Denmark is internationally renowned for its high taxes, social welfare programs, and breakfast pastries. While popular culture may stereotype Denmark as a socialist utopia, like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 Democratic Primary, it’s a bit more complex: Denmark was ranked by Forbes magazine as the best country in the world for business 2 years running and leads globally for green technology, low corruption, and entrepreneurship.
I embarked on a month-long research project to study why Denmark performed so well in business rankings and what lessons the United States could potentially learn. The U.S. has a plethora of issues it must reckon with: declining rates of entrepreneurship, trade deficits, an economy-wide shift from manufacturing to services, and so much more. Oddly enough, each of those areas Denmark has improved on over the past two decades.
I lived and worked in Copenhagen for all of September 2016, staying in an AirBnB for the month in the beautiful neighborhood of Nørrebro. Before arriving, I set-up numerous meetings with a variety of national and local government officials, economic development specialists, and business owners. I also reached out to numerous academics at Copenhagen Business School who specialize in economic performance. Most of my days were a mix between interviews, working in coffee shops around Copenhagen, and exploring the city and country.
In total, I was able to interview ministry employees from Denmark’s Ministry of Business and Growth (the easily pronounceable Erhvervs-og Vækstministeriet in Danish), specialists at local business development centers, and business owners. I also had the opportunity to interview head officials at Denmark’s Confederation of Employers who help oversee large economy-wide agreements for business. All of these Danes were welcoming, warm, and insightful on how Denmark structures its laws and policies to be business-friendly. The results speak for themselves: Copenhagen is the #1 region in the European Union for entrepreneurship (there are 147 regions in total).
My time in Copenhagen was also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Some days, I felt completely isolated. I was in a foreign country all by myself, living and eating by myself, and working by myself. I may be somewhat of an introvert, but I never knew I could get tired of talking to myself! Nonetheless, I persevered through and most days I kept myself busy researching, interviewing, writing, and exploring.
By chance, I was also able to meet Rufus Gifford, the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark! He held a town hall at his residency for U.S. citizens in Copenhagen and I was lucky enough to get a spot. It was an incredible opportunity to hear about how the United States is promoting cooperation with Denmark and promoting LGBTQ+ rights abroad. Ambassador Gifford is an accidental superstar of “Jeg er ambassadøren fra Amerika,” a 10-part documentary series aired on Danish television. “I Am the Ambassador from America” examines his day-to-day work and his personal life and it’s now available on Netflix!
Copenhagen was an incredible experience. I’m currently at a host university in Lancaster, England studying abroad until mid-December and I’m writing a policy brief on lessons Colorado can learn from how Denmark supports its own business environment. I’m synthesizing the results of academic literature, my research and interviews in Denmark, and brand new data on entrepreneurship. The main thesis? Denmark has a lot of public support and public-private initiatives that help small and medium businesses grow to compete in the world economy.
The PLP Passport Fund helped me live and work in Copenhagen for a month. While I did use the grant in conjunction with another academic grant from the Boettcher Foundation, I would not have been able to be in Copenhagen without the support from PLP and learn valuable lessons in intercultural exchange, global entrepreneurship, and personal development.
Post written by: Morgan Smith
This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!