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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.

Brad Burnham, Jerry Colonna, Ida Tin and more among speakers at Startup Iceland

Startup Iceland, the annual startup conference, will be held for the sixth time on May 31. This year’s theme is Personal Data, Health, Wellness and Technology – focusing both on the health of the founder, and health in general.

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Building bridges with clusters

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Þór Sigfússon

In 1973, Mark Granovetter came up with an idea in sociology which would later have a huge influence on the study of relationships in networks. The idea was fairly simple: weak relationship ties can act as important bridges in a network building, and for that purpose, they are sometimes more important than strong relationship ties (family and friends). Granovetter’s research showed that when people think about who might help them in a job search, they tend to make a short list of very close friends and family – the strong ties. However, Granovetter’s research showed that your closest friends are not really your best bet when searching for a job. Why not? The answer is that their network is very much like your own. So, to get to a larger group of people in your job search you are better off tying up with people with whom you have weak ties (you barely know) than by those with whom you have strong ties.

This idea inspired me to study relationship networks in my Ph.D. and later to establish the ocean cluster network.

My first real-world test in Granovetter’s spirit was to bring together seafood technology entrepreneurs from different parts of the seafood value chain in Iceland. Most of them didn’t know each other! It still amazes me to see entrepreneurs and startups meet together in various settings and witness how, despite living in small coastal communities and working in ocean-related industries, these individuals have rarely – or even never – met before. Clearly, an abundance of unused weak ties exist here.  

After our initial networking events in Iceland, where I the witnessed seafood tech entrepreneurs introducing themselves to each other for the very first time, I interviewed the entrepreneurs and asked why they had not met before, given that they could learn a great deal from each other and collaborate on projects important to each of them? Most of them responded by saying they didn’t have time for “socializing.” I always remember one entrepreneur who had doubts about my interpretation. He stated: “I have very strong business links with great customers in the fisheries and I nurture them. With others, such as these tech colleagues, I knew about their existence and if I needed to contact them I would just do so. We are so few on this island, we know everybody!”

These entrepreneurs regarded their networks with an island mentality, in which you think you know everybody and can connect to them whenever needed. The problem with this view is that those connections that could so easily be used in reality seldom if ever occur. For an entrepreneur, it is crucial to be good at extending both your domestic and global network in order to develop a sustainable business, and connecting with people outside of your local market is crucial, particularly if that market is very small. Many of the entrepreneurs I spoke with did not nurture their weak ties and were instead happily focusing on the few strong ties that upheld the status quo and allowed their business to merely survive. The cluster’s mission is to extend the network of entrepreneurs and inspire them to actively use this network to grow their business.

I later discovered that the same lack of connectivity was true for most coastal seafood areas, such as in the United States. The seafood industries in these regions, despite their relative proximity to large and dynamic centers of finance and research, were in essence islands as well: fairly isolated from each other, academia, investors, metropolitan startup hubs, and other various resources.

I know we can change this, and we do that by challenging the startup community and the media to get excited about new companies and opportunities in the ocean industry. 

It’s essential to work closely with the startup community and support its growth. This startup community is very strong in Iceland, and the Ocean Cluster is able to actively support startup events hosted by various industry associations, universities, and private entities. Our role has been to inspire more entrepreneurs to establish startups in ocean-related industries. As soon as these startups have gone through the initial startup process and competitions, we are ready to nurture them further – offering a close community, assistance with business planning and strategy, workspace, networking opportunities in our field, forming connections with investors in ocean businesses, and beyond. We have been quite successful in inspiring and supporting startups in our field: the business value of startups in the Ocean Cluster House in Iceland, which have been in our facilities for the last three years, is approximately USD 100 million.

I was very pleased to learn about the Fish2.0 startup initiative in the US and our vision is to work closely with them and provide the startups coming out of great initiatives like Fish 2.0, a network community to make sure they will not become islands!

Our experience with the early success of the New England Ocean Cluster has taught us that even though fish species are different from one region to the next, many industry characteristics remain the same, and clusters can learn from each other. The early success of the New England cluster is definitely a result of a strong local leadership which had focused on building relationship ties among seafood entrepreneurs and between entrepreneurs and academia – bridging these islands. We are confident in stating that we are continuously learning more but also realizing that all this work is firmly grounded in fairly simple ideas of human interactions.

This is a guest post by Þór Sigfússon, founder and CEO of the Iceland Ocean Cluster.

Image by Tanya Hart.

The nine companies that pitched at Startup Tourism

The final event of Startup Tourism was held in Tjarnarbíó on April 28th. Nine new companies in tourism pitched their business ideas to a room full of investors, key players in the tourism sector and other guests.

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First public Women Tech Iceland event on May 4th

Women Tech Iceland is hosting its first public meet up on May 4th. The event is hosted by Rannís, with TeqHire and Frumtak Ventures providing refreshments and co-organising the event.

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Tulipop announces animated webseries in collaboration with WildBrain

The characters of Icelandic lifestyle brand Tulipop – which raised a $2m round last summer – just announced a new animated webseries in collaboration with WildBrain.

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Who finances startups in Iceland? A look at LP’s

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

While some investors – most notably angel investors – invest their own money in startups, venture capital funds mostly get their money from other investors. VC funds are set up in partnerships, and it’s the LP’s – limited partners – that bring the money. So just like founders and CEO’s pitch VC’s for funding, VC’s pitch asset managers at LP’s for their money.

For most LP’s, investing in venture funds is a part of their diversification strategy, and seen as a low-risk way for outsized returns. Low risk, because the absolute amounts are small compared to their assets under management (AUM), outsized returns, because the best VC returns can be mindboggling (Seqouia Capital and their 10x return on a $400m fund is a good example).

Scott Kupor, managing partner at VC fund Andreessen-Horowitz wrote a post on VC economics, and I highly recommend it. For the purpose of this post, I’m highlighting one part, where he discusses the types of institutions that usually function as LP’s:

  • University endowmentsYale is a famous example

  • Foundations – Non profits that invest their funds to fund their charity

  • Pension funds – That receive money from workers and invest them

  • Family offices – Investment managers that work for very high net worth families

  • Sovereign Wealth Funds – Investing the economic reserves of a country, like the Norwegian Oil fund

  • Insurance Companies – Invest their customer’s premiums, to be able to pay out when something happens (and also to make money)

  • Fund-of-funds – Investment companies that have their own LP’s and allocate money on their behalf

Who invests in Icelandic VC?

In Iceland, we currently have four VC funds (and one on its way) – Brunnur Ventures, Frumtak 1, Frumtak 2, and Eyrir Sprotar. Looking at the LP’s in those has some interesting points:

  • Pension funds are by far the biggest player
    Both in terms of participants (we tracked 12 pension funds that are investors in Icelandic VC funds) and proportion of capital. Around 62% of the roughly 17bn ISK that have been invested (or promised) in Icelandic venture capital since 2008 come from pension funds. While in comparison to the VC market, this is a very big portion of the market, it’s important to keep in mind the vast amount of money available to these institutions. LÍVE (Iceland’s biggest pension fund) alone has 600bn ISK under management, and even if LÍVE was the sole backer of Icelandic VC, this allocation would be way below the 5% mark many pension funds in the US allocate to VC. (It should be noted that LÍVE could of course be an investor in foreign VC funds directly or through fund-of-funds).

  • Of the pension funds, LÍVE is the most active
    This is not surprising, because the fund is the biggest in Iceland. It participated in all four of the funds, and in three of them utilized most of its 20% allowance (Pension funds are only allowed to own 20% of a company structured like a VC fund – more here). In total, the fund has a little under 3bn invested in VC funds, around 0.5% of its AUM.

  • The next biggest LP players are banks
    Which is interesting, as banks aren’t mentioned as LP’s in Scott Kupor’s discussion of LP’s. In any case, all three banks have participated in at least one venture fund. Landsbankinn has participated in three, Arion banki in two and Íslandsbanki in one. In total the banks contribute around 3.2bn ISK, just under 19% of the total money.

  • There’s a lot of LP groups missing
    There are no insurance companies, university endowments, charitable foundations, or sovereign wealth funds listed as participants in the Icelandic VC’s. There’s a couple that could count as family offices – holding companies of high-networth individuals are (small) participants in some – so we’ll call them that.

What does it all mean?

These numbers and observations suggest several things.

  • Icelandic VC’s rely a lot on pension funds, and other types of funds haven’t participated in VC (yet). This could very well be due to the fact that we don’t have a long history of returns in the VC industry, like the US one has. We’re looking at four funds over 9 years, while the US industry has decades to build on.

  • There might be fundraising opportunities for Icelandic VC’s in insurance companies. They are active in other types of investments and might be open to investing in VC. (If you’re a VC and have tried to raise from an insurance company, please let me know – just hit reply).

  • The structure of available capital in general is very different from the US. We don’t have university endowments or big charitable organisations that need to invest their money, or a long history of wealthy families that need investment managers for their family wealth. At the same time, the banks in Iceland step in and participate in these activities. This could mean that we need to find different types of backers for our VC funds.

I’d be very interested in knowing how this matches up to the Nordics and rest of Europe. It could be that this difference is mostly size-related. Iceland is so small that we don’t have massive bequeathals to charitable donations or a lot of family offices. It could also be cultural – I don’t think may European universities run investment offices for their massive endowments.

What are your thoughts? Do you work on the LP side? Can I buy you a coffee and discuss this topic (off-the-record, if you wish)? Send me a message and let me know.

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene