Swedish impact and tech entrepreneurship support foundation has launched operations in Kigali, Rwanda, which it plans to use as a base for investing across the East and Central African region.
Founded by Niklas Adalberth, one of the founders of Swedish fintech unicorn Klarna, in 2016, Norrsken aims to help entrepreneurs solve the world’s greatest challenges. Its ecosystem consists of Norrsken House, a co-working space for over 350 impact entrepreneurs in Stockholm, and the Norrsken Founders Fund.
Adalberth has to date donated EUR70 million (US$79 million) to the foundation, while the venture capital arm of the foundation is backed by unicorn founders from gaming giants King and Mojang, international watchmaker Daniel Wellington and Klarna. Norrsken works with over 70 partners in Sweden and globally, such as McKinsey, Nordic Capital and PwC.
The foundation’s portfolio already features a number of companies with operations in Africa, such as WeFarm and Ignitia, and Norrsken is now aiming to scale this and invest directly in African companies with the opening of Norrsken Kigali.
Norrsken will offer training, capital and advice to entrepreneurs, and establish partnerships with other incubators and accelerators.
“We believe entrepreneurs working to solve the greatest challenges should be celebrated as heroes, the rock stars of our time. They are creating jobs and solving problems at the same time. We see great opportunities in Rwanda and Kigali as the natural gateway to the fast-growing markets and entrepreneurs of East and Central Africa,” said Norrsken chief executive officer (CEO) Erik Engellau-Nilsson.
Norrsken has signed a contract to purchase the former École Belge campus in downtown Kigali, a 12,430 square metre site located in the business district. The students moved to a new location last year.
Norrsken’s Head of African Expansion, Fredrika Wessman, said she sees great potential in integrating with and strengthening the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
“We are in Kigali to listen, learn and build together with local entrepreneurs. Our meetings with entrepreneurs in the region have shown a gap in the ecosystem where startups and businesses working to solve problems in their communities often struggle to find the business support and the investments they need to scale,” she said.
“Our aim is to accelerate the rapid development of entrepreneurship in East Africa by increasing access to international capital, talent and network. Kigali has very strong infrastructure, great connectivity, high economic growth and is ranked by the World Bank as easier to set up a business in than the United States and France. We believe this is a strong foundation for empowering young entrepreneurs throughout the region.”
Engellau-Nilsson said Norrsken needed to be “very humble” in entering the East African market, as it had not done this before, and said the foundation was looking forward to learning from the local ecosystem. He said Norrsken was launching for the long-term.
“We are not only investing in what Kigali is today, but in the future of the entire region,” he said.
“It took Stockholm 20 years to become Europe’s Unicorn Factory. We believe in East Africa and in Kigali. And we believe in patience.”