Oslo: The gateway to Silicon Fjords

In her new role at Norwegian startup platform Oslo Business Region, Birgit Liodden, the former boss of Nor-Shipping, writes exclusively for Splash today exhorting those in maritime to step up their tech entrepreneurship.

The Norwegian minister of trade and industry published new figures this week, showing that Norway’s ocean industries contribute with NOK500bn ($64bn) – around 25% of Norwegian GDP from across industries. The current government and opposition competes in being most ocean friendly. A vast share of this value creation is generated within the oil & gas sector. An industry that will face stronger regulation and higher accountability for its impact on society & nature. Parallel to this, IEA has been slammed for obsessively inaccurate forecasts on renewable energy throughout each of its 15 last annual reports. Is IEA’s inability to predict the energy shift representative for our industry’s perception as a whole? How can Norway and other oil-fuelled economies reduce the petroleum addiction and strengthen new value creation without suffering a heavy hangover?

The Oslofjord region is among the leading maritime capitals of the world, and the natural gateway to the world’s most complete maritime cluster – Silicon Fjords. As a small country Norway is a David in strong competition with the world’s Goliaths, but thanks to a combination of Peter Smart skills, low social differences and explorer mindset this weird and different country has proved its capabilities to maintain a leading position against many odds through decades. And even through a heavy offshore downturn, Norway stepped up from 6th to 5th place on the ranking of national fleets.

With this backdrop it seems odd that the maritime and ocean industries has generally gained low attention from its own society. Part of the explanation is of course that the petroleum industry has been dominating the public attention. And that ordinary people don’t really interact directly with the industry that provides 90% of everything they consume. Not to mention that the industry for many years chose to stay more or less under the radar, and lacked visible, engaging, young and female front figures. But finally – in 2018 – things are starting to change.

With groundbreaking projects as Røkke’s REV project, Yara Birkeland, the recent announcement of Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen’s joint venture for operation of autonomous ships, and a span of entrepreneurial rockstars across ocean and tech, Norway is gaining international attention far outside the industry media. At the same time, Professor Torger Reve – known for his expertise on industry clusters – is working on the establishment of BI Center for Ocean Business OBZ.

When the Norwegian prime minister commits to leading the UN’s efforts for sustainable ocean industries; when the New York Times covers a story on the Port of Oslo’s pilot project for removing plastic waste in the Oslofjord; when kids across society get angry about waste killing whales, birds and fish; when WWF chief Nina Jensen teams up with Kjell-Inge Røkke, and the Norwegian crown prince shares his engagement for the oceans, there are some pretty good indicators for a strong increase in the public awareness of both problems and opportunities linked to the ocean.

And isn’t that about time! With the UN Sustainable Development Goals and DNV GL’s Global Opportunity Report, we have been handed the world’s biggest purchasing order ever! Norway, with the second longest coastline and ocean territory many times bigger than land territory, and world-leading competence on innovation and advanced ocean operations, is perfectly positioned for a new golden age.

The exciting work to succeed with going forward is the creation of a far bigger share of Norwegian GDP based on renewable resources from existing and new industries. This requires a new generation of talents and entrepreneurs – smart, engaged and tech-savvy – people who often don’t even think about our industry. We aim to open their eyes for the enormous opportunities our industry represents.

A number of leading industry actors have during the past years started acknowledging and understanding that the combination of digital shift, increasing sustainability focus and the need for completely new business models will require a symbiosis between established players and hungry startups to succeed. Wilhelmsen, Klaveness, DNB, Wärtsilä and Transas are among those who I often use as prime examples on how ‘old’ companies can proactively position to hit the next curve.

The entrepreneurs need good tools, pilot clients, experience exchange and solid partners – while the big players need to take more risk, creativity, an ability to crush established models and truths, and raw dedication.

And here I reach the core of my message to the industry; there is a critical missing link in the eco system of the ocean industries. A factor that I’ve been focusing on throughout all of my work the past 10 years, from YoungShip’s focus on entrepreneurship since 2009, the establishment of our industry’s first award for entrepreneurs in 2011 and last year’s launch of the Nor-Shipping Disruptive Sustainability Hall. What the ocean industries lack is a solid initiative to create a kick-ass playground for ocean entrepreneurs.

We are now inviting actors across the ocean industries, including leading environmental organisations such as Bellona, to join us in creating the world’s leading ecosystem for ocean entrepreneurs who want to make an impact. With Oslo as the natural gateway to access the leading maritime clusters along the coast of Norway a range of new initiatives will be launched in the year to come, perfectly timed with Oslo celebrating its status as European Green Capital 2019, not to mention the upcoming Nor-Shipping.

The city of Oslo has a fast-maturing startup ecosystem for innovation. Five years ago, almost no co-working spaces or hubs existed. Today, the city of Oslo is home to hundreds of startups, more than 50 incubators and accelerators, as well as nearly 30 recognised coworking spaces. Over the last four years Oslo has become the fastest growing startup ecosystem in the Nordics, in a time when the Nordics are leading the way. Oslo is in the position to take Nordic leadership of sustainable change. The general attention given to sustainability is increasing not only in the startup eco-system, but in all areas of society. By making sustainability inherent in events such as Oslo Innovation Week, the Norwegian capital is taking the lead. This is also further strengthened by a strong political commitment.

We look forward to welcoming ocean entrepreneurs from across all continents and fields to Oslo, exploring and creating the future together!

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