You may not know it, but several of your favorite tech brands have Nordic origins. Spotify, Skype, Bluetooth, and iZettle (sold to PayPal) all hail from the upper European peninsula comprised of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.
And recently, the Nordic entrepreneurial mindset, marked by a focus on education, employee trust, and “skaberkraft,” which Scandinavians define as “the power to create,” is being imported to the Southeast through the expansion of a few companies.
“We chose Atlanta because of the talent pool and quality of life, the low cost of living,” says Johanna Rauhala, a native of Finland and the Acting Managing Director of the U.S. for tech startup Smarp.
Founded in Helsinki, Finland in 2011, Smarp pivoted from a tech-enabled consultancy to a fully-automated software platform for employee communication and advocacy. It handles all the internal communications for an enterprise, and helps disseminate content to boost marketing, recruiting, and sales efforts.
The platform now reaches 4 million employees globally with clients including notable names like Amazon, Marriott, PwC, Nissan and Unilever.
Rauhala started at the company in their Helsinki headquarters in 2015. The company established offices in Stockholm and London and grew to about 80 employees, before setting their sites on a stronger U.S. presence.
Working with their investors and other companies from their region with a U.S. office, they narrowed down the field of potential cities. In the end, Atlanta won out, and the office opened this year with an initial five employees.
Rauhala says they spoke to RELEX, a fellow Nordic tech company which provides AI-driven retail planning tools, about the Atlanta business environment. RELEX maintains a relatively sizable office in its Atlanta U.S. headquarters office.
They also worked with local officials.
“The idea is that we want to eventually make the U.S. office one of our biggest globally, on par with our headquarters in Helsinki,’ says Rauhala.
That will mean significant hiring, especially in sales, she says. Smarp touts their particularly high bar for hiring — a 2 percent rate when compared to total applicants.
Once an applicant is brought on board, though, they enjoy a “Nordic attitude,” as Rauhala calls it, that reflects a different way of thinking about employee engagement.
That attitude reflected in flexible vacation and sick leave policies, other benefits, as well as a general work environment that may be different from many tech companies.
“We trust our employees,” says Rauhala. “And then we expect that they will get what needs to be done, done. It’s simple.”