Why Nordea is the bank that helps startups grow

With its far-reaching network, financial expertise and financing solutions, Nordea Startup & Growth is focused on being the go-to partner in the Nordics for startups and high-growth companies.

When you think of startups, you may envision ambitious entrepreneurs working around the clock to fine-tune their business model or prepare to pitch their idea to investors. A bank may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, with its Startup & Growth unit, Nordea is changing that.

Nordea Startup & Growth is focused on being the go-to partner in the Nordics to help budding startups and high-growth companies scale up and thrive throughout their entire life cycle.

“We are the bank that helps startups grow,” says Mikkel Rørvig, Head of Startup & Growth in Denmark. “One of our greatest assets is our broad network within the startup ecosystem, which allows us to play a central role in the matchmaking between startups and investors.”

That’s why Nordea is a main partner of Slush, the world’s leading startup and tech event. With its size and network, Nordea manages to attract some of the leading venture capital firms, both in the Nordics and worldwide, to participate in Slush and field pitches from startups.

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Investor Speed Dating event is taking place virtually in two sessions – one in October for early-stage startups and one in November for growth-stage startups ready for next round of investments. The first event has already shattered records, with over 140 speed dates taking place between startups and investors across the Nordics. Nordea has been able to attract six out of the 10 largest global, most active VC funds to participate in the Investor Speed Dating – a record turnout.

“With these curated sessions between startups and investors, we can cultivate the ecosystem and bring in our networks and expertise,” says Vesa Riihimäki, Head of Nordea Startup & Growth in Finland.

Slush Investor Speed Dating

An Investor Speed Dating session at Slush 2019, pre-corona

A commitment to Nordic innovation

Riihimäki established Nordea’s first Startup & Growth unit in Finland in 2014. Based on its success, units later sprung up in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Why choose to invest in the startup ecosystem, especially considering the oft-cited startup failure rate of 90%? The Startup & Growth ambition has two dimensions, according to Håvard Lindtvedt, who heads the team in Norway.

“These startups are our future customers. They are challenging our existing customers with new business models and technologies, and we want to be a part of the new world of corporates that’s coming up,” Lindtvedt says.

There’s also a social responsibility component: “A viable startup ecosystem is crucial for growth and employment in the Nordics, and as the region’s largest bank, we want to support Nordic innovation,” he adds.

That commitment to support the startup ecosystem is no weaker during the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather even more critical, according to Riihimäki in Finland.

“If we were going to fund you back in December or January before Covid-19 hit, then it’s highly likely we will finance you during the pandemic,” he says.

Slush We Grow Startups sign

Asking the hard questions

Nordea’s offering for startups goes beyond the simple banking staples of an account, a credit card and an online bank. The Startup & Growth unit has a deep knowledge of the startup ecosystem, the business models involved and the financial landscape. The team spends significant time mentoring entrepreneurs and helping them develop their skills.

“Lack of financial competence can lead to dangerous assumptions, but the bank can lend its expertise here. We can help the entrepreneur or growth company evaluate their financial situation, ask the hard questions and help them select a suitable financing solution for their specific needs,” says Riihimäki.

One of the Startup & Growth team’s core competencies is helping companies with their capital strategy and structuring their financing, whether it’s initial capital from friends, family and public organisations or investments by business angels and venture capital funds. Bank loans are also a good option to throw in the financing mix, according to Axel Bruzelius, the team lead for Startup & Growth in Sweden.

“Many entrepreneurs don’t consider bank loans when growing their business, often because they’re not aware of this alternative. But bank loans are a great support tool to have along the entrepreneur’s growth journey,” Bruzelius says.

Nordea’s loan solutions are the most competitive on the market and designed specifically to meet the needs of new businesses and more established companies moving into a high-growth phase.

Image from Slush

What is a business angel?

A business angel or angel investor is typically a private individual who invests in an early-stage startup.

Tapping into the bank’s network

Connections are also key to getting a business off the ground, and that’s where Startup & Growth comes in with its far-reaching network. Startup & Growth has relationships with six out of 10 of the world’s largest VC funds – connections that can be especially important for growth-oriented entrepreneurs.

The Danish team, for example, also has a program focused on educating Nordea’s Private Banking customers on becoming business angels.

“In Denmark, we’ve educated about 200 business angels from Nordea so far and tried to build a huge network around business angels. While not all are active, we have had success with business angels investing in the startup companies within our network,” says Rørvig.

Due to Nordea’s size, history and footprint, the bank is also a partner to some of the best service providers within their specific niches, whether that’s marketing companies, lawyers or accountants. These partners are frequently shared with the startups.

“Our experience shows that it makes a huge difference if the service providers, for example lawyers, know about and share our passion for the startup business models. Finding the right ones, not just the biggest, is where a good network is key,” says Rørvig.

What’s more, Nordea is also a full-scale corporate bank, offering a full range of solutions, from tools to manage currency risk when doing business with customers and suppliers in other countries to some of the most sophisticated cash management setups.

“It’s important that we can be the bank to these early-day startups,” Rørvig adds. “Given our size and role in society, we want to be there. We can make a big difference for these clients with the expertise that we have, from early-day startup to full scale growth.”


Find out more about Nordea’s Investor Speed Dating and how to apply.

Read more about how to choose the right investor for your startup.

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