The power of entrepreneurship

Nowadays, most of us listen to music primarily with our mobile phones through a streaming service – but that hasn’t always been the case. When music became downloadable, the market quickly became filled with pirated copies of songs that were distributed through networks. The music industry tried to fight back, but with little to no success. Then one day in Sweden, a couple of music enthusiasts saw an opportunity and started to build a platform with the idea to distribute music online legally. In essence, they decided to embrace the power of the internet and move the music industry to a digital format.

While Spotify started small, it has since grown into a global powerhouse in the frontline of change in the music industry. Music album sales have dropped at a steady rate since the digital distribution of music became possible. At the same time, the music streaming market has grown rapidly and still continues to grow. Spotify created the technology and the product, but it has also been a key factor in the emergence and growth of a completely new market.

Spotify is just one example of the Nordic ecosystem producing the most unicorns per capita. Other examples include companies like Klarna, Skype, Supercell, iZettle, CRF Health, MySQL and King. The sheer number of success stories suggests that there is something in this area that people are doing right.

The global impact of new technology companies is undeniable, but the impact of these companies is controversial. Not all technology companies have had only positive effects on the world. However, when done right, fast growing technology companies offer a great opportunity for a change towards the better, both for society and individuals. Especially in the Nordics, more and more technology companies are focused on “scaling good” – aiming to have a net positive influence on our society.

The next generation of world-changing companies are already in the making, and there’s room for more.


Some exciting new companies to watch include:

  • Meru Health – offers an evidence-based app-based treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety.

  • Karma – offers surplus food from restaurants, cafes and grocery stores at half of the regular price.

  • Hedvig – builds a new generation of insurance platforms that use AI to help evaluate customers and operates on a policy of using any surplus for social good.

  • Spinnova – turns wood or waste into textile fibre, without harmful chemicals.

  • Clue – tracks the menstrual cycle, and is a free app built in collaboration with top health researchers.

The essence of entrepreneurship

Put simply, entrepreneurship means that you choose a direction for your life and take responsibility for getting things done. The simplest example of entrepreneurship is of course founding your own company, but you can have an entrepreneurial mindset while working for any company – becoming a so-called “intrapreneur.” In today’s world, it’s exceedingly important to have entrepreneurial skills. In other words, it’s important to be self-directed, to understand what problems are important to solve and to have the capacity to find innovative ways to solve problems and provide value. That’s why we created this course: to provide everyone who’s interested with a useful skill set for using entrepreneurial tools and thinking in any context.


A course created with an entrepreneurial mindset

As just one example of how an entrepreneurial mindset can help you outside of the startup world, we used the principles you’ll learn by taking this course to actually create the course in the first place. That means we first identified the fundamental problems:

  1. There is a lot of hype around startups, but also many misunderstandings.

  2. The world of startup entrepreneurship is not easily approachable for everyone.

We came up with a solution (this course), validated it with beta testers, and we’re collecting feedback from our students to learn how we can continue to iterate and improve what we have. So with that in mind, please give us feedback by using the feedback widget on the right side of the page, or via our community on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/starting_up/.

The benefit of innovation

Innovation is not just coming up with ideas. Innovation means the creation of new and useful ideas that lead to a method, product or a service. Just creating something new is not enough – while creativity can be defined as making something new and useful, innovations are defined by a concrete solution that results from creativity, often to solve an existing problem.

Innovation is created by a culture that fosters and inspires imagination and self-expression where everyone can contribute. Innovation is needed to create sustainable economic growth on a national level. Just enhancing what already exists isn’t enough when new solutions and ways of working are continuously being developed in the global market. Entrepreneurship provides a strong breeding ground for innovation. The self-directed nature of working as an entrepreneur opens up a new way of doing creative work that isn’t self evident in larger companies. Put another way, entrepreneurs are risk takers that reach for the stars.

So why should I care about entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship offers a possibility for anyone to help shape the future, both for them as an individual and for society as a whole. Everyone has their own reason why they are involved in entrepreneurship. To understand common reasons, we asked “Why did you start?” from 17 early-stage entrepreneurs in the Nordics. The six most popular answers were:

  • I saw a problem I wanted to solve

  • I wanted to do something of my own

  • I wanted to change the world (before I had an idea)

  • I had a business or service innovation model in mind

  • I wanted to escape from my payroll job

  • I had a tech innovation in mind

We believe that entrepreneurship is essentially about solving problems. The majority of leading entrepreneurial teams are solving a problem they (or someone close to them) have faced. Different people solve different problems. This is why we need a diverse group of entrepreneurially minded people from all over the world so we can find and solve more problems.


The technology startup industry in particular is facing a problem with ensuring diversity – in 2018, 93% of venture capital investments (more about them in Chapter 7) in Europe went to all-male founder teams according to the State of European Tech report 2018. Since venture capital investments are often crucial for early-stage startups, having only 7% of investments going to female founders means that a majority of startups are potentially solving problems from a male perspective. It would make much more sense to have products and services that cater to as many people as possible.

The same logic applies to intrapreneurs, people inside bigger companies (mainly large corporations) who bring in a much needed entrepreneurial way of thinking. For bigger companies, it’s also crucial that products new and old cater to a large group and are usable by everyone. Intrapreneurs can also be a force for change inside big companies, helping to bring about innovation that enables big companies to stay in their leading position.

So no matter where you are in your life, we believe this course will have something to offer you.


Insights from an entrepreneur – what is entrepreneurship?

Can an entrepreneurial mindset really make a difference for everyone? Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the board for several publicly listed companies and an active player with hundreds of investments in the startup ecosystem, believes the answer is yes. We discussed with him to learn more.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

“I define entrepreneurship as a feeling of ownership. By this, I don’t mean financial ownership – instead it means that you feel personal responsibility for the matter that you are working with. When founding your own company this feeling of ownership is of course very natural, but you can feel the same ownership working in any company regardless of the company age, size, or type.”

How does someone know if they are working like an entrepreneur?

“If you can go home and be excited about what you are doing and want to talk about it with your friends and family, you’re probably working like an entrepreneur. To feel this way, you have to have a clear mission and enough freedom. Then it’s possible to feel responsibility and be motivated in a way that means you are working as an entrepreneur.”

How have you applied entrepreneurial thinking inside a company?

“When you have a feeling of ownership, you take more action and don’t just think that it’s someone else's responsibility. If you have the attitude that I’m just a small part of a big corporate machine, you probably won’t change the machine. But as an entrepreneur, you think about the whole machine.

“As the Chairman of Nokia since 2012, we’ve had to change Nokia’s direction after the decline in mobile phone sales. My entrepreneurial background and the leadership’s entrepreneurial way of working has had a big impact on finding a new direction.

“However, at Nokia even though our leadership team has started to work in a more entrepreneurial way, it doesn’t mean that all our 95,000 employees feel this level of entrepreneurship. Changing how the leadership works is much faster compared to changing the whole organizational culture. We have started to work on that and I believe that we have taken a step forward, but there is still work to do.”

Why does an entrepreneurial mindset matter?

“Because it can have a great positive effect – when you feel responsible for your job and are motivated, it’s great for you as an individual and it’s great for the company as business benefits like new products are more likely to be born. This effect is magnified in big corporations. If there are 100,000 people working in a more motivated way for 365 days a year, there are 36,500,000 times when something can be done a bit better. When that is done over a period of years it can have a huge impact.”

How do you measure an entrepreneurial way of working inside a company?

“As an individual inside a big company, you have to have enough freedom and a mission that is motivating for you to be able to work like an entrepreneur. Then you can undertake the actions that will increase your chances of achieving your real goal. It’s important to acknowledge that an entrepreneurial way of working should not be measured by proxy indicators, it should be measured by how well one achieves their real goal.

“For example, if a company aims to increase entrepreneurial working and thinking inside their organization and comes up with metrics how to track it – but then chooses for example ‘how many ideas are produced’ – that can be problematic. Soon everyone will understand that the number of ideas is the only thing that matters, which leads to a huge number of ideas and the company stating that ‘we are the most entrepreneurial organization in the world’. But the reality is that it may lead to people gaming the system, for example by saying things like ‘I just submitted the same idea for a smoking spot for the third time’. This is very dangerous and can happen when using proxy indicators and it should be avoided.”

What about in the future?

“Working in an entrepreneurial way is already better for both organizations and individuals now, but having an entrepreneurial mindset and skills will be even more important in the future. I believe that in the future people will work more independently, for example as freelancers, but also that the structures of bigger organizations will be more flexible and people will have to take greater responsibility in order to succeed.”

Next section
II. The different types of entrepreneurship