Startup Communities – My open letter to Brad Feld

Brad Feld
Image by TEDxBoulder via Flickr

Brad Feld one of my virtual mentors has embarked on a journey to write a book with the following working title: “Startup Communities: Creating A Great Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City”. In typical Brad style he has created a new Blog that documents the journey and has asked his community of followers to participate and share a story on the topic. I believe Iceland can be a fantastic story, but usually when one tells a story we need to have a beginning, the plot, the drama and a hopefully a happy ending. I think the journey in Iceland is still in the beginning stage. I have written the following open letter to him:

Dear Brad,

I am really excited and inspired by your passion to build communities around startups and entrepreneurship. I agree with you that great startups can be built from any community and it does not have to be in Silicon Valley. I think I have a story to tell about how Iceland rose from the ashes of the biggest financial collapse of a western country because of its startup community. The story does not have a happy ending yet and I hope it does not have one, as we have just begun and we want it to continue through the generations.

The beginning
The collapse of Iceland after the financial crisis in 2008 is well document. Iceland is a small country and I moved from the US to work for one of the banks in 2006. I was fascinated by the energy, ingenuity and innovative nature of Icelanders. In addition, I was impressed by how much a country of 300,000 people could build in a relatively short period of time. The financial collapse has resurrected the entrepreneurial spirit of Icelanders as before the collapse everyone and their mother wanted to work for one of the banks or  financial companies in Iceland.

The story so far

Since the collapse a number of things have happened that I believe are the right ingredients to make a startup culture and community. We for the first time in our lives had to think about what are we going to focus on? and the jury is still out on that question but we got the time to think about where we are and what we wanted to do. I decided that I wanted to do something worthwhile and create real value. I convinced some of my family and friends into starting a company that invested in Startups in Iceland. We have invested in a team of incredibly talented individuals, the company is called Clara they are building a text analytics platform that helps everyone understand their communities. They are focusing on the Gaming communities now but we believe it can be applied to any community.

I have met many passionate entrepreneurs and startup companies in Reykjavik and I am incredibly excited at the wide range of problems that are being solved by this grass root group. I have cataloged over 165 innovative companies, more getting started everyday and more than 80% of those were started in the last decade. After meeting, talking and working with this group I have come to the conclusion that the community exists, it is buzzing, but it is disorganized. I plan to bring them together by starting an incubator built using the Techstars affiliate program and a VC fund. I think this will bring mentors, entrepreneurs, investors and capital together and that is what is needed to build an ecosystem.

2012 and beyond

I have been blogging extensively about my vision and strategies through my blog http://startupiceland.com and I am in the most excruciatingly painful stage of my own entrepreneurial journey, yes you guessed it right I am raising funds to kick off the plan.
The startup ecosystem in Iceland does have some support from the Government run grant programs, a venture fund and a growth fund. However we could do with some favorable policies, I plan to lobby with the Government on that. What I believe is lacking is also private individuals and enterprises actively investing time, effort and resource in the ecosystem. I am confident that we will solve this problem. I can write and talk about this forever, but I will stop now. I would like to personally invite you and Amy to visit Iceland, it was one of the Top 10 destinations for 2012.
It would be great to have your thoughts and ideas contributing to our journey here in Iceland.
Regards,
Bala
 

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