On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Hege Barnes, Director of Americas at Innovation Norway. Hege and I talk about the new innovations in green tech, clean tech and electric vehicles, as well as how Norway is working with startups to help grow and support innovation, both inside Norway and around the world.
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Interview Transcript with Hege Barnes, Director of Americas at Innovation Norway
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today with me is Hege Barnes. She’s the Regional Director for Americas at Innovation Norway. Welcome Hege.
Hege Barnes: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Brian Ardinger: Hey, we’re excited to have you as well. We got connected after the Will Ferrell Superbowl ad for GM, where Will declared that he was coming after Norway. And so, we wanted to set the record straight and go straight to the source and see what’s actually happening when it comes to the world of Innovation in Norway. So, what is Innovation Norway?
Hege Barnes: Yeah, the whole EV campaign with Will Ferrell was sort of funny though. And we were very, very happy to tag along in that and sort of play along and have some fun. But it is actually true the way that we develop the country and the green innovations, our slogan is Powered by Nature. You that’s how we live and that’s how we develop our destination.
But Innovation Norway. Yeah. It’s the government entity for trade and industry. So, we are sort of the trade council Invest in Norway. We are the tourist boards and the development agency for Norway. We help companies from birth to success, the growth, the global success. So, we have offices all over Norway and in 30 countries I think, all over the world. We work very efficiently within the unique sort of competence areas that we have in Norway, where we see that we are stronger than have competitive advantages.
And then we matched that with the opportunity areas in the markets we are in. So, I’m representing America. Ee look at what’s happening in the US, Canada, and Brazil in particular. Looking at all the developments and matching that with what companies and where we can compete and use our resources efficiently.
Brian Ardinger: That makes a lot of sense. And obviously, probably a lot of us aren’t familiar with everything that’s going on within Norway, where you hear of, you know, green tech and clean tech and a lot around the electric vehicles. I think you’re the largest market share of electric vehicles in the world. And I believe you’re also expanding into other areas like the first, fully electric autonomous container ship. So, what’s happening in Norway that makes it this destination or a testination for some of the new technologies when it comes to green and cleantech.
Hege Barnes: Based on again, what I said, it it’s like this powered by nature sort of mentality that we have after we discovered oil and became this big offshore industry. We are now saying that we need to move beyond that. We need to transition from an industry heavily dependent on fossil fuel into new green technologies, into new greener solutions. So, in addition to the whole offshore industry sort of technology and deep insights that we have, we also always been a seafaring nation and shipbuilding nation.
So, the whole Maritime’s there, the whole Innovation above the water and underwater has been aquaculture has been sort of core of who Norway is and our industry and the development that we’ve had. We live in a big country with a lot of space, but we had to innovate to sort of survive.
And we built up the industry and we built our communities, basically the whole destination development over the last few years with this, the sort of as a fundament and we are a destination or a country that’s full of smart engineers, you know. Engineers that are used to working in even harsh conditions, you know, half the country’s above the Arctic circle.
We’re working out deep into the ocean areas and underwater and cold-water temperatures. And we have the four, really four distinct seasons. We’re used to working in tough conditions. And with this sort of engineering mentality, we have now shifted from sort of traditional industries into new technologies. New green technologies and solutions, smart solutions across sectors and industry as well.
And this has been driven a lot by the government. A lot of this is mandated by the government, by people themselves. People want a greener development. They want a sustainable development of our economy, our society, and our industries. So when they met, so this whole, the government policies meeting the locals demands and what has led to the Innovation in certain areas that has actually been very successful for us.
Brian Ardinger: Can you talk a little bit about some of the programs that have helped businesses or help entrepreneurs set up and, or get moving when it comes to this? What are some of the things that the Innovation Norway actually does?
Hege Barnes: We can help companies. We have offices in all the different regions in Norway. So, we can help companies fund and launch their programs. But we also build communities. We build ecosystems so we can fund clusters and networks and sort of smart Innovation groups, and from a research stage to actual commercialization stage. And these sort of clusters, they learn from each other. They learn and grow together. And we can fund this environment and help sort of support this environment.
We can also add competencies. You know, we have a qualified staff that can help companies scale and grow together with the industry. And this is probably the, the success of the model is to trust that we have in society. So, we work a lot with government and private industry. And private industry and government together actually makes things happen. And it makes it happen in a speedier fashion than a lot of other countries like here in the U S.
Brian Ardinger: So, are most of your programs focused on helping Norwegian companies get off the ground and move to the United States and get market share and that? Or are you working with companies like in other countries that want to work and build things in Norway?
Hege Barnes: So, both, you know, we want this to help our smart sort of, the companies that comes from a green shipping cluster, you know, we see that they can win big contracts abroad. We work with the offshore wind development on the East coast here, you know, and we know the lot of these companies, smaller, larger companies have an opportunity in the value chains of the development. So how can we actually get those companies and how can we help them get a better and more efficient access to the market here?
But at the same time, we are leading in this field. You know, we have the expertise, we’ve done this many times over. And we have competencies from several sectors that worked into the offshore wind or the, this smart transport, smart mobility industries. So we can help that also match their companies and bring American companies to Norway, to learn and scale and grow their businesses there.
We work both with sort of that investor angle and FTI angle, and particularly maybe in that testination you know, to test their products and services. Yeah.
Brian Ardinger: And you mentioned obviously that a lot of it’s government driven, but this idea of public private partnerships and that. Can you talk how that kind of comes together? Talk a little bit more about how that actually works.
Hege Barnes: In many cases it works so that the government, either through us or any of the other sort of entities, in order from research to development, they get funds that are earmarked to watch certain things. Either of phase to help companies scale and grow, or to build out their products, to test and grow and scale their innovative products.
And they can do that again in a cluster or a network. And then we are coming in with funding. We put requirements, we put in, you know, you need to do this and that or that to qualify. And then the private industry applies for that fund. And they need to follow these certain rules and guidelines. We also have investment arms to help give investment to, to promising startups.
And we can give that also to private or semi-private entities or organizations in the different regions that can apply for funds, that they then allocate to companies or it’s through an accelerator program. We also work, which is important that we will work in, in the Nordic fashion. And among other end, there’s sort of this whole energy, the smart transportation on the ocean.
We have a sterile emission energy distribution at sea program that Nordic Innovation, which is the Innovation arm of the Nordic Council of Ministers has setup. Then that’s bringing Nordic technologies together. You know, we are a small country, but together with all the other Nordic countries we’re suddenly 25 million people.
And then just starting to have a little more of a scale that you can work with. So, they bring different entities, different experiences to the table, and then sort of, they can fund it as well. Again, with certain requirements, and then the industry can apply. Logic companies or a port authority can apply for funds or one private company that will also sort of build up an infrastructure or a supply chain can apply for funds from that.
A lot of these are also set up in an accelerated way, so we can actually add competence to them. You know, a lot of companies know the product part, and this is sort of a Nordic phenomena. We’re really good engineers, we’re good on the technology. But we’re not so good at marketing and selling it. You know, so actually telling our story. So, we’re helping them in that sort of commercialization phase of marketing and selling their technologies and finding the right product market fit, finding the right market and scaling opportunities.
Brian Ardinger: That makes a ton of sense. And obviously we hear a lot also about like Sweden and you mentioned the other Nordic countries. There’s a number of unicorn companies, startups that have come out of Sweden. And it’s interesting to see all that Innovation coming out from the Nordic countries out there.
Can you talk more about the startup ecosystem there and what’s it like to be a startup in Norway? What’s the state of venture capital? What are the, some of the things that you’re seeing good, bad or indifferent that are happening there?
Hege Barnes: Sweden has been the big brother and big in consumer goods in particularly in you know. We are the sort of the B2B kind of guys, you know, the tech nerds, the engineers, that building the whole sort of back-office system of things.
So that’s sort of the main difference. We have a lot of smart technology and software solutions that are more on the B2B market. But the ecosystem in Norway is growing tremendously fast and we’ve seen now there was actually a story in the major business paper today and how during COVID and Corona, how many has just jumped on this trend of starting their own companies and building their own companies.
Yeah. The support system, I think is the most important for that. The awareness of being an implementer. How the ecosystem together, and when you put investors smart, smart money behind a company and support me and putting it into a system where you learn from each other. The peer-to-peer learning is important, you know, coming in through these environments to help them grow.
We also see that we have benefits of locating a lot of these sort of clusters and startup communities and building an ecosystem in the district, not the district, but not in Oslo. So, there’s a maritime cluster in Bergen, because that’s sort of the biggest port on the West coast. There’s a lot of companies that are already there.
There are some bigger capital funds there that are actually used to working with the maritime industry. You match the right competencies with the companies that are there. And the same thing, that’s where the shipyards are. You know, now we’re building all this, I think there’s 60 new electric ferries in the works. This whole Steams program I told you about there’s autonomous ferries that went, Ammonia ship, you know what I mean? All these things. So, the competency is actually not fitting in Oslo, but it’s actually sitting in the, the port city, but then we’re trying to sort of shift the environment also to spread the development, economic development throughout the country.
Brian Ardinger: Are you having similar issues when it comes to brain drain? Do Norwegian startups want to move to America or other parts of Europe or Asia. Are you’re losing some of your talent or have you been very effective at kind of keeping that talent in Norway?
Hege Barnes: So, we stole a big brainer and over the last 10 years or something, where everybody wants to go to the US. Everybody wants to go to Silicon Valley to New York or the things that are happening. But now we’re seeing a shift there as well. There are more staying at home. They’re gaining their access to, their said competence to the environment and ecosystem to the support system at home. And then coming abroad.
It sort of goes cyclical a little bit, but now, as there’s more of these bigger accelerator funds establishing in Oslo in particular or in Norway, then we see that they stay there first. So, we also have the mind that a lot of our smart entrepreneurs, the founders, they should go abroad.
You know, they should gain that experience. They should get a different mindset and learn that. And we know a lot of them that goes abroad and start a company. They come back. And then they change, you know, they they’d start another company, they bring their knowledge and competence back to Norway and that’s hugely valuable. So yes, there’s a brain drain, but a lot of that brain drain is actually returning.
Brian Ardinger: My wife is actually Norwegian. Her Great-grandfather came from Norway to settle here in Nebraska and that, so I’m personally excited about the brain drain. And we get back to Norway. I have a question on the pandemic and how has that affected Norway’s Innovation efforts?
Hege Barnes: So, it has been tough, definitely. And a lot of companies in particularly companies that have industrial projects abroad or something where they actually need to travel and meet companies. We’ve seen though a lot of our companies are shifting and selling online or digital using digital distribution channels are much more effective.
So that’s actually where we have used a lot of resources and it’s shifting the mindset and working with them on the competencies. Okay. So, you can’t be there in person, but how can you actually sell using a digital platform, even if it’s the B2B or direct to consumers, can you change your sort of whole business model or pivot and change your messaging a little bit and all that?
So, we’ve seen the business stagnant during the first phase of it. And then now it’s actually picking up again, as I said, there’s a lot more companies starting up and they think they’re getting smarter on getting it around it. But they’re supposed to be aware that in Norway, it was not a lot in the beginning when we noticed it here in the U S the case numbers were very low in Norway, the same sort of over the summer.
Now it’s very intense over there. So now they actually have a higher level of cases than they had before then we’ve had, and all of Europe, except for UK and a few other countries are slower. in the vaccine distribution, you know, so there is a little bit of concern that this is stretching out a little bit longer.
Brian Ardinger: Yeah, absolutely.
Hege Barnes: I think the pandemic has affected everybody equally across the world. The thing that normally is that we have a good support system, you know, they are taking care of all of this. A lot of funds being put into they’ve got a lot of crisis package. Nothing is perfect. But there’s been a new package coming for a new pack and help support that. So that, I, I guess there’s a lot of opinions there, whether it’s been good or bad, but it’s been in effect, the government is on the case.
Brian Ardinger: Then the good thing about disruption, however bad it is. It forces folks to be more innovative and think differently about the problems that they’re facing. And forces action a lot of times. So, it’ll be interesting to see how everybody comes out of this. How can companies in the U.S. learn from, or work with things that are going on well in Norway, when it comes to innovation?
Hege Barnes: Yeah, that’s a good question. As with anything, I think a dialogue, that’s the best thing, finding a meeting place. Joining in on some of these chat forums or whatever that is. And meeting up, teaming up with some of these organizations and there’s interest for us, you know, for whether are you into smart mobility or whether it’s software B2B for whatever it is.
So, there’s different for us and you can join in and have that personal dialogue, I think is key. And that’s what we think goes through the pandemic is as sure. But we are also using a lot of tools in this one, TheExplorer.no , where we share all the smart solutions out of Norway. I mean, you can actually reach the companies and the people in Norway.
We are trying to share what we know is to share. It’s of course, a sales channel as well, but it’s also an open sort of Innovation portal that you can see what is happening. You can look at the different solutions and you can start a dialogue with a potential partner and customer.
We see a lot of what we are doing is also this whole sustainable. So we’re trying to get, why is this, this whole, EV campaign or why is Norway? So why this 50% of the Norwegian population, or why this 50% of new cars being sold, being electric, you know? Yes. There are incentives from the government, you know, that’s helped that drive that along for sure. But it’s also this whole awareness of sustainability on the government of the private, of industry, sort of facilitating all this. And that information is widely available, and we are happy to share any.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: I’ve just been impressed with, you know, things that are coming out of Norway. I saw the University of Norway had a brilliant ad campaign in response to the GM commercial. It spoke about the country and embracing this innovation mindset. I’m glad that you had a chance to come on Inside Outside Innovation and share what’s going on in a different place in the world. If people want to find out more about yourself or about Innovation Norway, what’s the best way to do that?
Hege Barnes: So, Innovation Norway that I know, that you can find all of us. I’m also on LinkedIn, Hege Barnes, theExplorer.no. That’s actually all green solutions to the world from Norway. So that’s why we shared all that. So, but you can find us openly on InnovationNorway.no, all my colleagues or myself. I’m happy to continue this conversation.
Brian Ardinger: I’m sure we will look you up. Hege, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Hege Barnes: Thank you. Thank you. So excited to be here.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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