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Meniga acquires Stockholm based reward platform Wrapp

Icelandic fintech company Meniga today announced the acquisition of Wrapp, a Stockholm based reward platform. The purchase price is undisclosed, all-stock, with maximum earn-outs totaling up to a 25% share in Meniga. Current shareholders, including Scandinavia’s biggest bank Nordea, join Meniga’s shareholders.

The Wrapp reward platform will be merged with Meniga’s similar offering with Wrapp’s CEO Aage Reerslev joining Meniga as VP of Rewards.

“The attitudes of consumers towards the use of their personal data is changing. Custodians of personal data are expected to use data to deliver personalisation and value in a respectful and transparent manner,” explains Georg Ludviksson, CEO of Meniga.

“We believe the merger brings us to a tipping point given the strong commitment we have from existing platform partners. This is the right time to invest in transaction-driven marketing technology and create a more intelligent user-centric service which basically helps people buy better and smarter, not more”, says Aage Reerslev, former CEO of Wrapp, now VP of Rewards at Meniga.

Oculis raises $15.7m in extension to B round, licenses new antibody

In two press releases today, Iceland founded Oculis Pharma announces an extension to their Series B round amounting to $15.7m (15.5m CHF), and an expansion to its portfolio through the licensing a novel antibody from Novartis. No financials are disclosed in relation to the licensing.

“Oculis is evolving and advancing rapidly,” CEO of Oculis, Dr. Riad Sherif said in a statement. “With this new fundraising, adding to the CHF20 million we raised a year ago, we have a strong financial position from which to drive our clinical development programs”

The extension of the round brings total raised to $36m (35.5 CHF) with new investors Tekla Capital Management and Nan Fung Life Sciences, and participation from earlier investors. Previously the company had raised $5m from Icelandic VC firm Brunnur Ventures, which holds 19% of the share capital after this financing round.

The funds will be used to expand the company’s portfolio through strategic in-licensing, and to advance its development of novel eye-drop treatment for major ophthalmic diseases.

“I, and the team at Nan Fung Life Sciences, have been extremely impressed with vision and progress made by Oculis in building a company with the potential to significantly improve the treatment of ophthalmic diseases,” commented Peter Bisgaard, Managing Director at Nan Fung Life Sciences.

Ankeri Solutions raise $500k seed round from NSA Ventures

Ankeri Solutions, the startup creating a shipping marketplace that rewards efficient, low-emissions vessels, just announced a $500k seed round led by NSA Ventures. The investment gives NSA Ventures a 12% ownership stake in the company.

“We’ve been following Leifur and Kristinn for a long time and know of their knowledge and experience with the international maritime sector,” Huld Magnúsdóttir, CEO of NSA Ventures said in a statement.

Co-founders Kristinn Aspelund and Leifur A. Kristjánsson, previously worked at Marorka, a tech company that specialises in marine energy management.

“We’re excited to have NSA Ventures join us on our journey to change the communication between shipowners and charterers,” CEO and co-founder Kristinn Aspelund commented. “The initial market response has been beyond our expectations, and since we’ve launched we’ve seen a lot of growth in its use.”

Northstack previously covered Ankeri in a short interview with the founding team.

Ghostlamp secures $800k in new funding

Influencer marketing marketplace Ghostlamp has secured an additional $800,000 in funding from local and international investors. The funding round is led by Brunnur Ventures, which previously invested in the company, with participation from angel investors. This brings total investment in the company to roughly $1.6m (200m ISK) over the last two years. In addition, Ghostlamp received a $400,000 grant from the Technology Development Fund last December.

Jón Bragi Gíslason, co-founder and CEO of Ghostlamp says in a statement the funding is a key factor in the continued growth and development of the company.

“Over the last months, Ghostlamp has been a leading provider of influencer marketing world wide,” Jón Bragi said in a statement. “We’ve been lucky to work with customers across twelve countries and have done campaigns for brands like Nissan, Subaru, Hamley’s, KFC, and more.”

Andri (left) CTO, and Jón Bragi, CEO, co-founders of Ghostlamp.

Up until now the company has been providing influencer marketing as a full service, taking care of finding, hiring, and paying influencers as well as measuring effectiveness and managing the content. “In the coming months, both customers and influencers will be able to use the Ghostlamp marketplace in many new ways,” said Jón Bragi.

The company recently opened an office in Brazil. “We’ve created strong connections with key people in Brazil and we have a strong team there working on development and the management of campaigns,” comments Andri Birgisson, co-founder and CTO of Ghostlamp.

Private Equity firm Diversis Capital acquires majority stake in Tempo at $62.5m valuation

Origo, parent company of Tempo Software, announced that it had reached an agreement to sell 55% of Tempo to Diversis Capital. Tempo is valued at $62.5m in the transaction, and Diversis will pay Origo $34.5m in cash for the share. Following the transaction, the owners (Origo and Diversis) will inject $2m into the business pro rata.

Finnur Oddsson, CEO of Origo

In a press release, Finnur Oddsson, CEO of Origo, comments that the sale is “great news, both for Origo and Tempo.” It’s a “recognition of the great work that has been ongoing at both Tempo and Origo” and that it shows the value of R&D work in Iceland. He also notes that it’s very much in the interest of Origo to maintain ownership of a sizable part of Tempo, eyeing further growth of the company.

The price tag ranks Tempo highly on the list of Icelandic tech exits – and adds an important item to a small but growing list of international tech success stories stemming from here: the fourth exit with a valuation of more than $50m since 2015.

Company Exit valuation Date
CCP $425m September 2018
Nextcode $65m January 2015
Tempo $62.5m November 2018
Greenqloud $51m August 2017

Several years in the making

Tempo is a spinoff from TM Software, one of Origo’s (then Nýherji) subsidiaries. A team of developers were solving their own problem: creating timesheets connected to the Jira project management tool to send to clients. It has since early days been a top seller at Jira’s marketplace and fueled consistent double-digit YoY growth in revenue.

The sale of Tempo has been in the works in some form for several years. Origo first announced that Tempo was for sale in 2015, when the plan was to sell 25% of the company. That plan didn’t go through, and the next movement in the process was in 2016, when Origo announced it had reached an agreement with AGC Partners regarding a possible sale of Tempo. It was then roughly a year ago, October 2017, that Origo formally asked AGC Partners to sell the company.

Ágúst Einarsson, CEO of Tempo

That led to an exclusive agreement with HPE Partners in August this year, where the plan was to sell a third of the company at a valuation of $62.5m following due diligence. Those talks fell through in the process. In conversation with Northstack, Ágúst Einarsson, CEO of Tempo, said the main reason was a different view on vision and strategy for Tempo following the sale between Origo and HPE. Then came Diversis, ready to buy a majority stake at the same valuation as HPE with a vision for next steps more aligned with Origo’s and Tempo’s leadership.

“Diversis are buying into a well operating company” Ágúst adds when asked about what changes we should expect, “so we don’t foresee any major changes in operations or staffing.” The plan is to use the fund to accelerate growth with more emphasis on sales and marketing, continued investment in R&D, improved customer service and additional product diversification.

From product to platform

“Tempo started out as a plugin for a popular project management tool,” says Viðar Svansson, Chief Product Officer at Tempo. “It’s now a suite of tools, and the next step for us is to widen our support base across workplace applications.”

Tempo officially integrates with Slack and support for Quickbooks Online was recently introduced. Other integrations are in development with a new Google Calendar integration expected to be rolled out before the holidays. According to Viðar, Third party developers have also shown interest in the platform with plugins and integrations ranging from business intelligence to asset management available.

Viðar Svansson, CPO of Tempo

“Investing in our platform to create connected experiences is key to our strategy,” Viðar adds. “We see new plugins from the ecosystem almost every month now, and we expect more of that in the future.“

Becoming a platform is the dream of most B2B software companies, making money both off their own product, and taking a cut of sales of plugins built to extend their core offering.

“Both owners have expressed the continued financial support in the case of M&A activity in the future,” Finnur, CEO of Origo mentions when discussing the platform play. “If Tempo sees technology or products that would fit into the product range, both Origo and Diversis will support acquisitions, should that be the best way forward for Tempo.”

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.

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene