May 1, 2024

Owner of Europe's most valuable company wants to make Denmark quantum hub

The parent company of Ozempic-maker Novo Nordisk has earmarked €188m for seed investments in quantum startups

Mimi Billing

5 min read

Novo Holdings, the parent company of the creator of ‘miracle drug’ Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, already spends $1–2bn a year investing in and building healthtech startups.

Now the Danish company is betting on a new tech sector: it’s earmarked DKK 1.4bn (€188m) to build a quantum startup ecosystem in Denmark.

“We're very excited about getting this off the ground so that we get some good deals done,” says Søren Møller, managing partner for seed investments at Novo Holdings.


Why Denmark?

Denmark might not sound like the most obvious place to build a new quantum hub, with European countries like Germany and the UK accounting for the lion’s share of startups in the space.

But Denmark’s quantum researchers are not to be sniffed at — as anyone who’s watched the blockbuster movie Oppenheimer will know, thanks to Danish physicist and Nobel prize winner Niels Bohr starring role.

“Denmark has the highest number of master students enrolled in quantum relevant studies per capita in the world,” says Anders Kjær, general partner at Danish VC PSV DeepTech.

There are plenty of places to find them, too: the University of Copenhagen’s physics research centre — the Niels Bohr Institute — and quantum Deep Tech Lab at the BioInnovation Institute (BII); NATO’s defence tech accelerator Diana; and Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Quantum Computing Programme (NQCP), a research programme planned to last 12 years.

The ecosystem is also helped by the Danish government committing DKK 1.2bn (€160m) to quantum technology research until 2027 and Novo Nordisk Foundation announcing a DKK 1.5bn (€185m) investment towards the development of a fully functional quantum computer in Denmark in 2022.

The government funding, along with grants from the likes of Novo Nordisk Foundation, means that Denmark’s per capita investment in quantum technology is the highest in the world, according to Møller.

Despite all this, there are only a handful of quantum startups in Denmark so far. Only a couple of them have raised venture capital whilst the rest have received grants from the European Innovation Council (EIC).

“We are still not so good at commercialising deeptech as our US colleagues or competitors. We do a lot of high-quality science, but we should be better at commercializing deeptech, including quantum,” says Kjær.

“I think one reason there haven't been many investments is because there's no businesses so I think we're trying to set up the infrastructure [for quantum startups] and I believe that the time is right to set up an investment capability,” Møller says.

Novo Holdings isn’t alone in trying to tap into quantum scientists in Denmark. PSV DeepTech has recently announced a co-investment agreement in early-stage quantum spinouts from the University of Copenhagen.


“You can't wait until the market is mature,” says Kjær.

Same investment strategy as with life sciences

Novo Holdings, which has a €200m annual budget for seed investments in life science startups, works differently from a VC fund. The investment team, run by Møller, finds scientific ideas from postdocs and professors and translates them into biotech startups.

Depending on how far they’ve come, these startups are then mentored by the seed investment team and bolstered with investments in the $50-100m range to advance them from science into business. It now has about 30 portfolio companies.

It intends to follow a similar process for its quantum startups.

“I think that's the value add we can bring. We're going to hire two or three people with a mix of technical and business skills in the space — we already have life science capabilities,” Møller says.

The €188m pot will be invested over six years, until 2030, and invest in 1-2 startups a year, says Møller. And although the hub is based in Copenhagen, and its main focus is the Nordics, Novo Holdings may also invest in companies and research from other regions.

Apart from using quantum for semiconductors and computing power for AI, one of the reasons why quantum is so interesting for life sciences is how it can supercharge those companies. The relevant applications to healthcare — quantum computing, sensing and algorithms — are the ones Novo Holdings' new quantum investment team will focus on.
“On both the molecular modelling side and the data science side, there is a lot that can make a big difference — not only the increased compute power, but also the quantum approach to computing,” Møller says.

This is also where Kjær sees an opportunity in healthtech.

“The whole drug discovery and development [process] can be intensified with quantum computing. It costs billions just to develop a drug. If you can do that even more efficiently, that would be highly beneficial,” he says.

Combined efforts

Møller and his team plan to collaborate with universities and institutes across Denmark, such as Deep Tech Lab at BII, Aarhus University and the Niels Bohr Institute, to find companies worth investing in.

“We want to build a relationship where we engage with the startups that go through the incubators, and make sure that we have good relationships and then we can decide which companies fit our strategy — which will be focused on the life sciences,” Møller says.

“We hope that we will be able to syndicate [deals] with knowledgeable investors,” Møller adds — like PSV Deeptech, for example. “That's exactly like we do in the life science area, where we build strong and knowledgeable syndicates around companies to get them to the best possible outcome.”

Mimi Billing

Mimi Billing is Sifted's Europe editor. She covers the Nordics and healthtech, and can be found on X and LinkedIn