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Introducing “The Incredible Fish Value Machine”

Þór Sigfússon

Þór Sigfússon

The following drawing is inspired by the “The Incredible Bread Machine”, a text written by R.W Grant in 1966. The book had an accompanying poem entitled “Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine.” The Tom Smith poem is about a man who invents a machine for producing bread very cheaply, and thus the world is fed.

“The Incredible Fish Value Machine” displays how Icelanders have produced “an industry fishing machine” which takes pride in the fact that no other whitefish nation is utilising more of each fish than Icelanders. While in typical North Atlantic fisheries the head, gut and bones of every cod are discarded, in Icelandic fisheries we have become used to making money out of many of these by-products. Analysis done by the Iceland Ocean Cluster indicates that Icelanders utilise 80%+ of each cod while many neighbouring countries make full use of only around 50%. The study indicates over 500 thousand tonnes of cod are discarded into the sea or as waste in the Barents Sea region and across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Norway.


There is no single explanation for this huge difference in utilisation. Partly it may be explained by the fact that unlike the year-round long fishery in Iceland, many fishing nations have short fishing seasons with massive amounts landed over a few months, making it difficult to process such raw material efficiently. Secondly, the integration between fishing and processing in Iceland through common ownership is not usually the case among other seafood nations. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the seafood industry is often located in marginalized places and is not in touch with R&D, investors, accelerators etc.  Steve Case writes in The Third Wave: “Over the next two decades we will see cities that were once marginalized become entrepreneurial powerhouses.”  Case points out that “there is appeal to putting down roots where industry ecosystems already exist”. But even in areas where R&D, Universities and investors are close to the seafood eco system we still see all the dots connecting.  This lack of ties is probably the most important reason why so much seafood protein is used for landfill in many countries. The key to creating the “incredible fish value machine” is to build the bridge between these important parts of the seafood cluster.

I am confident that it is only a matter of time when fisheries will stop discarding out value and more people join the 100% movement. As more companies join the by-product market and the market develops further, the prices will continue to increase and the incentives for fisheries to get value from their by-products are also set to increases.

Icelanders have long taken pride in their efficient fisheries. There is no one explanation for why Icelandic fisheries have for the most part been more efficient than others. I believe there is, as is often the case, a very pragmatic explanation: Icelanders have never had the luxury of treating their fisheries lightly. As the core industry in Iceland it cannot be government subsidised. The entire cluster of seafood businesses in Iceland has, for a long time, been at the heart of the income tax base for government and not the other way around. The same applies to a great extent when examining Icelandic fish by-products; if there is value to be found in by-products, effective fisheries used to focusing on value will find opportunities to use them.

The Incredible Fish Value Machine is not hypothetical. It is very real. The Icelandic model has proved reliable and this model can be duplicated in seafood industries all around; creating new opportunities in coastal areas.

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

Image by Chris Davey.

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.


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.


“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


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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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene