in the mobile payments arena. Which brings us to example Number 4: Jens Søndergaard, CEO of Unwire, one of the leading Nordic mobile payment solutions providers. Unwire is headquartered in Copenhagen and has offices in Stockholm, Berlin and New York. Backed by Maj Invest Equity, a leading Nordic Private Equity firm, with leading European tech investor Russ Shaw on the board, Unwire has performed more than four billion mobile transactions since starting life in 1999.
To understand Denmark and its entrepreneurs, you have to understand its great history. It battled with Sweden for centuries over who would be the dominant country in the Nordic region, and the Danes still have a sense of being a royal people even in this brave new world. There is very much a sense in those I’ve met of being called to tackle some of the world’s big problems. They don’t have a small European country mentality at all in my experience. They think big.
The article was written by Julie Meyer.