Author: Kris Hróbjartsson (Page 3 of 7)

Minister for Innovation appoints working group about NSA Venture’s future

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has appointed a four person working group about NSA Venture’s future. She announced her intention to do so at NSA Venture’s annual meeting this May.

In a press announcement, the ministry discusses the move:

NSA Ventures, which started in 1998, was created because a lack of availability of startup funding which the government needed to address that market failure. The fund has played an important role as an early stage investor, and been a part in bridging the gap between grant-giving governmental funds and later stage investors.

The startup funding environment has changed drastically since the fund’s inception, most notably by the emergence of new investment companies and venture capital funds. The fund has also been in a tight position, partially because the sale of assets has been slow, and fresh investments therefore few and far between.

The future framework and allocation of the fund’s assets have been under review for several years, and the purpose of the working group is to review underlying data and make suggestions.

The working group consists of:

  • Guðrún Gísladóttir, chairman, Director General in the Ministry of Industries and Innovation.
  • Almar Guðmundsson, chairman of the board at NSA Ventures.
  • Guðrún Ögmundsdóttir specialest at the Ministry of Finance
  • Tryggvi Hjaltason, Producer at CCP.

The working group is asked to deliver their suggestions before September 30th of this year.

A mostly straight-forward announcement, and right in line with what the minister discussed at the annual meeting.

The composition of the group is also mostly straight forward. Two representatives of the government and the two ministries that are directly involved with the fund. Almar Guðmundsson most likely sits there as a representative of NSA Ventures, knowing its workings and assets, while not directly employed by the fund. Tryggvi Hjaltason comes in as an independent advisor. Researched the operational environment of tech and startup companies in Iceland in his Master’s thesis.

NSA Ventures will be the topic of the next Memo – you can sign up here.

Þórdís Kolbrún in interview with VB – several thoughts

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

A couple of weeks ago, Viðskiptablaðið published its annual Entrepreneurs magazine. The paper named Platome startup of the year (í: sproti ársins) and Mint Solutions entrepreneur of the year (í: frumkvöðull ársins). In my opinion, the most interesting part of the magazine was an interview with Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, Iceland’s minister for Industry and Innovation. I’ll highlight several quotes (translated by me).

  • Þórdís: “We’ve done many things regarding [support for the entrepreneurial ecosystem]. The innovation bill last year, the result of work done by the minister of finance and minister of innovation, greatly improved the environment. That doesn’t mean we can just mark it as done. The new law includes things like tax deduction for individuals that invest in startups and increased tax-refund for companies that invest in research and development. In my opinion the maximum refund should be increased even more. These things were a big step, but we always need to try and do even better.”

A couple of comments.

I’ve written about the innovation bill several times, and specifically discussed the tax deduction for investment in startups. There were several big issues with that change. Based on my discussions with active angel investors, a survey of similar initiatives in other countries, and the fact that only three companies have applied for the status for this deduction to be available, suggests that these laws haven’t been the great success they were set out to be. I’ve previoysly written about the bill in general, and the investment tax deduction specifically. If you’re interested in these issues I recommend you take a read.

The other, and more significant, point in this quote is the fact that the minister thinks the maximum refund should be increased more. If she’s able to move on that it’s great news for both tech companies in Iceland, and the ecosystem as a whole.

It’s public knowledge that Icelandic tech staples like CCP and Tempo have discussed that the environment for R&D is better for them in other countries like Canada or the UK. The R&D tax refund is a part of that environment. The committee that discussed the bill specifically decided not to increase the maximum refund because in their view the bill was for smaller companies. Hopefully this emphasis from the current minister will get through.

  • Þórdís: “I wonder whether we should decide what kind of entrepreneurial- and innovation country we want to be. Are we on the journey of doing everything and being good at everything, or do we perhaps need to consider being excellent at something specific? I don’t necessarily mean one specific sector, but rather that it’s not necessarily the right way to try to be best at everthing, that it could be reasonable to have a clear focus and not spread our efforts in too many places.”

A very interesting comment there, signaling that the minister has been (at least) thinking about whether to focus the governmental effort on specific sectors or technologies. Of course, there are pros and cons to decisions like that, and I will be writing more about these in the coming weeks. But if we were to decide that Iceland would focus on a specific sector or technology, it would mean broadly two things. First, Iceland would have a high-level, long-term strategy in building up innovation capacity in a specific sector, that hopefully would attract companies, specialists and investors in the space to Iceland. Second, it would require not only action on behalf of the Ministry of Industry and Innovation, but a much broader effort including education, finance and more.

All in all it’s encouraging to see that our new minister has both a good understanding of what’s happening in the world of tech and entrepreneurship, and ideas on where to go and what to do.

What do you think about here comments? Did you read the interview? Send me a message and let me know or tweet at me (@kiddiarni)

Travelade wants to solve overcrowding in tourism, starting in Iceland

Travelade, Icelandic travel-tech startup focused on helping travelers personalise their experience, launched their new webpage today. The company aims to expand to four more countries by the end of the year.

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Lawrence Lessig to design politics in Klang’s new game, Seed

Lawrence Lessig, law professor at Harvard and founder of Creative Commons, will assist indy game studio Klang with designing the politics of their upcoming massively multiplayer online game Seed. This is reported in Venture Beat.

Lessig happened to meet Mundi Vondi, CEO of Klang, and start talking about games.

“After talking for a while, we moved on to how they were going to govern these places, the structure for governing,” Lessig said in an interview with GamesBeat. “It was clear that no one had really thought through that much. That’s what began our conversation about whether there was something fun to experiment with here.”

Seed is a continuous, persistent simulation where players are tasked with colonizing an exoplanet through collaboration, conflict, and other player-to-player interaction. Using unique gameplay based on managing multiple characters in real-time, communities are built even when players are logged off, allowing the world of Seed to be a living, breathing entity.

“We’re building a virtual world filled with vast, player-created communities where every player-action has a repercussion in the game world,” Vondi said in a statement. “For example, a player might chop down a tree, which affects the planet’s ecosystem. This wood can then be sold on, which has an impact on the economy, and if the player chooses to, use the money to bribe another player, which affects the balance of power. We create and provide the tools and incentives to build these communities…the rest is up to the players.”

Klang Games, which is based in Berlin, was founded by a group of Icelanders. They previously released ReRunners, a multiplayer endless runner. The company has raised an undisclosed amount from Greylock Partners, MIT Media Lab founder Joi Ito, and Unity’s Davíð Helgason.

The ten companies participating in Startup Reykjavik 2017

Icelandic Startups and Arion Bank yesterday announced which ten companies will be participating in the Startup Reykjavik 2017 accelerator program. The companies will participate in a 10 week mentor-driven accelerator, share an office, access to mentors, and receive 2.4mISK (~$20k) in seed funding from Arion Bank in exchange a 6% equity stake.

This is the 6th time the accelerator program is run, and as such has become a staple in the Icelandic ecosystem. Companies that have graduated and later received equity funding include Activity Stream, Wasabi Iceland and Data Drive.

This year’s companies are:

  • Myrkur: A game development company founded in 2016 that is now working on developing and producing a new fantasy role-playing game.
  • My Shopover:  Connecting tourists with locals through shopping. Using the concept of a personal shopper and with the help of chat bot, people can either meet face to face or chat online with a local assistant.
  • Flow Education: Á comprehensive individualized education system, based on cutting edge psychological research and modern technology, designed specifically to teach children at an accelerated rate. 
  • Bone&Marrow: Our human ancestor were remarkably healthy. If not killed by warfare or accidents, they could live until their eighties. Their daily activity and food made them so healthy. Nowadays, people seem riddled with disease and health problems. Some expert argue that our nutrition has changed too much. Ancestral nutrition needs to be reintroduced for the modern man. Bone and Marrow aims to do that. 
  • Maul: Building an office catering platform, designed for employees lunch. Each Friday they select their preferences for the following week, having a choice of two or three dishes each day.
  • Itogha:  Providing users with a simple blood spot test to identify certain risk factors related to lifestyle diseases, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The company also provides ready-made food products, developed in cooperation with chefs and scientists, to reduce this risk according to the needs of each user.
  • Zifra Tech: Developing a memory card that can encrypt any recording in real time. First use is for journalist to protect themsleves, their stories, and their sources.
  • Safe Seat: Designing and producing suspension seats for speedboats in a cheaper way making them available and feasible for manufacturers.
  • Data Plato: A data driven financial management system for companies that utilizes artificial intelligence to create your own virtual CFO.
  • Porcelain Fortress: A game studio with the mission is to develop and publish simple, fun and well-polished games for PCs and consoles.

CrankWheel launches 2.0 which introduces Instant Demos

CrankWheel, the Icelandic SaaS company working on instant visualisation tools for inside sales teams, just released version 2.0 of its solution. The most notable addition is the new Instant Demos feature, which allows sales teams to go from smart lead capture, to phone call and screen share within seconds.

Lead enrichment provided by CrankWheel

“When preparing for a conference, we saw that many of the companies we wanted to approach had call-to-actions like Request a Demo on their websites. We’d been telling our clients that they could use CrankWheel for those meetings, but realised we hadn’t been delivering a complete solution,” says Jói Sigurðsson, founder and CEO of CrankWheel. “With Instant Demos the idea is that you can go from request for demo, to phone call, to screenshare in a matter of seconds.”

Instant Demos provides a conversational lead capture and has automatic lead enrichment based on data found in online sources about the lead. When a potential customer makes a request for demo, all available sales agents are pinged, and the first to respond gets to make the call.

“We created a prototype to bring to a trade show last February to show the concept. Seven companies signed up at our booth to be first adopters, and they’ve been working with us on developing the feature since then,” Jói says.

Mink Campers raise $450,000 seed round

Mink Campers have just announced a $450,000 seed round from undisclosed investors.

The company specializes in providing quality travel experiences in nature through the use of their signature Mink Camper and the Mink Travel Guide App. Their aim is to connect adventurous travelers with interesting Icelandic locals, such as artisanal farmers and avid hiking experts. The Mink Camper boasts unlimited 4G wifi, a Bose sound system and a queen bed, among other things.

“We at Mink Campers are excited to be joined by this group of investors, who are not only interested in the growth opportunities, but also in creating a strong Icelandic brand in the camping and outdoor activities space,” says Kolbeinn Björnsson, CEO and co-founder of Mink Campers.

“The investment will be used to manufacture and market the campers that will be rented out this summer in participation with Avis car rental.” The investors will take board seats and be active participants in the development of the company. Helga Viðarsdóttir of Spakur and Finnbogi Jónsson facilitated the funding round.

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This is the first round of funding the company receives. The plan is to produce 50 campers for the summer, both as rentals and for sale. Production will be ramped up by the end of summer to prepare for 2018.

Mink Campers want to take the hassle out of camping, increase the comfort, and make tenable new kinds of travel for people interested in close connection with nature.

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“We recently signed a contract with Avis rental cars, and they will help us with customer service and renting cars to accompany the campers,” Kolbeinn says. “Avis has service centers all over Iceland, which will help us provide first class service to our customers.”

Introducing the Community Fund: $18k to support community tech events

Today, we’re excited to announce the formation of Community Fund, a 2 million ISK ($18.5k) fund that will support events and projects in the Icelandic tech community that foster knowledge sharing, networking and discussion about technology and product development.

The aim of the fund is to empower the grassroots of the tech community in Iceland by easing the access to funds and support. It’s created for smaller projects like meetups, workshops, knowledge sharing and conference preparation, that are likely to enrich the tech community.

The fund is backed by stakeholders in the tech community: SUT (Federation of Icelandic IT companies), Investa, Tempo, Frumtak Ventures, Kaptio, Northstack and Lagahvoll (who helped with all the legal stuff).

In his work, preparing and organising Javascript Iceland events, one of the co-founders of the fund, Kristján Ingi Mikaelsson, regularly ran into hurdles securing money for basic things like snacks, drinks and space. A discussion turned into an idea which ended up a project that Kristján and Northstack have been working on for the last couple of months.

The hypothesis is simple:

We have a lot of driven individuals that are interested in preparing meetups, speaking at meetups, and contributing to the tech community. One of the biggest hurdles to executing those ideas is money – people are already giving their time and don’t want to give their money, too. So by making money easily accessible, we can increase the amount of tech focused events.

Our founding partners – SUT, Investa, Tempo, Frumtak, and Kaptio – loved the idea, and we’re structuring the fund as a one year experiment.

In one year’s time we’ll evaluate whether the experiment went in the direction we thought. Did we see more events? Did Community Fund help? Should the initiative continue?

We hope it will, but that’ll be up to the community.

Lucidworks acquire Icelander-founded Twigkit

Twigkit, the search-user-interface company, founded by Hjörtur Stefán Ólafsson and Bjarki Hólm, has been acquired by Lucidworks. Stefán will join Lucidworks as chief strategy officer, and Bjarki as VP of solutions. The valuation of the deal is undisclosed.

From Twigkits‘ announcement:

Today we are taking a leap forward. We have joined forces with Lucidworks, a company that is reshaping the data and discovery industry and the tour-de-force behind Apache Solr, the world’s most popular open source search engine. Whilst we have been busy making it easier to build intuitive applications for end users, Lucidworks has been working from the other side of the fence – on redefining the foundations of search itself.

From Lucidworks’ CTO Grant Ingersoll post about the acquisition:

Thanks to Twigkit’s integration with Lucidworks Fusion and the ability to federate across multiple data sources, this acquisition enables us to further deliver on our vision of intelligent data access via interfaces that are built with the end user in mind.

This marks the first tech acquisition involving Icelander’s since Northstack was founded in 2015. It’s also one of few acquisitions where Icelander-led companies are acquired by Silicon Valley co’s (other’s would be Clara (acquired by Jive), as well as Emu messenger (acuired by Google) and Siri (acquired by Apple), and possibly some more).

Influencer marketing platform Takumi raises $4m Series A round

Takumi, the influencer marketing platform, just announced the successful raise of a $4m (£3.2m) Series A financing round. The investment will be used to fuel its US and global expansion. The investors are a mix of family offices and high-net worth individuals.

“Influencer marketing is still in its early stages but will grow into a major marketing channel over the next five years,” said Mats Stigzelius, co-founder and CEO. “By offering the best platform possible for influencers and brands, it has allowed us to scale quickly and this will also drive our future growth. However, with this new funding, our undoubted aim is to make Takumi the leading global influencer platform, both for brands and influencers.”

The company, which recently launched in Ireland and Germany, now takes aim at the US market, and has recently opened an office there. Apart from sales and business development offices in London, Berlin and New York, Takumi operates a product development office in Reykjavik, Iceland, where all development takes place. Two of the company’s three founders – Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson and Gummi Eggertsson – are Icelandic.

In addition to the newly raised $4m, the company previously raised two seed rounds, totalling $3.1m (£2.5m), one of which was announced last fall.

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene