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New report maps out Nordic startups whose core business is sustainability

Danske Bank is releasing its fourth annual “State of the Nordic Impact Startups” report, which maps out the structures and trends found in this segment comprising young, ambitious companies that have sustainability as their core business.

The report ties in with the Bank’s sustainability ambitions and focus on helping startup companies grow their business, create workplaces and spur innovation in the Nordics. More than 1,200 companies took part in the survey.

Greatly increased interest in the segment 
Interest in the segment is growing strongly, both because it is becoming more mature and measurable, and because technology is in many ways viewed as one of the answers to our global challenges. In other words, these companies play a vital role.

The report lays out the data and so helps increase transparency and challenges myths about the segment that can be a barrier to growth – such as heightened risk, lack of investment opportunities and a shortage of competences.

“I am particularly pleased to see that investment in the segment is rising markedly,” says Mikkel Skott Olsen from Danske Bank Growth & Impact. He points out that venture fund investments in Nordic impact startups totalled some EUR 1.6bn in 2020, which is 25 times the 2010 figure.

“We can generally see that venture funds are considerably more impact-focused in the Nordics than in other regions. Across the Nordic region as a whole, 34% of VC investments are channelled into impact startups, whereas the EU average is 17%,” he says.


I am pleased that investment in the impact startup segment is rising markedly.

Mikkel Skott Olsen

Head of Digital Platforms & Insights, Danske Bank Growth & Impact


More mature than initially assumed 
“Another surprise is that impact startups appear to find progressing from the earlier stages to more mature business operations easier than traditional tech startups,” says Mikkel Skott Olsen. The report reveals, for example, that impact startups progress faster from the early (seed) financing rounds to more mature rounds (series A) where venture funds typically step in.

Figures from Danske Bank’s recruitment platform, the HUB, show that impact startups also appear to have an easier time attracting staff – receiving 25% more applications than traditional startups.

“Much has been said and written about millennials being keen to have work with a purpose. This is clearly documented here,” says Mikkel, who also points out that the ability to create the right team is a key startup success factor.

Green Growth – crucial for the climate 
One particular focus area for the report is the Green Growth sub-segment. These are startups that focus on the environment across five sectors: energy, agriculture/food, production, property/infrastructure and transport. The area accounts for around half of the impact startup segment and so is very significant.

“The report cannot completely discount the myth that Green Growth companies are heavy on production apparatus and R&D. Around 50% of Green Growth companies apparently live up to this and 25% of them also have a high go-to-market risk. Though I’m pleased that the remainder work with a proven model, which all else being equal means they should be able to attract traditional tech investors,” says Mikkel.