The State of Nordic Impact Startups 2021

The Nordics have a strong reputation for creating innovative startups working to create a sustainable impact in the world. But what’s the real state of play? 

In partnership with +Impact by Danske Bank, with Green Innovation Group, we’ve dived into whether Nordic countries really do over-index for impact innovation. What is an impact startup anyway? And can they offer investment returns as well as real world change?

Report - Nordic Impact Startups 2021


In the most detailed analysis of the Nordic impact ecosystem to date, we’ve tried to bust (or confirm) some myths about Nordic impact startups. We answer questions like whether the Nordics are global impact leaders, whether impact startups can successfully reach scale, are impact teams more diverse, and are Deep Tech impact startups a safer bet?

Are Nordic countries global impact leaders?

Investment into Nordic impact startups has grown 25x in the last 10 years, reaching €1.6B in 2020. Venture capital in the Nordics is also significantly more impact focused than in other regions, with 34% of all VC investment in the Nordics going to impact companies, vs. 17% for Europe as a whole.

Within Nordic countries, Sweden is the clear front-runner. Yet, impact startups in the UK received more VC investment than all the Nordic countries combined. The Nordics punch well above their weight and could be considered an impact powerhouse, but not yet a global leader.

Do impact startups create meaningful numbers of jobs?

Impact startups account for 10% of all startup jobs openings in the Nordics, and making up a greater share of all startup openings, up 5x from 2% in 2016 to 10% in 2020.

Impact startups showed resilience during the pandemic, claiming an ever larger percentage of total job openings in Nordic startups. Having produced four impact unicorns (Freyr, Kry, Oatly and Northvolt), the Nordics are serious impact startup employers.

Do impact startups for stronger and more diverse teams?

Nordic impact startups can fish from a bigger talent pool – they receive 25% more job applications per vacancy than non impact startups.

Chart showing Nordic Impact startups receive 25% more job applications than non-impact startups

Woman are more likely to found an impact startup than a non-impact startup in the Nordics. Like the broader startup ecosystem, Nordic impact startup founding teams are predominantly all male, though marginally less so than non-impact founding teams. Combined with a broader job applicant pool, impact startups have the opportunity to form stronger teams and also benefit for increased founders’ diversity.

What’s next for Nordic impact?

The Nordics are not yet an out-and-out global leader for impact startups in absolute terms, but they do punch well above their weight, and have a significantly impact-focused ecosystem. As the ecosystem matures, we are also beginning to see a snowball effect of successful startups breeding new entrepreneurial impact talent in the region.

But challenges still remain. Impact startups can still struggle with a perception of a worthy cause without investor returns. And like the broader startup ecosystem, team and founder diversity is a challenge in impact too. This report sets out the most robust terms yet the state of the Nordic impact startup ecosystem, and predictably, not all myths hold true.

Report - Nordic Impact Startups 2021