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The Reykjavík Grapevine

Issue 6 — 2013


Iceland | Startup

Entrepreneurs: Iceland’s New Rock Stars? Gearing up for the second annual Startup Iceland conference by Anna Andersen Haukur Guðjónsson has just finished painting his office bright red, the colour of his company logo. That is, he’s painted a single wall in his nook of the shared workspace set up by the government-run institute, Innovation Center Iceland. There he works alongside companies like Icelandic Cinema Online, Kúla and, Karolina Fund, which rent space by the desk at 12,000 ISK per month. Against his freshly painted wall, Haukur has two desks where he and another employee have been working full-time for the last year. After three years of bootstrapping, often working out of cafés, Haukur says his summerhouse rental service, Búngaló, is finally taking off. It wasn’t easy, though, with the lack of available funding impeding progress and grander plans. “I originally wanted to expand the service to Scandinavia, but my funding options at the time were NSA Ventures and Frumtak, and I wasn’t really far enough along for that,” he says. In terms of funding, Haukur explains that there are three basic options. First, he says, a startup can apply for a government grant. This could come from the Innovation Center Iceland, which offers a few hundred thousand ISK, and the Rannís Icelandic Research Fund, which awards slightly larger grants of five to 30 million ISK. Then there are investors like NSA Ventures, a government fund founded in 1998 to invest between 50 and 200 million ISK in seed stage startup companies, and Frumtak, an investment fund founded in May 2008 to invest 50 to 500 million ISK in larger companies. And finally there are some private funds like Investa, Thule Investments and Eyrir Invest, which Haukur says aren’t very active. “A lot of investors here in Iceland don’t understand the startup community. I don’t think anybody in Iceland is really investing in early stage startups,” Haukur says. “NSA is the first one you can look into, but your company has to be at least a year or two along at that point.”

ENTER STARTUP ICELAND Removing this obstacle is one of the goals of the upcoming Startup Iceland conference set into motion last year by Bala Kamallakharan, a former director of Glitnir bank in India and an early stage investor in Iceland. He envisioned the conference as a way to address the lack of seed angel funding and mentoring available to startups and a way to build bridges to a bigger market. After securing Brad Burnham—an early investor in Tumblr and Indeed, which both achieved cash exits north

Photo: Alisa Kalyanova

Take a look around Guided tours daily More information at Harpa tour isk 1.500 Every day at 11 am and 3.30 pm. Backstage tour isk 2.500 (15 pers. max) Take a look behind the scenes. Groups only. Tasting tour isk 2.700 Tour with a treat. Refreshments await you at the end. Singing tour isk 4.500 Enjoy the acoustics — and your guide’s voice.

of $1 Billion USD in the last seven months—as a speaker, he and a trusty team of volunteer organisers, including Haukur, put the first conference together. In true startup fashion, they got the Andrews Theater at Ásbrú on the former U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavík to let them use their venue free of charge.

Desperation is a fantastic motivator. When you get really desperate, you pull out all the stops. I think the financial collapse brought that to Iceland.

“Desperation is a fantastic motivator,” Bala says. “When you get really desperate you pull out all the stops. I think the financial collapse brought that to Iceland and I think that’s a good thing. That’s the Icelandic spirit, you roll up your sleeves and get shit done. And maybe in the boom years a lot of that wasn’t obvious, so the collapse brought that all back. If we can channel that into the entrepreneurial spirit, then we’ve got something going.” Conference organisers Stefán Örn Einarsson and Kristján Már Gunnarsson have secured three times as many sponsors this year as they managed to scramble together the first time around. The two of them, who work together at a local management-consulting firm, see working on this conference as their startup project and, like Bala and Haukur, want to see the community thrive. This year, the conference has secured 21 keynote speakers from Cindy Gallop, a successful entrepreneur who aims to transform the porn industry

Mies van der Rohe 2013 Harpa is the winner of the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture — Mies van der Rohe Award.

The Reykjavik Grapevine, Issue 6, 2013  
The Reykjavik Grapevine, Issue 6, 2013  

The Reykjavik Grapevine, Issue 6, 2013