Russian Entrepreneurs go Barents

HAPARANDA: The 2013 Barents Reunion in Haparanda, Sweden attracted more than 70 Russian entrepreneurs, an enormous increase over 2012 when no Russian entrepreneurs were present.


These numbers were reported by co-organizer Kari Huotari, in charge of recruiting participants for the conference. 

The total number of participants also set a record in 2013 with more than 330 attendees, according to Ole Norrback, former Finnish politician and diplomat and another Barents Reunion co-organizer. 

The annual Barents Reunion is organized by the Barents Cooperation as part of its mission to strengthen cross-border mobility, education, research, and economic cooperation in the Barents region.  Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA and vocal supporter of entrepreneurship, has committed to donate 1 million SEK (115,000 €) per year to fund the Reunion through 2016.  

The 2013 gathering, the fifth of its kind since inception in 2008, has a particular emphasis on supporting young entrepreneurs in the Barents Region.

“Understanding the cultural differences is extremely important to operating across borders,” said Heidi Andreassen, a young entrepreneur from Kirkenes, Norway, in her opening remarks to the conference.  

Andreassen was one of more than 35 members of the Young Innovative Entrepreneurs group (YIE) present at the Barents Reunion.  The YIE is a networking platform coordinated through the Barents Cooperative for promising young business people in the region, allowing them to collectively address their challenges to doing business across borders in the Barents.

Thorvald Stoltenberg, founder of the Barents Cooperation and father of Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, was present as a keynote speaker at the Barents Reunion.  Stoltenberg said that he is optimistic about the challenges facing the region, such as reports of increased repression in Russia. 

“We have everything to gain from keeping contact with Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “This is exactly the time we need diplomatic relations.”

Yngve Bergheim, YIE member and co-founder of a web development start-up called Ramsalt Lab based in Tromso, lamented the lack of fast, efficient transportation in the region, where it can be more time-consuming and expensive to travel from city to city within the Barents than to travel to other countries.  For example, there are no direct flights from Tromso to Tornio, the location of the Barents Reunion.  Flights from Tromsø to Murmansk, Russia run just twice weekly and use aircrafts that are in extreme disrepair.

But Bergheim said that in his view, the biggest challenge to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the Barents Region is changing young people’s mindsets.

“The tendency is to do business with Oslo, the US, South America, Europe,” Bergheim said.  “That’s really sad.  We share a culture and we have a lot of things in common, so it shouldn’t be like this.”

He added that thanks to the YIE, his company was able to focus on the Barents Region, and is now working with other young entrepreneurs and clients throughout the region.  Ramsalt Lab is planning to establish satellite offices in Murmansk and elsewhere in the Barents.

Dennis Kreminsky was one of the young entrepreneurs attending the Barents Reunion from Russia for the first time ever, and managing the event’s first-ever live Twitter feed.  Kreminsky runs a web development company in Murmansk, where he said the barriers to innovation can be overwhelming. 

All four member states were represented at the 2013 Barents Reunion – Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.