Business opportunities in Scandinavia in 2021


‘Let’s just get out of 2020 as soon as possible!’ – seems to be the general feeling and consensus of many this year. A year full of uncertainty, curtailment of civil liberties and free movement, and dramatic falls in GDP – as economies and many businesses around the world struggle to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

While 2020 has been a tale of survival for many, there have, of course, been those that have benefitted from the situation, such as manufacturers of PPE equipment, online retailers and delivery companies, and those in ICT able to offer solutions for remote working. As consumers and businesses have moved increasingly online, many have adapted or expanded their ability to reach customers digitally.

It also poses many questions: Can this ‘new normal’ we have been reluctantly adjusting to really ever be ‘normal’? When can we get ‘back to normal’ and what does this actually mean? I think the answer lies in two parts. Fundamentally, it means the basic restoration of rights – freedom of movement – to travel, to see and meet friends and family whenever and however we like, to attend functions, events and conferences – as we did before the pandemic. This will rely on the successful mass vaccination of the population, which appears ever closer, with three companies recently reporting very positive results following months of trials.

But what about how we do business and how we work?

Digital development

Before the pandemic started there was an increasing trend for us to work more flexibly, and remotely, from home, to help with the work/life balance and avoid the costly daily commute in terms of valuable productivity time. Indeed, the Scandinavian countries were at the forefront of this trend, with many other European colleagues looking on enviously at the possibilities available to Scandinavian employees. And businesses were increasingly exploring options available to them to develop their online presence and migrate to the cloud (process of moving digital business operations into the cloud), to allow workers to access services at any time and from any location to complete their tasks.

In terms of looking for business trends and opportunities in 2021, the question will be asked across Europe if we actually want to go back to the way things were. Will workers want to go back to the daily commuting routine, and will business want to keep all their large, expensive office spaces? For many, the answer will undoubtedly be ‘no’, and they will want to keep these remote working options alive.

These shifts and changes mean clear opportunities for ICT companies who can offer solutions for companies in terms of digital communication and collaboration tools, networking, security, online marketing, selling and branding, development of apps, website and ecommerce, and targeted use of social media channels.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, launched in Sweden in October. Offering Swedish customers a selection of more than 150 million products, including tens of thousands of products from local Swedish businesses, Amazon is launching at a time when, thanks in part to coronavirus, Swedish online retailers are enjoying extraordinary growth. E-commerce in Sweden is expected to have grown between 40 and 50 percent during 2020.

Let’s take a look at some other specific areas across the three Scandinavian countries that could provide opportunities in 2021:

Sweden – smart solutions

From the invention of the thermometer to the founding of startup unicorns like Skype, Sweden is one of the most innovative countries in the world, taking second place in the 2019 Global Innovation Index. The growing importance of smart solutions can be seen across the Swedish economy.

Sweden is a significant testbed for global tech companies and startups, and one of Europe’s most mature markets for mobile solutions, data analytics, 5G and AI. As a leading ICT player, Sweden is also a smart choice for manufacturers wanting to utilise new production techniques. A diverse network of sub-suppliers exists, with opportunities to supply the machinery, tools and parts that are leading this transformation.

Stockholm is also building a global reputation as a tech hub of entrepreneurial activity, with almost one-fifth of the entire workforce working in tech, the highest compared to any other city in Europe. Many innovative startups are launched here each year, attracting talent, investors and industry events – all creating a setting for collaboration and innovation.

The ongoing ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ of connected machines, reconfigurable systems, advanced robotics and seamless information flows, creates many diverse opportunities. Through a recently launched ‘Smart Industry’ strategy, Sweden is aiming to strengthen its capacity and competitiveness in a rapidly changing environment for digital technologies in manufacturing and production. Solutions that can add to this strategy are in demand.

As new technologies revolutionise vehicles and how they are manufactured, more manufacturers are taking advantage of the benefits of localising production in Sweden, where highly skilled expertise in mobile communications systems, connectivity and automation is readily available. With a target of having a zero-carbon vehicle fleet by 2030, Sweden offers interesting opportunities for green vehicle development.

Sweden has actively invested in creating a robust smart city ecosystem, resulting in products and solutions such as electric and biogas buses, district heating, fibre cables, smart grids and energy efficient buildings. Companies that can help to facilitate smart city developments are very much on trend.

Denmark – smart energy and life science

Denmark is a leading player for smart grid solutions and renewable energy. Some of the best conditions in Europe can be found here for developing and testing new technologies.

There are various business opportunities to be found within the constantly developing cleantech sector. Some 46 research institutes focus on cleantech R&D alone, giving an indication of the scale of public and private resources being allocated here. Denmark is a world leader in wind power technology, with over 80% of the world’s offshore wind turbines either being produced in Denmark or containing Danish components. Offshore and onshore developers, turbine manufacturers and suppliers, research institutions, engineering companies and test centres are all part of the innovative value chain.

The Danish smart grid is one of the most reliable grids in the world. The volumes of renewable energy in the Danish grid are supported by the interconnectivity of the nation’s electricity, gas and district heating systems. This is continuously optimised through the introduction of new technologies for measuring, remote control, automatic response and communication equipment. The high level of renewable energy in the Danish grid means there is a natural focus on exploring possibilities for energy storage and adoption of innovative technologies. An interesting example case is EnergyLab Nordhavn, a residential area, which is exploring innovative energy solutions for urban areas. It is, in effect, a smart city energy lab on a full-scale, created to show how electricity and heating, energy-efficient buildings, and electric transport, can be integrated into an intelligent, flexible and optimised energy system.

Denmark has one of the strongest life sciences clusters in the world – Medicon Valley. One part of this is expertise in the design, engineering and clinical aspects of medical technology. Denmark is home to around 1,000 companies that operate in the medtech field. Many world-leading players are based here, including Coloplast, GN ReSound, Invacare, Oticon, Philips Healthcare, Widex, and William Cook Europe. This cluster offers opportunities in several areas, including research and development collaborations, design and innovation expertise, test and demonstration facilities, public-private partnerships, and high-tech production possibilities.

Norway – world firsts: ocean tech and data centres

The offshore sector has suffered considerably from the coronavirus pandemic, with a crash in oil prices leading to the cancellation of various planned investment projects, and has led to further unemployment and uncertainty in the sector. The growing threat of climate change is also leading to increasing opposition to Norway’s role in the oil and gas industry, questioning the sustainability, given its damaging environmental impact.

That being said, this is also leading to opportunities appearing to build on Norway’s skills and infrastructure within ocean tech. Ocean-based clusters along Norway’s extensive coastline are looking at the questions posed by sustainability and cross-sector innovation, to spearhead efforts within areas such as offshore floating wind, carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), and zero emission transport at sea.

Examples of such innovation include Hywind Scotland, the world’s first operational floating wind farm, developed by Equinor ASA. The world’s first CO2 storage at sea was Sleipner, on the Norwegian continental shelf. And looking at the aquaculture sector, the world’s first offshore fish farm, Ocean Farm was designed by leading salmon farmer SalMar ASA, using technology originating from oil and gas.

Green Shipping Programme – the Norwegian government is aiming to create the world’s most environmentally-friendly fleet. Emissions reduction in Norwegian domestic shipping will have a major impact on meeting Norway’s climate carbon emission reduction targets. The programme is the result of a public-private partnership, and was established to bolster Norway’s position as a shipping nation – reacting to fierce competition from other parts of the world – as it tries to find scalable solutions for efficient and green shipping.

Some 20 large-scale pilot projects have been launched so far, including two to develop green ports; one to create LNG/VOC/battery-powered shuttle tankers; a hydrogen-powered speed boat; a bunkering vessel; and two autonomous, zero-emission vessels. AMPER, the world’s first electrical car and passenger ferry, powered by batteries, entered into service in early 2015 in Norway. Today, there are over 40 such electric ferries in operation in Norway. Additional investments of approximately EUR 190 million in battery and charging technology have been made, with more set to follow. By 2021, there are expected to be 70 all-electric and hybrid ferries in total.

Data Centres – The activities of a modern, digital society, and the rampant development of smart technologies – such as smart grids, smart cities, smart mobility – generate a huge amount of data that needs to be efficiently processed and stored. Data centres need vast quantities of energy, which is a perfect match for Norway, with 98% of its electricity production coming from renewable sources (particularly hydropower). Additionally, the cold climate allows for energy-efficient cooling, and several locations involve the reuse of existing infrastructure and/or excess heat.

Seizing on this obvious potential, in 2018 the Norwegian Government launched the world’s first national data centre strategy, including tax reductions and incentives to improve connectivity. This strategy has led to a positive influx of investments. In 2019, Microsoft opened several data centres in Norway, while Volkswagen located a centre for high-performance computing (HPC) there, and Google bought a large plot of land from Statkraft.

New, innovative solutions are constantly being sought related to the efficient, secure storage of data.

In conclusion, while the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic will be felt for a long time to come, and recovery for many will be slow and costly, society is still constantly changing and evolving. The drive to find smarter, greener solutions, often spearheaded by the Nordic countries, continues across all industries.

Julkaistu 30.11.2020

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