November Art Exhibition marks launch of the Icelandic Art Association, helping living artists tokenize their work

“The first test of our platform will be on November 18, at the opening of my art exhibition in the Reykjavik City Hall,” Brandur Bjarnason Karlsson, co-founder and CEO of Icelandic Art Association (IAA) tells Northstack. Brandur and Geoffrey Stekelenburg, co-founder and CTO, got this idea the idea this summer, and subsequently decided to start a company.
“We believe this will make it easier for artists to find buyers for their work and create a stronger connection between artists and their patrons,” Brandur adds.

The platform, which focuses on enabling living artists to tokenize their own work, and selling parts of their paintings, is Iceland’s first venture in the space of blockchain and art – something that has garnered a good amount of hype in both the art and tech media in recent months. Auction house Christie’s used art registry service Artory in a recent auction, and blockchain based auction platform Maecenas recently sold a 31.5% stake in a Warhol painting.

“We saw that most of the intersection between blockchain and art is focused on very high value artworks,” Brandur explains. “We wanted to focus on living artists, and I believe we’re the first to offer that service.”

“Total art assets world-wide are estimated at $3 trillion,” Brandur adds, “but the annual sales are only around $60-70 billion. We think that one of the reason for this low turnover is how complex and timeconsuming it is to sell art. We’re trying to fix that problem.”

Icelandic Art Association promises to build a platform where investors can easily find new artwork made by current, living artists. Using their technology, people can buy and sell pieces of the artwork, increasing liquidity in the market.

Chris McClure, marketing advisor to IAA commented: “There’s a massive liquidity problem with many physical assets. Art, as an asset class, is a prime example of this pervasiveness. Yet, very few people talk about it. We can buy fractions of a company, gold and silver, and on and on, but we can’t buy fractions of physical art?”

Brandur’s exhibition will be at Reykjavik City Hall, where works will be offered both in the traditional way, as well as through the platform, where 20 tokens will be available for each work.

The addition of IAA also raises awareness of the growing blockchain scene in Iceland, being one of several startups utilising the technology to solve a variety of problems.

 

Íslandsbanki invests €3m in Meniga in strategic round

Íslandsbanki, one of Iceland’s “big three” banks invested €3m in Meniga, roughly ten years after Íslandsbanki became the fintech startup’s first customer.

“We’re very happy to have Íslandsbanki join us as an investor and look forward to working closely with the bank,” CEO and cofounder Georg Lúðvíksson commented.

The funding round marks the third strategic funding round Meniga has raised this year, with other’s coming from Swedbank and Unicredit, totalling over €9m.

“At Íslandsbanki, we’re constantly offering our customers better service. This investment in Meniga strengthens our relationship with the company, and is a part of our digital journey, where we’re improving the development of financial technology even more,” Birna Einarsdóttir, CEO of Íslandsbanki commented.

GRID, the SaaS startup here to free the spreadsheet, raises $1m angel round

GRID, the software company here to “Free the Spreadsheet,” closed a $1M angel round of funding this Monday.

“We are thrilled that the international investment community joins us in our enthusiastic mission,” said Hjálmar Gíslason, founder and CEO. “We look forward to partnering with these investors to expand GRID’s network and strength.”

Hjálmar recently returned to Iceland, after several years at Qlik, the data company that earlier acquired DataMarket which Hjálmar co-founded. Not moving far away from earlier, data visualisation projects, GRID’s user-friendly software empowers people to turn any spreadsheet into a beautiful web report, dashboard or interactive application.” Hjálmar has written about his deep-dive into spreadsheets on Medium.

“This funding will give us the runway we need to build the initial commercial version of the GRID product and fuel our go-to-market initiatives.”

Investors were both local and international, institutions and private individuals. Investors include Denmark’s Futuristic.vc; Iceland’s Brunnur Ventures; Index Ventures Principal Ari Helgason, Icelandic early stage fund Investa; Anthony Deighton, CMO of Celonis and former CTO of Qlik; Kristín Pétursdóttir, Chair at Kvika bank; and America’s 1/0 Capital investment fund.

GRID’s founding team includes both repeat team members and Silicon Valley expertise, bringing together the strength of legacy teamwork with U.S.-based go-to-market experience. The founding team consists of: Hjálmar Gíslason CEO and founder; Laura Edwards, VP of Revenue; Þorsteinn Yngvi Guðmundsson, VP of Operations; Borgar Þorsteinsson, lead client developer; and Steinn Eldjárn Sigurðarson lead cloud and server developer.

Investment in Swedish Elsa Science marks first international investment for Crowberry Capital

Elsa Science, a Swedish life science company that helps people with chronic illnesses make better lifestyle choices, announced on October 16 a $700,000 seed round from investors Inventure, Crowberry Capital, and several angels. Hekla Arnardóttir of Crowberry will join the board.

This investment marks the first time Crowberry Capital invests in a startup outside of Iceland, and the first time our current group of VC’s do that as well. (note: Sidekick Health, backed by Frumtak, is a Swedish company, but with very tight Icelandic connections (founders are Icelandic, and at least parts of development are in Iceland)).

“We are positioning us as a Nordic fund based in Reykjavik,” Hekla, General Partner at Crowberry told Northstack, “and we are looking actively at deals in the Nordics.” She mentions that VC’s commonly co-invest with other VC’s. “[Co-investing] has been our goal with Crowberry, both to attract international investors into Icelandic companies as well as co-investing in good opportunities outside of Iceland.”

Interestingly, Crowberry’s investment also marks the milestone that now Icelandic VC have made more investments in Sweden than Swedish have in Iceland, which is interesting, considering the imbalance in population and venture capital between the two countries.

“We’re investing in born global companies, so we too need to have an international mindset,” Hekla adds. She says that Crowberry will compare founders that have the ambition to build successful tech companies to other founders across the world. “In order for us to become an established VC firm, we need to be up for the same comparison.”

While Crowberry Capital will continue to follow international dealflow and participate in good deals, the team foresees the majority of investments to happen in Iceland.

Movement in the Innovation Committee

Earlier this year, Minister for Innovation and Industry Þórdís Kolbrún announced the creation of a bi-lateral committee on Innovation Strategy for Iceland. This committee would oversee the work of five sub-groups, each focused on a particular area of the innovation strategy. It would be a bi-lateral committee, with all political parties nominating members, as well as lobby groups and ministers.

On September 17, the ministry announced that the chair of this committee would be Gummi Hafsteins, Product Management Director at Google, in charge of Google Assistant. He’s also an angel investor and former founder / early employee at several startups in the smart assistant space (including Siri). This appointment was, understandably, met with a lot of enthusiasm by the community. As Gummi has spent a big part of the last years abroad, he’ll probably have the outsiders view when leading this work (which is great).

Now the ministry has announced the of committee members, which in my opinion is very promising.

Alongside Gummi we have most notably Davíð Helgason, founder of Unity, Hjalli of Datamarket, Helga Valfells from Crowberry Capital and María Bragadóttir from biotech company Alvotech. All of them represent experience, understanding, and skin in the game to the extent that we haven’t seen in a government committee around the tech and innovation ecosystem before. If we contrast this to the Science and Technology Council – Iceland’s main policy creator in Science and Technology – where members are more a part of lobby groups, bureaucracy or institutions, we see a much better representation of individuals from the entrepreneurial and operational side of tech and innovation.

These, among others on the committee, will hopefully be able to drive a certain total-review atmosphere in the committee.

Why is that important? A lot of the institutions that are part of the innovation ecosystem in Iceland have what I like to call Institutional Debt (it’s like technical debt for software, but for institutions). They’ve been created by the merging or rebranding of older, more political institutions, and still have parts of that deeply embedded in their DNA. This debt hinders the support environment in fully realising its potential – systems are very good at maintaining themselves, regardless of what the great people working within that system want to change.

An example could be the New Business Venture Fund (Nýsköpunarsjóður) – which has for the last roughly twenty years been an incredibly important part of the ecosystem, facilitating funding of successful companies like Clara and Greenqloud, the founding of Frumtak and more. However, changing times haven’t (yet) brought a change in governance, as the board of directors at the fund is still appointed according to rules giving a range of lobbyist organisations (like Fisheries Iceland and the Icelandic Confederation of Labor) legally bound board seats. This stems from history, because the fund was created by the merger of a selection of industry-specific funds. Now, I’m not saying the current board is bad – in any way – (honestly, I don’t even know who’s on the board right now), the point is only around the legal setup, which – to me at least – seems out dated. It’s this kind of institutional debt that I hope the committee will be able to address.

All in all: I’m optimistic. Great people have made themselves available for this work. Our Minister shows bravery by appointing non-traditional committee members, that hopefully lead to best conclusion. Thoroughly excited about the coming results.

This post is part of the Northstack Memo, a newsletter analysing the Icelandic tech, startup, innovation ecosystem. Sign up here.

StartupDocs bring legal templates for startups to Iceland

Startup Docs, a project by entrepreneur and angel investor Erik Byrenius, just launched in Iceland. The website, which hosts legal templates for startups, follows in the footsteps of StartupDocs websites for the other Nordic countries. The documents were adapted for Icelandic law by lawyers Daði Bjarnason and Jóhann Tómas Sigurðsson, partners at Lagahvoll.

Erik Byrenius

“The idea came from my own need when I became an angel investor four years ago. When I started investing it was difficult to know what were good, normal terms that both entrepreneurs and investors could agree on. There were no standards. So I decided to make my own and published that on StartupDocs,” says Erik Byrenius about the origins of the project. Erik founded OnlinePizza which sold to DeliveryHero, and more recently was a founding member of angel investment group Nordic Makers, which also includes Icelander Davíð Helgason.

“After launching StartupDocs in Sweden it became very popular. Norway and Denmark followed, and now Iceland”

Erik relies on pro bono work from local lawyers to help bring StartupDocs to new markets, which are based on the original Swedish documents, and adopted to local law for each new edition. Entrepreneurs can find investment documents, founder’s agreements, shareholder agreements, and other important legal documents to use in their startup.

“Founders sometimes forget the importance of having the legal aspect well thought out from the beginning,” commented Daði Bjarnason, partner at Lagahvoll, who adopted the documents. “And although we always recommend having a lawyer read over things, these templates provide a very good starting point.”

You can see all the templates and download them for free at StartupDocs.is

Unpacking the CCP sale

This post is part of The Northstack Memo, a newsletter analysing the tech and startup scene in Iceland.

The CCP Sale

As most of you probably know, Eve Online creator CCP was sold to Pearl Abyss last week, for a $425m in total. Pearl Abyss, a seven year old South Korean gaming company, will keep CCP operating as a standalone studio (for the time being at least).

Several things to unpack here.

First off, it finally happened. There’s been sale rumours surrounding CCP for a very long time. The most recent rumours reached their peak with a hint in Bloomberg, where then VR-leader CCP (they’ve since shuttered VR development), was apparently looking at a $900m+ price tag. Whether or not those were actual talks or not, we’ll probably never know, but it’s fair to say that this lofty price tag was connected to the VR hype of the time.

Second, as the price suggests, unlike most recently acquired Icelandic companies, this acquisition is not an acquihire or tech play, but a business that’s being acquired. Other exits, like Greenqloud, Clara, Datamarket, and more, were all focused on product or people, but never business (that is, revenue). So this acquisition not only shows that we can build cool stuff and great teams in Iceland, but also that there are viable, international businesses that can come from here.

Third, all press regarding this, whether it’s from Pearl Abyss’ CEO Robin Jung or Hilmar Veigar of CCP, mentions that operations in Iceland will continue. It’s almost mentioned too much. Also, people speaking on behalf of the company mention that Pearl Abyss had looked at the government’s plan on removing the ceiling on R&D tax incentives in Iceland when considering the sale. This not-so-subtle hint-hint, nudge-nudge to the government hopefully drives the point home: Iceland needs to be competitive when it comes to tax incentives, because if not, companies leave.

Fourth: the price. $425 million is the highest price paid for an Icelandic technology company ever. The next in line would be the price Amgen paid for Decode in 2012 ($415m). And in typical Icelandic fashion, media immediately started calculating how much money each and every person involved would now be worth (spoiler alert: they’re all doing it wrong). Also, in typical Icelandic fashion, no one really mentioned that part of the price was tied to performance. A big part. A $200 million part. Which is completely understandable, as Pearl Abyss is buying into a cash-cow (Eve Online), probably hoping that the company’s connections in the far east will help Eve grow there, so earnings-related performance ties are completely normal.

The (second?) birth of a gaming sector?

Looking at the news from a higher vantage point, I would make the case that we’re experiencing a birth of a gaming sector.

I know, we’ve had gaming companies before – and when I mentioned this idea to people more experienced than me, I was reminded of a similar time not so long ago when companies like Gogogic were all the rage – but this year alone four gaming companies received their second (or later) round of funding, totaling around $13m, with most of the money coming from leading gaming investors.

Now, I’m not known to be a cheerleader, and don’t want to sound like one, but if at any time we had hope in creating an actual gaming sector, with more than one company consistently turning a profit, developing internationally acclaimed games, attracting talent and creating value for the ecosystem, I’d bet that now is that time.

Guide to Iceland raises $20m valuing the company at $100m

Davíð Ólafur Ingimarsson, Deputy CEO of Guide to Iceland

Traveltech startup Guide to Iceland, which connects travel operators with travelers, and whitelabels such marketplaces through the subsidiary Travelshift, has announced a $20m funding round. State Street Global Advisors, in its capacity as an advisor and manager of private equity, invested in the company. State Street receive a 20% share of the company and a board seat for the investment.

“This allows us to continue marketing Iceland as a travel destination internationally,” deputy CEO Davíð Ólafur Ingimarsson said in a statement. “Aided by this investment, and Icelandic innovation that has resulted in a world-class software, it will be particularly exciting to pursue scaling to international markets.”

Guide to Iceland was founded in 2012, and this is the first investment in the company from abroad. On the companies travel platform, 500 travel operators are connected to travellers looking for experiences in Iceland.

“Our company growth targets are ambitious, but we’ve proven time and time again that we are a company that achieves formidable goals,” Davíð Ólafur adds. “We believe that the size of our company will increase substantially in the coming years.“

 

TripCreator raises $3m from a range of VC funds and business angels

Note: This article has been updated to correctly reflect the amount raised to be $3m, rather than $8m (which is the total the company has raised)

Icelandic travel tech company TripCreator just announced a $3m fundraise from various VC funds and business angels, bringing the total raised by the company to roughly $8m.

“We are very excited to be launching the TripCreator platform to everyone in the travel industry, including bloggers,” said Hilmar Halldórsson, CEO of TripCreator.io. “Our disruptive new model of ‘free forever’, combined with our platform that is capable of both incredible speed and analysis options (in numbers that require a Google search to comprehend the magnitude) means we are poised to shake up the itinerary planning industry. We are simultaneously opening sales offices in both London and New York City and plan to move the company to the latter city by the end of the year.”

TripCreator provides white-label as well as branded solutions that can seamlessly integrate with existing platforms through dedicated APIs. The company is also pioneering a new business model for the travel industry – ‘Free Forever’. Taking a cut of the transaction fee ensures there are no out-of-pocket costs to customers for using the platform.

CCP Acquired by Pearl Abyss for $425m

Korean Pearl Abyss, maker of Black Desert Online, just announced it had acquired Icelandic CCP, maker of Eve Online. CCP will continue to operate as an independent studio with operations in Reykjavik, Shanghai, and London. The sale price is $425m.

Pearl Abyss CEO Robin Jung stated, “We are thrilled to have CCP Games join our team as Black Desert Online continues to branch out globally. CCP is a seasoned publisher with over 15 years of digital distribution experience and know-how.”

Rumours around the inevitable sale of CCP have regularly surfaced, with the most recent and public rumour being when someone leaked to (or placed) Bloomberg news that the company was eyeing a sale.

“I have been seriously impressed with what Pearl Abyss has achieved ever since I first visited their website for Black Desert Onlineand subsequently became an avid player of the game,” said CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson.

“Pearl Abyss is a fast-growing company with lots to offer in terms of technology, capability and vision. I believe our two companies have a lot to learn from each other. We are very excited to join forces with them and achieve great new heights for our companies, our games and – above all – our players.”

This acquisition is, in nominal value at least, the biggest acquisition in Iceland’s tech history. The next one in line would be Amgen’s $415m purchase of Decode in 2012.

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene