DigitalTalks Global Perspectives: Interview with Funda Sezgi, Chief of House at Norrsken Foundation

Hello everyone, our guest today at DigitalTalks Global Perspectives is Funda Sezgi who is working as Chief of House at Norrsken Foundation.

Hi Funda, first of all, thank you for accepting our invitation. Can you give us more information about Norrsken Foundation? What would you like to share about the foundation’s vision? By the way, the name of the foundation is very beautiful. It means “dawn” in Swedish.

Hi Ozan, thank you for creating the platform to spread our story. I also love the name Norrsken. A bit difficult for non-Swedes to pronounce perfectly, but the challenge of it creates curiosity and engagement. Norrsken actually means Nordic Lights or Aurora, one of nature’s most spectacular offerings. I was fortunate enough to see it in real life when I visited the north of Sweden this year and would highly recommend you to put it in your things-to-see list.

Our vision at Norrsken Foundation is to help create a world that is optimized for people and the planet. Our way of doing this is by enabling impact tech entrepreneurs, i.e. entrepreneurs who leverage technology, have a clear impact goal and viable business model to tackle the most pressing global challenges. We aim to contribute to the journey of potential impact unicorns. As you know, in the business world, unicorns are referred to as startups that reach a $1 billion dollar valuation. At Norrsken, we celebrate profits and remarkable financial results, but we also feel that it is time to move beyond such a narrow definition of success. Our heros, hence, are impact unicorns that are geared towards affecting 1 billion people’s lives positively while generating healthy profits.

Is Niklas Adalberth, who is the co-founder of one of the world’s leading fintech companies, Klarna and founder of Norrsken Foundation, actively involved in the business? Is he spending a lot of time at House? 🙂

Niklas has had a very interesting journey. He started Klarna as a school project with two classmates at Stockholm School of Economics about 10 years ago. Klarna now processes more than 60% of all online purchases in Sweden and is cited as one of Sweden’s tech unicorns, currently valued at $2.5 billion. Having successfully scaled Klarna, Niklas then decided to use his super powers to make the world a better place. He sold part of his shares to Klarna to start Norrsken Foundation and is currently our Executive Chairman. So, yes, he is very much around and involved 🙂 Norrsken is his baby and he is fully focused on maximizing the impact we can create with the resources we have. It is such a blessing to work closely with such a visionaire that has a proven entrepreneurial track record, an amazing network and a genuinely good heart.

There are some initiatives (The Norrsken Initiatives) and some investments (The Norrsken Investments) supported by the Foundation right? What is the difference between the two structures? Do all the employees of these initiatives work in the House?

Norrsken Initiatives are the startups we found and fully fund ourselves. Currently we have two initiatives. One of them is Klarity, that aims to engage citizens in exposing and taking action on everyday corruption. We beta launched it in Ghana this year. The other one is 29K, an organisation that aims to democratise personal development tools and make them accessible for all. The idea is to help people gain meaning and purpose in their lives and the vision is to prevent mental health issues. By the way, the name 29K comes from the fact that on average we have 29,000 days in our lives. Better make them count! 🙂

On the investments side, during our first year of operations, we raised $30 million and created Norrsken Founders Fund together with the founders of other Swedish unicorns King, Mojang and Daniel Wellington. Through this in-house VC fund, we invest in companies in different impact areas in exchange of equity. So far, we have invested in 14 companies in health, education, circular economy, agriculture, food and similar. This is an impact investing instrument, where we go for impact first and milder financial return expectations than regular VCs.

Our initiatives, as well as some of the portfolio companies, work from Norrsken House. As soon as they grow beyond 10 – 15 team members, we expect the companies to find themselves a new home for running their operations. However, they remain part of the community even if they are not present in the house on a daily basis.

Let’s talk about Norrsken House… What would you like to share with us about House? How many companies and members do you have right now? What are the areas of focus seen in the initiatives?

Norrsken House is Europe’s largest hub for the combination of impact, technology and entrepreneurship. It is an enabling ecosystem of 350 members (approximately 100 companies), consisting of impact tech entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and impact organisations such as UNDP and Ashoka. Approximately 60% of our members are growth-oriented entrepreneurial organisations. We curate our community carefully to get a good mix of different impact areas. Currently, the top three areas that stand out are social inclusion, transparency/democracy and health. However, these numbers change when we have new members joining.

Do you get a lot of application for House? What are your criteria while making a choice? If I am not mistaken, there is a membership fee of 6.000 SEK per month.

Yes, we do get many applications, more than we can accommodate. The quality of the teams has also been steadily increasing over time. The house has been full since the first day we started operating and we can only accept members when existing companies “graduate” or grow out of the house. Our goal is to have 10 graduations per year.

We have a thorough application process, where we assess each company’s impact and growth potential. We nurture these organisations during their time at Norrsken House. We offer support both in impact and business areas in the form of workshops and 1:1s with Norrsken team as well as our partner organizations. We also gather quarterly data on their financial and impact performance, to track progress.

Correct, the membership fee for regular members is 6.000 SEK per month. This fee covers the self-cost of a member and a very small margin. If the organisation has a clear impact goal though, we subsidize their membership fee by half. So, in a way, we are soft-investing in impact entrepreneurs that sit at Norrsken House in order to increase their chances of success. Some of those organizations then also qualify for investment from Norrsken Founders Fund.

Are you planning to open House at other locations outside of Stockholm? Or currently, there isn’t a plan like that?

Our goal is to have 25 Houses across the world. We have initiated our internationalisation work earlier this year. Our focus is currently on Europe and Africa. The markets we are looking at closely are London, Berlin, Lisbon, Kigali and Cape Town. It’s very exciting!

How many years have you been living in Sweden, Funda? What would you like to say about living in Stockholm? I’m sure some of our readers are curious about this topic 🙂

It has been almost 15 years since I left Turkey. I’ve lived in Melbourne, Lund, Barcelona, Sevilla and San Francisco before I moved to here. I have a forever crush on Stockholm and Sweden. Stockholm is beautiful and the nature is really embedded in the city. And Sweden has so much to offer. I really love the culture. It may take time to get to know people but once you make friends with Swedes, you are considered family. I happened to get very lucky to meet a lot of fantastic people when I moved here, so the transition for me was rather quick. One of the things that I love the most about this culture is that people are ambitious, curious and critical thinkers. You are appreciated for your competence and also surrounded by competent people. First time I am living in a country where being a foreigner and/or female has not worked to my disadvantage. On the contrary I would say.

Thank you so much for your valuable sharing. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I hope Norrsken makes its way to Istanbul soon 🙂

I hope too Funda. Thank you very much and I wish you success in your impactful and inspirational works.

This post was co-edited by Esra Sezer.