Founder Institute – Reykjavik Chapter

fi_logo_leaf_transparentThis fall we are kicking into high gear with Startup Iceland initiatives, I applied to lead the local chapter of Founder Institute in Reykjavik and I got accepted. I had to take a test, the same test that every wanna-be-entrepreneur takes when she/he applies to a Founder Institute program. I am looking for Co-Directors for this initiative. I have reached out to some of you to help me but I would like to open it up and see if there is more interest to help me get this started. Founder Institute is an idea-stage accelerator from Silicon Valley. A local chapter will build new technology companies, and these companies go on to enter other incubators, raise angel capital and create jobs. For those who are interested, it is a part-time opportunity that is requires one night per week, and you receive equity in all of the companies created.

Here is a description of Founder Institute in their own words:

The Founder Institute is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program, helping aspiring founders across the globe build enduring technology companies. In the Founder Institute’s four-month, part-time program, promising startup entrepreneurs “learn by doing” and launch a company through structured training courses, practical business-building assignments, and expert feedback from a large network of business mentors. Plus, aspiring founders are not required to quit their day job to participate, so they can begin building a business around their ideas without putting their livelihood at risk.

Based in Silicon Valley and with chapters across 66 cities and 40 countries, the Founder Institute has helped launch over 1,230 companies, which have created over 10,000 new jobs. The company’s mission is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” and build sustainable startup ecosystems that will create one million new jobs worldwide.

The Founder Institute was founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur Adeo Ressi. It is operated out of a small office in Mountain View, California.

I really like the philosophy of Founder Institute, it also aligns with my vision of building great companies out of Iceland. We have all the ingredients here and the Silicon Valley mind-set. Here is a gist of the Vision, Formula and Approach of Founder Institute.

Our Vision

Starting a company is an arduous and lonely journey, and technology entrepreneurship is a constantly evolving discipline. The Founder Institute aims to improve the rate of startup success by creating local startup ecosystems that emulate the unique characteristics of Silicon Valley.

Our Formula

Great People + Expert Training + Collaboration = Exponentially Better Chance of Success

Great Companies Start With Great People

It’s very hard to judge a new founder by the quality of their idea, because there is too much subjectivity involved. To apply to the Founder Institute, you do not need to provide an idea. Instead, we use a proprietary Predictive Admissions Test to find the most talented people.

To date, over 20,000 people have applied, and the Founder Institute can predict with 85% accuracy somebody’s potential to become a successful technology entrepreneur. Our revolutionary entrepreneur research has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and Forbes.

Structured Training

The best way to learn is by doing. Through a structured, 4-month curriculum of weekly training courses and business-building assignments, you graduate the Founder Institute as the Founder of an enduring company.

The curriculum was built using Silicon Valley best practices, and each training course is led by members of the Founder Institute’s worldwide network of over 3,100 entrepreneur Mentors, that are founders themselves.

So, if you have read this far and interested send me a note.

Öryggisventill – An Icelandic Open Source Project that gives Power to the People

Parliament House, at Austurvöllur in Reykjavík...

Parliament House, at Austurvöllur in Reykjavík, built 1880–1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been a while since I posted, almost 2 weeks I took some time to think and ponder and be on digital sabbatical. I would say it worked about 60% of the time and in my case that is an improvement. Breaking the digital sabbatical with a guest post by one my friends and Software Developer, Hacker and just a great guy, James Robb. I first got connected with James, through one my colleagues in GreenQloudHelgi Hrafn Gunnarsson and through a job application James had sent GreenQloud through our support system :). Helgi moved on to become the first Member of Parliament who could write Code and James started working with me on GreenQloud. I have always enjoyed the conversations, debates and discussions around advocacy, governance, management and leadership with James. When he told me about this open source project that is actually going to create a connection between laws that are passed in the parliament and the common man in a simple, intuitive way I jumped to ask him to write a blog post about it. And so he did… here is the post about an open source project like no other, it actually enables authenticated Yay or Nay for every bill that is being passed in the Parliament. It has a great name in Icelandic, I will let James introduce you to it.  These kinds of projects really excite me if you want to find out why read Fred Wilson‘s Blog post on the Dentist Office Software Story

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Öryggisventill, or Safety Valve, in it’s most basic of explanations, is software that allows a group of relevant individuals to support, oppose, or gauge contention on issues. What does this mean practically? To give the most prominent example so far, Safety Valve is being used to allow the Icelandic public to support or oppose all bills and motions being put through Alþingi (Icelandic Parliament). You can check this out at https://www.ventill.is/. 

I know what you are thinking. This has been done before, right? There are tons of different pieces of petition software online. Well, yes, this is true. There is a lot of different forms of petition software online, what is different though, is that we have advanced on the idea of petition software in many ways. Notably, in our setup with the Alþingi, is that the signatures we collect are essentially authenticated and guaranteed. We have tied in with the Íslykill (Ice Key) service provided by the Icelandic government. Through this we have users authenticate themselves against the national registry when casting their support or opposition on an issue. This adds a whole new dimension to being able to collect a legitimate measurement of contention on an issue. Unlike software in the past that has simply asked for a postal/zip code and an e­mail address, this would make it very difficult for a politician to contest that any considerable amount of non-legitimate signatures are present. The Ice Key paired with Safety Valve has a myriad of possible utilizations here in Iceland. Coupling the software with further authentication modules will open up Safety Valve to the world.

Removing bias and transparency are two very core concepts we entered into the project with. Initially upon building the software, our sights were set no further than using it for Alþingi. So naturally, given the serious tone of federal politics, we wanted to be as upfront as was possible. Given this, we decided we didn’t want to write any petitions/issues ourselves, in an effort to remove any bias. Traditionally, petition software has a piece of text produced by an individual or an organization with the goal of lobbying something in favor of their beliefs or ideology. While this sometimes is very necessary and works very well, we opted to pull all the bills and motions directly from Alþingi and give the power to the people to let their representatives know how they feel about what is happening in parliament without adding in any of the personal or political biases we all possess. When it comes to transparency, often we found that with traditional petition software, it was very difficult (and often impossible) to look back and see what you had signed and when, never mind redact your signature.

Safety Valve gives each user the ability to see when and if they signed any bills or motions in support or opposition. A feature coming very soon too is the ability to look back and see what your elected representative voted on the issues you chose to sign. We are all human, I think it is an unrealistic expectation to remember everything your representative did throughout their term regarding issues of your interest. Being able to look back at this data may strengthen one’s belief in their representative, or be just cause to re­examine whom they will vote for come next election.

I developed Safety Valve with The Pirate Party of Iceland, most notably Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, Tómas Jónasson, and Svafar Helgason. Among us we had a common vision of creating an open source project to help residents interact with Alþingi. We all shared a very strong connection to the open source world and it’s ideologies, along with values of openness and transparency. I guess we are just kinda hippies like that. As we worked away on the project and we came closer and closer to releasing it to the public for use with Alþingi, I was approached by someone for whom I have great respect, and he asked me why I wasn’t building a business around this software. After pondering on the different possibilities Safety Valve held, I couldn’t help but start to feel it was a better and a better idea. Now I am to build a business for Safety Valve as Canonical is to Linux. I, and the active developers on the project still hold strong values towards open source technology, but we don’t believe that matters in the slightest in terms of the potential of the software, or the value we can bring to the table for others.

We believe there are so many opportunities to be had with Safety Valve. Not only is this something municipal governments all around the country could use to empower their residents and provide transparency to their actions, this power can also be extended to student governments in universities, special interest groups, day cares, house associations (húsfélag/condo boards), and special events; to name only a few.

I believe people’s opinions matter, a lot. At the end of every transaction, deal, exchange, or interaction, we find people. Everything we do from womb to tomb is from another and for another. Lots of startups are doing amazing things to help people interact with each other and stay connected; I want to build on this growing trend of technology that helps us communicate with each other, to be able to help communicate with the decision makers in our lives, to validate peoples thoughts and opinions, and bring power to where it really belongs, in the hands of each one of us.

Intrapreneurship in Iceland – the story of Tempo

I believe startup thinking or entrepreneurial mindset is not limited to startups and entrepreneurs. I think anyone in any job can put on the hat of an entrepreneur and try to change their job, their career or even their big corporation. It is difficult but the challenges are no different than when one starts a new company or embarks on an entrepreneurial journey. Today we have a guest blog by Jessie VanderVeen, the Marketing Manager of TM Software a company that was born out of the financial crisis in 2008 within a large established IT company in Iceland. I think the story is inspiring and everyone who is part of a large organization can take note and innovate their customer service, product development or how you do your day to day activities. Here is the story of Intrapreneurship in Iceland:

By Jessica VanderVeen, Marketing Manager at Tempo

Tempo’s story is one of resourcefulness, resilience, and a bona fide need for adaptability and change during a time when Iceland’s economic environment demanded these very things. Our existence came to be out of a need to build agile solutions for real problems faced by real users — our own at TM Software.

TEMPO timelineBack in 2006, TM Software (a software development company headquartered in Reykjavík) implemented Atlassian’s popular project and issue-tracking platform, JIRA, throughout our organization. The developers on our custom web solutions teams loved JIRA, but were using an external platform to plan and track their time spent for client billing purposes, as well as for internal payroll. As a company that embraces Agile methodologies, this created a lot of hassle, headaches, wasted time, and even the possibility for inaccuracies. We needed an agile time tracking and planning solution that was so tightly integrated with JIRA, it felt like a part of the platform. We also wanted to measure how we used our time and whether we might improve our efficiency or better allocate our resources, and we needed reliable data to help us with those endeavors.

Initially, a handful of developers at TM Software was assigned to build the agile time tracking and resource planning plugin — now known as our Tempo Timesheets add-on — we so badly needed, and launched it for internal purposes. We ended up liking the solution we built so much, realized that there simply wasn’t a comparable solution available on the market, and launched it externally one year later with notable success.TEMPO facts

For several years, TM Software focused solely on building custom web solutions for customers, so the decision to launch into product development was a significant one — a leap that ended up benefitting us more than we initially anticipated.

We were able to accomplish this transition by bootstrapping: staying lean, making strategic decisions, and expanding only as our needs and resources evolved.

Continue reading

Why I love Twitter

Danielle Morielle Tweet Roll

Started writing this post before I left Iceland for Boston to run the Boston Marathon did not get time to publish it… better late than never, there are some gems in this Tweet Roll from Danielle. Check it out. This is one of the reasons I love Twitter!

If you have not been following Danielle Morrill on Twitter you should. She came to Iceland and spoke at a TEDx Reykjavik Event. Last night or until 3 hours ago GMT, she has been tweeting a storm on startup advice. It was awesome summary of all the things that I and many others try to write in long form. The tweets go with the hashtag dmorOH. Just simple stuff that every entrepreneur needs to keep in mind. There is a tribe of people who are going through the same things as you are, so connect with them and share with them and try to learn from them, that is way of the Force.

 

 

 

 

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Tinkering with the Business Model

Last evening we had Einar Gunnar Gudmundsson from Arion Bank speak at my Rotary Club, I have been a Rotarian for the past 7 years if you did not know. I have also been the President, Secretary and Treasurer of our club. Einar has been leading the effort to create Mentorship driven accelerators in Iceland, Einar is an entrepreneur himself and really understands the Entrepreneurial journey. I am very happy to say that we have 2 now in Iceland Startup Reykjavik established in 2012 and this year Startup Energy Reykjavik. It was an interesting talk about the journey to establish the accelerators, the process and the background why it was started.picture_business_model_canvas

A number of the Rotary Club members are owners of business but some are professionals in various fields. The questions that they were asking was very interesting, for example they really were amazed that a team could build something of value in 10 weeks, which is the length of time the accelerator runs. In addition to that they were surprised that there is no Business Plan development, and they really did not understand the notion of Tinkering with the Business Model.

Einar and I (given I am mentor in both these accelerators) were explaining to the group that when an Entrepreneur starts her journey, the path usually never clear so she needs to tinker her business model with customers. The Rotary members were also very surprised that the teams just did not spend a lot of time building the product or service. I have realised that the mainstream has so little knowledge of what an Entrepreneur does. Tinkering with all elements of the Business Model is what Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders do until you find the Product to Market fit, then you focus on building the product that is world class and they you scale the business and then you focus on efficiency of running the business. There is no change in this sequence. It is a business principle.

I like the statement that I usually make to those who have never built a business or gone through an accelerator or know anything about a Startup, a Startup is not a small form of a big company, it is an experiment, the entrepreneur has a number of hypothesis about the business model, customer segment, product features and delivery models but all these hypotheses have to be tested. The quicker you can isolate the pass/fail conditions for these hypothesis the better are the odds of continuing the startup idea forward. Doing this in an environment that has Mentors who have experienced this before and are able and willing to help the entrepreneur is a critical infrastructure need for any startup ecosystem.

The next set of question are common, does Iceland have enough ideas or deal flow etc Einar shared some of the data there were almost 73 applications for 7 slots for Startup Energy Reykjavik Accelerator and 253 for 10 slots in Startup Reykjavik this year. I have written about the Entrepreneurial Density before, I have seen it personally there is enough and more people in Iceland who want to take charge of their own careers and run their own businesses given the right environment, support, mentoring and funding.

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Startup Energy Reykjavik

Startup Energy ReykjavikIceland has one of the best infrastructures period. I don’t have concrete data to back up that claim, but I have almost no memory of a power cut or roads not being clean or no hot or cold water in the house. That is what world class infrastructure should be you just use it without knowing how the magic happens behind the scene. I have written about Geothermal energy harnessed in Iceland and also efforts to make more innovation and distruption in that space. I was excited to learn about Startup Energy Reykjavik, a Startup Reykjavik like Accelerator focused only on Renewable Energy based startups. It is fantastic to see many of the ideas that we talk about come into fruition. The program is run exactly like the Mentorship Driven Accelerator concept pioneered by TechStars and it is being applied to a specific industry vertical. It is great to see many mentors from the Geothermal and Hydro energy background volunteer and participate in this. I am really happy for Arion Bank to have taken the lead on fostering entrepreneurship and investment in this important field. I am volunteering as a Mentor, this is a very important vertical for startups to focus on and to create something new and disrupt the industry.

Here is a video of the Renewable Energy program in Reykjavik University, with Startup Energy Reykjavik we can build new sets of companies that can really make a difference. Building these infrastructures is the key building blocks to building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem in Iceland. Without this infrastructure GreenQloud could not have been created and there are numerous opportunities and I am really excited to see what problems the entrepreneurial community will take on to solve through this accelerator program.

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Building Startup Communities

Every city was once a startup, famous words spoken by Brad Feld when I have seen him position his book on Startup Communities. Where is the soul of the city, what makes cities thrive and fall? I think the basic building block of any city is the entrepreneurial spirit. That is why I believe the thesis that Brad has written about building startup communities resonates with me. I started on the journey to build a thriving or should I say Antifragile Startup Community in Iceland right after the collapse of the financial system in Iceland, because I believe the spirit of entrepreneurship was alive, kicking and can be rekindled. The motivation to organize Startup Iceland was rooted in that belief. How are we doing on this Startup Community building effort? well I think we are in Mile 1 of a 26.2 Mile marathon. There is a lot of work to do. I believe every entrepreneur needs to dream and have vision, but cannot loose sight of execution because Vision without Execution is Hallucination. I think the Startup Community in Iceland is executing. So, what else do we need to do? I think we need to harness a new breed of investors, create an investing platform and a market to clear the angel capital demand and supply. There is only one way to create a demand for Angel capital and that is by starting new ventures, we are addressing that with many initiatives like the Golden Egg Competition in January, Seed Forum, Startup Reykjavik and a number of entrepreneurial initiatives through Innovit+Klak, University of Iceland and Reykjavik University etc. I believe where we are struggling is creating a supply of Angel capital, in order to do that we need mentoring and a platform, I have written about creating an accelerator for Investors. I think we need to go further than that…angellistlogo

I think AngelList really provides the platform for anyone to build a syndicate to invest in Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is a lot of debate on whether it is going to kill the traditional VC business or not. I am not in the prediction business but any option that helps entrepreneurs and startups is a good thing. Those who have gone through the passage like we did with our previous investments, know that no-one knows how the future is going to turn out but one has to actively work to make any investment work. With that philosophy in mind, I am forming a syndicate to invest in Entrepreneurs and Startups in Iceland. I am no VC, but I think I have better track record than anyone in Iceland, we took a company all the way and in the process helped the Entrepreneurs and in the end every investor made money. I am not promising that we can repeat the process or the result, but we understand what we went through and that learning is valuable. Given what I have seen I think it is time for us to change the landscape in Iceland. Watch out for details of the initiative. Here is a Presentation of our strategy!

Iceland is Starting up

It is exciting to see the developments in Iceland as it relates to Entrepreneurship and Startups. There has been a number of developments right after Startup Iceland 2013 that I think are watershed moments. I believe the Startup Reykjavik program has come of age even in a very short history of only graduating 2 batches. We still don’t have big funding or acquisitions right after Demo Day yet but I am pretty confident the teams that have gone through the program feel a sense of believing that they have a fair chance to win or atleast reduce their odds of failure. Jon Von Tetzchner in IcelandAnd it was great to see that Jon von Tetzchner has just launched a Co-working space for Startups right here in Iceland. He should know a thing or two about building a Startup and building an environment that is conducive for Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is more and more support for startups and I believe the community is starting to believe as well. Carbon Recycle International another startup that has been in existence for quite sometime now just got a big cash injection from a Canadian listed company. The startup ecosystem is starting to diversify. All this being said, I still think that we need more policy support to ensure that companies at the early stage can really get a fair shot at breaking out. And obviously we could do with more funding options. There is just not enough people wanting to invest their time and effort to really get their hands dirty at building companies from an investor perspective. I think I know why…  there are so many easier options to make money than to invest ones time and effort and everything else in a startup or an entrepreneur.  My partners and I believe that it is worth it and we continue to invest our time, effort and money in the Entrepreneurs in Iceland. We have some ideas brewing so watch out for more news coming from us.

Startup Reykjavik 2013

Source: GreenQloud Share

Source: GreenQloud Share

Startup Reykjavik the mentorship driven accelerator for Startups organized by Arion Bank and Innovit+Klak announced the new batch of companies in Startup Iceland. Last evening, I participated in the Pitch and BBQ event organized by Startup Reykjavik. It was incredible to see the energy and the number of people who participated. The Startup Community in Iceland is starting to really get formed and this is a great feeling. I dreamed of this day and I am so impressed that it is happening right now. I had written about the strategy to reboot Iceland on December 15, 2011, it is amazing to see how the Startup Community in Iceland has risen from the ashes and is rebooting. It was exciting to see more than 150 people, I know this number because the Startup Reykjavik team ran out of hamburger buns and they had bought about 150 buns :).

It was awesome to hear the pitches of 5 teams that are part of Startup Reykjavik, the positive energy, the optimism and a sense of building something new was all there. I was even impressed that the new British Ambassador to Iceland was participating and seeing the energy. Met with a team from Copenhagen that is part of the Startup Community in Copenhagen and a lot of new faces. I am pretty sure we are moving in the right direction in Iceland, there will be bumps along the way but I am lot more optimistic about the prospects of startups coming out of Iceland from now.

There is still one thing that is bugging me, while we are creating the infrastructure to build new companies, it is painfully obvious that the investors are not present in these gathering. I saw a couple of them but I am pretty sure if you go to a similar event in Silicon Valley or New York or Boston or Austin, half the room would probably be filled with Analysts from Venture Capital firms. We still have a scenario where Entrepreneurs are chasing Investors in Iceland rather than the other way around i.e Investors chasing Entrepreneurs. That is the change I would like to see in Iceland, when that happens we are on solid ground.

SI2013 – Big Shout Out to our Sponsors

StartupIceland_with_Sponsors

Click on the picture for a larger image

It has been crazy and everything seems like a buzz, but I know Startup Iceland 2013 would not be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors. Reykjavik University for being extremely accommodating and having a Yes, we can! attitude about anything Entrepreneurial. Icelandair Group for always hearing us out and supporting initiatives. The US Embassy in Reykjavik with the leadership of Ambassdor Luis Arreaga and Eric Green. Siminn our new sponsor this year, coming up with a lot of new ideas to bring entrepreneurship from the largest telecom operator in Iceland. Nasdaq OMX, NSAFrumtak, Eyrir Invest, Arion Bank, Innovit + Klak, Deloitte, WEDO, NMI, GreenQloud, Olgerdin. The theme of this year is about building an antifragile startup ecosystem and community. With the diversity of sponsors supporting Startup Iceland, I think we have a fantastic base to build a bustling startup community. IMHO, Startup Iceland is about the entire community of Iceland and the World, it is not about high tech startups, its not about only the Internet or technology. We live in a connected world, and Iceland has a role to play as does every other country. Given the opportunity that lies before us, it is upto us to make hay when the sun shines (BTW, the weather forecast for the event does not look that promising, but I am an optimist). We have a very strong show of participation, over 217 (counted), possibly we could be adding another 30. We can only count the number of people who have registered but how many will show up, volunteer their hearts and minds and participate remains to be seen. I am forever in dept to many people who have volunteered their hearts and minds to put this event together (will follow up with a post about the organizing team of Startup Iceland). And of course all our speakers and mentors, who have been extremely positive about their participation and Iceland.

I am excited, thrilled, and beyond delirious about Startup Iceland, the event is 3 days away and I am nervous, lot of loose ends to tie up. Make the experience memorable for everyone participating and create a tradition of running events like this in Iceland. I would request all to bear with us, we are a Startup in our own right, if we screw up about anything… please accept our apologies. We mean well and I am eagerly looking forward to meeting each and every one of you and to the coming days. Lets do this!