Norway’s Proptech Firms Look to Forge New Business Lines in the U.S.
A recent visit to New York by founders and executives highlighted the ambitions of the country’s startups
Originally known for the commercial fishing industry that was its economic foundation, Norway’s vast oil and gas holdings have propelled it to the forefront of countries with sovereign wealth funds, with more than $1.4 trillion in assets under management — second only to China.
Yet, the Scandinavian country of just 5.4 million people sees its economic future not in oil and gas, but in the transition to clean energy and sustainable technologies. This shift is in turn helping drive its proptech sector.
Norway has been encouraging such startup growth since the early 2000s through a variety of organizations, including PropTech Norway. Founded in 2016, PropTech Norway describes itself as a nonprofit network of real estate companies, entrepreneurs and investors who share insights to increase the digitalization, sustainability and efficiency in the real estate value chain.
In late November, PropTech Norway brought 20 proptech founders and investors to New York City for what has become an annual visit during New York City Real Estate Tech Week (NYCRETW) to exchange ideas and innovations from each country. Innovation Norway, a state-owned company and national development bank intended to stimulate entrepreneurship in Norway, co-hosted the visit, formally called the U.S.-Nordic PropTech Mini-Summit. (Full disclosure: I was one of the consultants who organized it.)
Norway-based proptech startups such as Defigo, Laiout, Powerpal AS and RockSlice AS were part of the cohort that made the trip to New York this year in search of new ideas and to demonstrate their tech prowess for U.S. investors and entrepreneurs.
Hildur Smáradottir, CEO of Oslo-based Defigo, a property access tech platform for commercial and residential property managers and tenants, spoke at the mini-summit, held at the Norwegian consulate in Manhattan as part of NYCRETW. She talked of her company’s success in Norway and its ambitions to expand in the U.S.
Unlike the many access control proptech companies competing in the market, Defigo emphasizes the sustainability of its technology through its minimal cable installation and use, said Smáradottir. The company, which is a Nordic PropTech Awards 2024 nominee, also claims to have a simpler smartphone user experience regardless of one’s experience and tech savvy.
Another Nordic PropTech Awards 2024 nominee is Laiout, an Oslo-based proptech startup that quickly automates floor plans for architects, property managers and developers, according to co-founder and CEO Wouter Merkestein.
“Laiout is the world’s only fully automated AI floor plan generator that works on existing commercial buildings, all while adhering to architectural standards and regulatory requirements,” said Merkestein. “We generate countless options within mere seconds and benefit from increased efficiency, optionality and sustainability through automation, saving the client from weeks of back and forth.”
Laiout is an innovative startup in that most software companies in its field focus on new buildings, while the most sustainable buildings are the ones already built, said Merkestein. He added that many companies use existing software, while his company has built theirs from scratch.
From a more macro real estate viewpoint, most of Laiout’s competitors target the residential market, he said. However, the office market also needs a tool to help deal with the global drop in the average number of workers occupying offices, as post-COVID hybrid work trends are speeding up the necessity for offices to adapt.
Although Norway real estate players understand the value of design-phase software and want to try products from startups like Laiout, adoption domestically is slow at the moment due to economic turmoil in building valuations, said Merkestein. He, like his fellow Norwegian proptech entrepreneurs, is looking to expand his business outside the country, particularly in the U.S.
Yet another Nordic PropTech Awards 2024 nominee is Powerpal AS, a smart hardware and software technology designed to lower energy consumption and reduce emissions, said Asbjørn Lunde, CEO and founder of the startup. Based in the Norwegian city of Stavanger, Powerpal is designed to make informed decisions on when to route, buy, store and sell power depending on usage and price. The technology is scalable and can be tailored to any building, according to the company.
“To ensure the energy provided is cost-competitive, next-generation energy storage assets must be produced rapidly and cost-effectively,” said Lunde in a blog post. “With a high degree of quality fully utilizing the data streams new systems can provide, assets must operate efficiently to balance performance while achieving their expected service life.”
Using machine learning, Powerpal gives its customers granular insight using operational dashboards producing better-scaled systems. This helps in Norway’s shift to green energy, Lunde said. Electric vehicles in the kingdom already account for more than 80 percent of all new passenger car sales.
Bergen is Norway’s western business capital and home to RockSlice AS, a startup that offers a robotic solution for excavating and manipulating bedrock, concrete and other hard materials.
“This innovation will revolutionize construction projects by automating complex tasks, reducing reliance on manual labor and thus minimizing labor and material costs,” said Kristian Haaga, CTO at RockSlice. “By reducing concrete usage and waste material generation, our robot will significantly reduce CO2 emissions and environmental impact in construction projects, compared to conventional excavation methods.”
Much like his fellow Norwegian entrepreneurs, Haaga finds a growing affinity between the U.S.-Norway proptech ecosystem.
“We’re greatly looking forward to leveraging our network of industry contacts from our proptech delegation visit to the U.S. to identify new use cases and market opportunities for our technology in the Nordics and the U.S.,” said Haaga. “As an early-stage startup, we cannot stress enough how useful U.S.-Nordic collaborations such as the proptech delegation tour to New York help us.
“In order to expand start-ups like RockSlice beyond our relatively small neighborhood, it is necessary to leave behind the modest Norwegian mindset and allow oneself to think bigger, look beyond our borders and develop relationships with international actors. Learning and experiencing the complexities and challenges that U.S. construction and proptech companies face surely will help propel our growth.”
The Norwegian delegation’s New York visit proved to be very much a two-way conversation.
Among other Norway proptech-focused events held during NYCRETW, the group toured Columbia University Business School’s Manhattanville campus in Manhattan. There they heard from MetaProp co-founder and general partner Zach Aarons, and Chris Munsell, the Glascock associate professor of real estate development finance at the university’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The duo conducted a fireside chat about the relationship between proptech and real estate financing.
The Norwegian founders and investors also toured Hudson Yards, and visited technology incubator NewLab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There, Tiya Gordon, co-founder and CEO of U.S. proptech startup It’s Electric, and Tristan Bel, platform director at URBAN-X, BMW Group’s early-stage accelerator for its more than 100 urbantech portfolio companies, spoke to the group.
The culmination of the U.S.-Norway proptech exchange this year was the mini-summit at the consulate, where attendees heard presentations on investing from Heather McGeory, head of sustainability at Fifth Wall, and Zander Geronimos, investor at MetaProp, as well as the state of the industry from Nikki Greenberg, founder and CEO of proptech advisory company Real Estate of the Future.
Rounding out the program’s discussions, Fraser Patterson, founder and CEO at skillit, a recruiting platform for skilled construction workers, and Amina Moreau, CEO of Radious, an online marketplace for rentable home office and meeting space, made presentations about their proptech startup companies.
Philip Russo can be reached at email@example.com.