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SEB incubator in Norway supports sustainable startups

SEB in Norway has started a free-of-charge incubator operation for startup companies developing sustainable solutions primarily in the ocean- and energy-related fields. Recently an important milestone was passed when SEB ScaleCenter “graduated” its first company and took in a new one, giving it an opportunity to scale up its business over a one-year period. 

“ScaleCenter spurs internal engagement and strengthens our position as an attractive employer, but above all it gives us a unique opportunity to set ourselves apart from the competition in the advice we give our customers,” says Johannes Breivik, the driving force and idea machine behind the venture. He spends half his work time with ScaleCenter and the other half in Sustainable Banking.

Background to the venture

The lead-up to the venture was a meeting between country manager John Turesson and Johannes Breivik, who was completing the last year of his Master’s degree at the Norwegian School of Economics. Johannes was offered an internship at SEB, and in connection with that was assigned the task during a concluding school work/study project in California to study how startup companies in San Francisco work with employee engagement.

In summer 2019, Johannes returned to Norway and presented his idea to John and the other members of the management team.

“I’m impressed that management in Norway dared to invest in me,” he admits. “I had just come straight out of school and had an idea. I received firm backing and a large degree of freedom.”

Johannes conducted thorough research and met with a long list of startups from throughout Norway.

“What I learned when I talked with companies is that they come to a point where it is easy to fall between two chairs,” he explains. “This happens when a company is too big to participate in an innovation or new start programme, but too small to be able to secure bank financing. This is called ‘death valley’ in the startup world, and it is here where we can make a difference.”

In November 2019 the venture got the green light from divisional management in Stockholm, and on 1 March 2020 the first three companies were given spots in ScaleCenter.

Pro bono incubator

ScaleCenter is a pro bono incubator, meaning that its services are provided free of charge to participating companies. They gain access to premises adjacent to SEB’s offices as well as advisory support.

“The programme runs for 12 months, and the idea is that we always have four companies on board,” says Johannes. “Every quarter we send out one company and take in a new one.”

Network, knowledge and student projects

The operation rests on three legs. First, the participating startups gain access to the bank’s network of large companies, family offices and investors.

“We can guide them on where to turn and help introduce them to people who they would have a hard time getting access to on their own.”

Second, the participating companies gain access to knowledge from SEB’s experts in various financial areas.

“Our employees have pitched in significantly to offer their know-how,” says Johannes. “It is a source of motivation for our employees, and they also gain valuable knowledge in return.”

Thirdly, SEB has established cooperation with Start NHH, a student organisation at the Norwegian School of Economics that works to promotes students’ interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. Through this, students gain an opportunity to conduct project work for the companies that participate in ScaleCenter.

“This is extremely meaningful for the students,” says Johannes. “Last year Start NHH cited its collaboration with SEB ScaleCenter as one of its two most important milestones in 2020. Plus it strengthens our recruitment base. We can position ourselves not only as an investment bank, but also as a sustainable, innovative and future-oriented bank.”

Says John Tureson: “For me it is important that all ScaleCenter companies have a clear ‘impact’ profile and that all work conducted by us and our partners is done pro bono. I think that when we invest our own time – which is the most valuable thing we have – in helping with something that leads to something that makes sense – and thereby has impact – then we develop and grow as people. This, together with the passion for innovation and knowledge that we get exposed to, is a pillar in our ScaleCenter venture and hopefully has a positive effect on our culture.”

Want to read more about SEB ScaleCenter? Visit seb.no (Norwegian)