Author: Kris Hróbjartsson (Page 2 of 10)

OZ Sports among seven companies to participate in first Nordic Scalers program

OZ Sports – previously known simply as Oz – is one of the seven companies chosen to participate in the first edition of Nordic Scalers. Nordic Scalers is a six month scaling program that connects chosen startups to mentors to help them scale in the US. Icelandic Startups is the local partner for Nordic Scalers.

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The first Icelandic Wasabi hits the market

Jurt – formerly known as Wasabi Iceland – just announced its first batch of brand-new Nordic Wasabi has hit the “shelves.” You can now try Icelandic grown Wasabi at restaurants Fiskmarkaðurinn (Fish Market) and Grillmarkaðurinn (Grill Market).

“What most people know as wasabi isn’t really wasabi, but a mix of horseradish, mustard and green food-coloring,” said Ragnar Atli Tómasson, co-founder of Jurt. “Fresh wasabi, on the other hand, is made purely from the wasabi plant, which is what we’re producing.”

The company, which participated in Startup Reykjavik 2015, subsequently raised a $380,000 seed round, and added another seed round in March this year, bringing the total raised to 100m ISK, around $900k in today’s exchange rate. In addition, the company has received a grant from the Technology Development Fund. The company was founded by Ragnar and Sindri Hansen.

“Our product has gotten much deserved interest at the Grillmarket and Fishmarket,” said Sindri, co-founder. “It’s being used in interesting courses, such as Icelandic Minke Whale Steak with Wasabi and in a Nordic Wasabi Martini.”

Nordic Wasabi is grown in high tech greenhouses in the East of Iceland where geothermal heat and renewable electricity are used in the production. According to a statement, foreign chefs have shown interest in the product. “We aim at exporting fresh wasabi under the Nordic Wasabi brand, later this year,” Johan said.

Inspirally raises undisclosed angel round

Inspirally – formerly known as Vizido – just announced it has raised an undisclosed amount from a group of angel investors including Thor Fridriksson, founder of QuizUp and co-founder of Teatime, and Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson.

“It is an honor to get funding from seasoned tech entrepreneurs like Thor Fridriksson and Vilhjalmur Þorsteinsson,” said co-founder Pétur Orri Sæmundsen. “We are lucky to have them on board and we are both happy and exicted to work with them.”

Inspirally helps creative people collaborate on their ideas. It allows people to take and manipulate pictures and videos to be shared with other people for collaboration. Interior designers and architects are already using the product, according to a statement.

Pétur co-founded the company with Erlendur Steinn Guðnason. Inspirally is currently in closed beta and according to the founders they expect to release it to the public in February 2018.

Atmonia wins annual business plan competition Gulleggið

Atmonia is the winner of Gulleggið fall 2017, a business plan competition run by Icelandic Startups.  Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland opened the ceremony in University of Iceland on Saturday where the results were announced.

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CCP shuts down VR projects, lays off 100 people

Icelandic news outlet MBL.is reported earlier today that CCP Games, creators of the Eve franchise, are shutting down VR development and laying off nearly 100 people globally. The company’s Newcastle (UK) office will be sold, Atlanta (US) will be closed, and 30 people have been laid off in the Icalandic HQ.

According to Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP, market conditions don’t allow for more investments in the space, probably laying to rest any ideas of Iceland becoming a hotbed for VR development. It’s also a bad sign for the fledgling VR market, as CCP had become one of the biggest players in producing interactive content for the technology.

“We’re going to focus on PC and Mobile games,” Hilmar Veigar said in a statement, referring to (at least) Project Nova, the company’s second venture into the First-Person shooter territory.

Read more on MBL.is or PC Gamer.

How a media personality’s change of jobs might influence the tech industry in Iceland

This post is from the Northstack Memo, our newsletter and commentary on recent happenings in the Icelandic startup ecosystem, written by @kiddiarni.

Yesterday, Kjarninn reported that Icelandic media personality Logi Bergmann would be barred from starting a new media job at Árvakur – publisher of Morgunblaðið and owner of K100.5 radio station – for twelve months. The reason? His former employer, 365 (owner of Stöð 2 and Fréttablaðið) is suing, because Logi had a 12 month notice period, as well as a 12 month non-compete after the termination period, barring him from working at another media company.

How does this connect to Icelandic startups? One word: Non-competes.

If this decision will be upheld by courts it could set a dangerous precedent that makes non-competes not only legal but enforceable.

Non-competes bar employees of a company from working for a company in a similar industry for a certain amount of time after their departure from the current company. And they slow down innovation. And are bad.

The claim that non-compete clauses chill innovation should not catch anyone by surprise. Think of Silicon Valley, the world’s technology center. California law forbids Silicon Valley firms from using non-competes, and employees are largely free to move. Workers’ mobility creates knowledge spillovers across firms and throughout the industry, all of which stimulate greater innovation. It was Bob Noyce, the founder of Intel, who hailed “the mobility of our personnel, which quickly diffuses knowledge of new techniques in design, production, and marketing.” (from Fortune)

The clearest example of this is between Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Massachusetts. Research suggests that the difference in how the two states deal with non-competes (in California they’re not enforced) had an impact on the growth of Silicon Valley and deterioration of Route 128 (relatively speaking). From the abstract:

[Professor Gilson] contends that legal rides governing employee mobility influence the dynamics of high technology industrial districts by either encouraging rapid employee movement between employers and to startups, as in Silicon Valley, or discouraging such movement, as in Route 128.

Because California does not enforce post-employment covenants not to compete high technology firms in Silicon Valley gain from knowledge spillovers between firms. These knowledge spillovers have allowed Silicon Valley firms to thrive while Route 128 firms have deteriorated. (source)

So, if this issue goes to court and the non-compete will be upheld, it might set a dangerous precedent for Icelandic industry.

Granted, there’s a difference when a company wants to stop a media personality to bounce between media outlets and when engineers move from one tech company to another. But if the findings of the court are very open, it might impact the enforcement of such contracts in Icelandic law as well.

Two notes on the funding report (from the Memo)

This post is from the Northstack Memo, our newsletter and commentary on recent happenings in the Icelandic startup ecosystem, written by @kiddiarni.

Last week we published our quarterly funding report (read it here) where we looked at investments and exits in Q3 2017. This Memo will be short and sweet.

Another top tier VC invests in Iceland

Index Ventures, arguably the top European VC firm, invested for the first time in Iceland this quarter. This adds Index to a (small but) growing list of top tier VC firms that have participated in Icelandic companies. Other’s are most notably Sequoia that invested in QuizUp and WuXi NextCODE (gray area whether it should be counted as an Icelandic investment, I didn’t in the report, but it’s one we should remember anyways), and New Enterprise Associates, that invested in CCP in 2015. This is also second time that Thor Fridriksson (co-founder Teatime Games) brings a top tier VC firm to Iceland (last time was Sequioa).

The significance is in my mind, obvious. Being in Iceland is not a barrier to international investors. Yes, teams need luck and connections, but getting international money is possible.

Also, now that there are two (kindof) investments from Sequoia in Iceland, we’re most definitely the most often Sequoia funded country in the world (per capita).

The QuizUp effect is showing

Two out of three investments this quarter were into companies founded by ex-QuizUp people. Viska Learning was founded by Vala Halldórsdóttir (ex-CRO & Editor in Chief), Stefanía B. Ólafsdóttir (ex Head of Data) and Árni Hermann Reynisson (ex VP Engineering). Note: Their first employees are also ex-QuizUp.

Teatime Games was founded by Thor Fridriksson (ex-CEO), Ýmir Örn Finnbogason (ex-CFO), Gunnar Hólmsteinn Guðmundsson (ex-COO) and Jóhann Þ. Bergþórsson (ex-CTO).

In addition to that, another ex-QuizUp founded company – Takumi – raised a Series A round earlier this year. That brings the QuizUp related rounds to 3 (out of 8 tracked) this year.

(Note: Yes, I’m obviously biased because I worked at QuizUp and they’re all my friends. However, I still find it an interesting datapoint of an effect I discussed in an earlier post).

With Airdate, Overcast Software is simplifying ad planning

Overcast Software recently announced it signed a major contract with a leading Scandinavian digital agency, SMFB Engine. SMFB Engine will implement Overcast’s ad planning solution, Airdate.

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The Q3/2017 Funding Analysis

A quiet quarter on the funding side, but very interesting on the exit side. The effects of having only one active Icelandic fund still linger. Now that Crowberry Capital has officially started and NSA Ventures have more capital available due to an exit this quarter, deals might  start ticking up again, and some of the earlier Eyrir and Frumtak companies are due for a round soon.

Three seed rounds

We recorded three rounds in the quarter: Viska Learning, Ghostlamp and Teatime.

Last years Q3 was very active, and this time around there’s less than half of the investments YoY.

Comparing amount invested shows an even steeper drop, as we didn’t see any late stage rounds.

Brunnur the most active investor

Brunnur Ventures led two of the three investments. The fund has for the last quarters been the only active Icelandic VC fund, but now that Crowberry has been founded and NSA has some money to invest, they’re no longer alone in the market.

Investa, the angel / seed fund run by Hilmar Gunnarsson, Hjálmar Gíslason, Jói Sig and more veterans from the Icelandic tech scene participated in two rounds (Viska and Teatime)

The biggest news of the quarter, however, is definitely that fact that Index Ventures, a top tier VC, did its first investment in Iceland.

Seed money is Icelandic, growth money is foreign

This quarter most of the investment came from Iceland. The only non-icelandic capital were participants in Teatimes’ round (Index Ventures et al).

Although we don’t have a lot of deals to go on, you can see a trend emerging. The seed rounds are driven by Icelandic investors, but the later stage rounds are driven by foreign funds. There might be several reasons for that and we’ll discuss those in the upcoming Memo.

Two exits and a listing

Greenqloud was acquired by Netapp, in what is the first acquisition of an Icelandic software company by a Fortune 500 company (the completely first was probably DeCODE, acquired by Amgen in 2012). The amount was undisclosed, but we’ve discussed the acquisition in more detail here. The other exit was when Skynjun, an Icelandic audiobook publisher, sold to Swedish Storytel.

In addition, Klappir Green Solutions – a consortium of three companies, including Ark Technology and Data Drive – was listed on First North. Although no new shares were offered (it was only a listing, not a public offering), that move definitely created some liquidity for employees and investors.

This is the most exit activity we’ve tracked since the beginning of Northstack, which hopefully is a signal of things to come.

Looking ahead

This year will probably be the first of (hopefully) many where the Icelandic scene reaches some kind of equilibrium and predictable deal flow. Two to three active, local, venture funds that mostly focus on the earlier stages, and several later stage investments led by foreign funds.

It’s also a when the VC industry in Iceland reaches a certain crossroads: some of the management companies – Frumtak and possibly Eyrir – will likely start raising a new fund because they’ve fully committed their current capital, and whether or not that happens, might depend on whether the funds have success stories to tell. Others, like Brunnur Ventures or Crowberry Capital, are not in as much a need of raising more, because they have more available.

Google’s Pixel Buds will translate 40 languages into Icelandic in real time

At today’s Pixel 2 launch event, Google unveiled their answer to Apple’s Airpods: The Google Pixelbuds.

Northstack doesn’t normally cover the tech giants, except when it is specifically related to Icelandic tech. And this time it is. The Pixel Buds will include real-time translations, where you can talk in one language and the phone will speak in another.

The good news: Icelandic is on the list. This might open up some interesting innovation possibilities, and should make our minister for education, that recently revealed a new speech-technology plan, very happy.

The demo starts at 1:28, and you can see Icelandic in the rolling list afterwards.

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene