After Al Gore’s phenomenal Opening Keynote Speech, Founder Stage was taken over by some of the leading names of European tech. Niklas Zennström, Brent Hoberman, David Thevenon and Sophie Bendz came together to talk about the European entrepreneurial ecosystem and the importance of daring to address the biggest problems in the world. What do the biggest companies of the world of tomorrow have in common? They will all actively address sustainability problems.
The conversation kicked off with a discussion about what has changed in the European entrepreneurial landscape since the early days. Zennström described the difference between “then” and “now” as stark as the night and day. “Back in the early days, people asked if you could build a company in Europe? These days there is no doubt about it, no question if you could build a success story in Nordics and beyond. It is all about global business now,” Zennström stated.
Hoberman brought up the “snowball effect” of serial entrepreneurship. These days, we have more experienced entrepreneurs who have been in the game for a long time and want to give something back by for example, helping young founders, establishing seed funds, and making more angel investments. Hoberman pointed out that entrepreneurship is seen as a viable career choice by the most talented students.
There is more focus on the areas, where technology has not yet disrupted the system, such as government, medicine and education. Brent hoped that the European governments would take the opportunity to make things easier for entrepreneurs to have more “sandboxes” for trying things in different fields.
Zennström highlighted the importance of institutional investors in the Nordics, such as the public pension funds, which have traditionally invested in public stock. Especially now these actors have realised that tech can create economic growth for the pensioners. Brent and Thevenon both highlighted the importance of large companies working with innovative entrepreneurs. Thevenon mentioned Supercell as a good example of a local player who does this.
How can companies create great returns not just to investors, but also society?
Millennials are known for wanting to work for mission-driven companies: the young people of today appreciate a sustainable supply chain. Because of this, the speakers agreed, it is an incentive for the companies of tomorrow to commit to an environmental mission and think about their societal impact from the very beginning.
Zennström brought up – to our delight – Finland as an exemplary example of an egalitarian and environmentally friendly country which is an ideal environment to facilitate the companies of tomorrow: due to their social progressivity and high levels of education put the Nordics ahead of the curve in the game.
Brent and Zennström, friends since for a long time, have both supported young entrepreneurs themselves: they share the common thread in appreciating the authenticity of the relationship with the founder. “We’re not in this to make money: I urge founders to find people who authentically want to help them”, Brent said. “We can’t do their jobs for them”, Zennström continued, “But you can push them, stretch them. Just like workout, sparring is better with someone training you”.
Talking about the future – of both the world and Slush – the speakers seemed positive, despite the huge challenges awaiting us in the world of tomorrow. “Europe has this amazing wealth of global leadership”, Brent concludes. “We need to go after those massive industries which haven’t been disrupted.” He mentions the possibilities in the field of education and augmented reality. “If we don’t fix education, we can’t fix the future”, Zennström agrees.