NordicBaltic.Tech tracks the technology response to Covid-19 across the Nordic-Baltic region. The platform is made in partnership between the Nordic Council of Ministers and PUBLIC. We spoke to Ida Åsle, Head of Platform, Marketing and PR at VC byFounders, about how byFounders have coped with Covid-19 and which startups have caught their attention.  

What do you do at byFounders and why did you embark on this venture?  

“I’m the Head of Platform, Marketing, and PR at byFounders. We’re an early-stage tech VC investing in Nordic and Baltic founders with global ambitions.   

Having worked in startups previously, and most recently working with the EU’s main initiative to address climate change through innovation, Climate-KIC, I was eager to dedicate more of my time to supporting entrepreneurs.  

I joined byFounders because I really liked their approach of being less transactional, focusing more on building long-term, valued partnerships. What sets us apart is the byFounders Collective – a 60+ strong group of entrepreneurs who’ve been through the journey of building, scaling, and exiting companies before – and who was now ready to give back by investing in and engaging with the Nordic and Baltic ecosystems.  

What I do at byFounders is twofold. In my role as Head of Platform, I am responsible for building out our service offerings to the entrepreneurs we invest in. This means that I map out the needs of our founders, and leverage our resources, most significantly the aforementioned Collective, to ensure their success in building and scaling their companies.  

As head of Marketing & PR, I’m responsible for byFounders’ external communications, marketing, and PR. By collaborating closely with and providing value to the Nordic and Baltic startup ecosystems, I help anchor our presence across the regions in which we invest. I also support our portfolio companies with PR strategy.”                                                                                                                                                           

How has Covid-19 affected what you do at byFounders? 

“COVID-19 has had a few immediate effects on how we operate at byFounders, such as everything naturally having to take place virtually, online over Zoom, or similar platforms, which adds to the complexity of establishing new relationships. Among the many advantages of such a setup, however, is that there is suddenly more time in the day, to conduct more meetings, if need be, or do more of other work that would more easily have to be down prioritized otherwise. We’ve also spent a significant amount of time making sure that our portfolio companies are in a good position financially, postponing some larger planned funding rounds and going for bridge rounds in the short term.

As for the long-term effects, it’s still early days, but I think – along with every actor in the economic environment – have had a valuable reminder that times need not always stay so good, indeed, historically, these things go in cycles. So I’d say that we consider the characteristic of being recession-proof more as part of the evaluation process now than we did before.  

This, however, is but one part of a larger focus on tomorrow, and future-proof businesses, that we, and I’m sure many investors with us, are increasingly integrating into our formal screening processes. Here, I’m particularly thinking about sustainability, equality, and a number of other factors that we believe will have an impact on business prospects going forward.”

Can you tell us more about the Situation Room initiative?  

“Before COVID hit, we had – as per usual – planned a number of touchdowns across the main startup hubs of the Nordics and Baltics, to make sure we spend ample amount of time on the ground, engage with and contribute to the ecosystems.  

These visits, naturally, had to be postponed, along with a number of other initiatives, and so we pondered for a short while, what to do instead. We quickly came up with the initiative of the Situation Room – a series of weekly virtual meetups to gather and engage with our community in an alternative way.  

So every Wednesday for the past 12 weeks, we’ve hosted an episode, tackling topics such as how to fundraise in a downturn, how to manage security concerns when your employees are forced to work from home, how to build a strong culture in a distributed team, and much more. A couple of weeks back we held the biggest call to date when we extended the episode by an hour to accommodate Female Founder Office Hours, starting with inviting some of the leading female investors from the Nordics and Baltics to host roundtables for female founders. Hugely popular, the following panel discussed topics such as what are funds doing to diversify their deal flow, what’s the deal with the warm intro, and is it still a requirement – this is a topic on which waters seem pretty divided – and much more. Really recommend checking out the recordings, which we’ve in fact made available as podcast episodes – with minimal editing – so you can listen to them whatever you’re doing.   

Overall, we feel that the Situation Room fulfills our objective of engaging with and giving back to our community. We’ll host the last episode before the summer on June 24th, where we’ll talk about how leaders can and should leverage the force of tech for good – as one of our panelists, Lars Thingaard, former CEO of Milestones Systems, recently published a book in this matter titled “Tech for Good”. So do join us for that!”  

Are there any startups that have caught your eye innovating to tackle Covid-19?  

“I’ve been impressed to see the resourcefulness and grit exhibited by so many startup founders in recent months. Besides merely surviving, which is a feat in itself for some those hardest hit, in industries such as travel, many have managed to move incredibly fast, either to accelerate their roadmaps or pivot their product offerings to accommodate changing demand.   

Among the best examples I’ve seen is our own portfolio company, Corti. Corti has built a medical decision support platform helping medical professionals make better decisions faster. Their primary markets are medical call takers utilizing Corti’s software to augment their decision-making process. Leveraging machine learning and algorithms, the software directly analyzes the audio from the call, connecting it to signs and symptoms of various diagnoses.  

At the beginning of the outbreak, Corti developed an “Influenza-detector” that helped them gain insight into where and at what pace the disease was spreading. Working closely with a large hospital in Seattle, they could help them act fast by developing a clustering feature to map the spread in their community, enabling them to react faster, but most importantly advise the ambulance drivers and first responders to wear personal protective equipment, preserving the health of the very limited staff for life support ambulances.   

Another company that has impressed me by accelerating its product pipeline is Tame. Having developed an event management platform, they were of course hard hit when the crisis unfolded. However, in a matter of mere days, they were accelerating their plans for launching a suite of virtual event management tools. It is one of the quickest turnarounds I’ve seen, by a very small and agile team, so huge kudos to them! Now they’re selling like crazy, which we as their investor are of course very satisfied to see.  

Finally, our most recently announced investment was in Bob W – a company that is building a hospitality option positioned somewhere between the hotel experience and private apartments. Obviously not the easiest space to be in, but the founders Niko Karstikko and Sebastian Emberger quickly implemented a new, “Ridiculously Clean” standard. Coupled with the absence of shared space in their facilities and touchless, tech-enabled solutions, I think this will be the preferred accommodation option for business and leisure travelers alike in the “new normal”.”  

Looking forward, how do you think the crisis will affect the demand for these types of technologies?  

“The situation has clearly accelerated some trends that were already in the making, as people have been forced to adopt new ways of e.g. working in and managing a distributed way. Many have discovered benefits they maybe have overlooked or discounted before.  

The concept of virtual events is one of those trends that was incipient but has now been adopted at record speed. And I think it will remain much more prevalent even when things reopen. Generally, I believe any technology that frees up resources, often that resource being time, will be here to stay. This includes solutions catering to education, distributed workplaces, healthcare, and retail.”  

If you want to connect with byFounders, you can do so here.