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Is Oslo the new innovation hub?

There’s no shortage of big ideas at Mesh, a new Oslo startup space

Is Oslo the new innovation hub?

Text by Matthew Lee

What’s the big idea?
Mesh is a 2,500m² space behind Oslo City Hall with an informal, vaguely industrial vibe. It offers startups and entrepreneurs open-plan offices, creative labs, events spaces, ping pong tables, a café and a nightclub. “It’s in an expensive area, but the financial companies didn’t want to be there because there’s a bar in the backyard,” says co-founder Anders Mjåset. “They didn’t want the smell of beer or the noise, but for us it’s perfect.”

Who can I find there?
Around 140 young entrepreneurs, 60 companies, and a further 35 creative types using the photo lab, 3D printers and audiovisual equipment of the Mesh Makers space. Anybody can visit the café, where a 3D printer lets customers print their own coffee cups.

Sounds impressive. Who made all this happen?
Mjåset started Mesh with other twentysomethings Kriszti Tóth, Thomas Bergøy Johansen and Audun Ueland. All have startup previous – Mjåset and Ueland were only 21 when they launched PramPack, a packing system for strollers that was later bought, and were 25 and 26 when they opened Mesh last April.

“There’s been a movement going on in cities like New York, London and Berlin, where people have been getting together and sharing big ideas,” says  Mjåset. “Oslo hadn’t latched onto this yet and we wanted to recreate that here.”

Why is Oslo in catch-up mode, then?
“We’re on the fringes of Europe, so we’ve maybe not been as plugged in as Copenhagen and Stockholm,” says Mjåset. “We’re trying to close that gap.”    

Can anybody become a Mesher?
No, you have to pass an interview. “We’re looking for startup organisations with the ability to have an impact on a large scale,” explains Mjåset. “We’re looking for the right balance of individuals and companies.”

Do any Meshers stand out?
“So many of the companies here excite me, although I’m particularly interested in Holder de Ord (holderdeord.no),” says Mjåset. “They keep track of everything politicians promise and how they act in power so we can give them a percentage honesty rating. It has the potential to play a role in democracy.” Other companies include Douchebags (mydouchebag.com), bags for skiers and snowboarders, and Justcoin (justcoin.com), for Bitcoin trading.

So many entrepreneurs in one place – it must get competitive?
Apparently not. Mjåset believes that people increasingly understand the advantages of sharing information and openly collaborating. “There’s a real sense of synergy at Mesh,” he says. “There are mentors and advisors all around you – if you want to produce something in China, say, you’ll be able to find somebody here who’s done it.”

What kind of events does Mesh host?
It recently celebrated its first birthday with a party at Crown Prince Haakon’s castle, but that was exceptional. “We’ve had all sorts of things from TEDx events to meetups for Android and Apple, garden workshops, creative breakfasts and entrepreneurial workshops,” says Mjåset. Around 40 per cent of Mesh’s events are open to the public.

They’re in their twenties, shouldn’t they all be out having fun?
“We’ve always been very curious and open to new ideas,” says Mjåset. “We work with a shen gong meditation instructor so now we all meditate together. By talking to each other and learning from each other, all of us at Mesh gain new perspectives.”


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