October 5, 2013
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…
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!
August 27, 2013
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. And 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.
July 12, 2013
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.
May 31, 2013
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, NSA, Frumtak, 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!
April 11, 2013
Met Jon Gnarr, the Mayor of Reykjavik. I have to say he was generous, attentive and really wanted to help with Startup Iceland Conference… we will have to wait and see what that would be. I think the most important thing that I learnt was that there are several free WiFi Hotspots setup by the City of Reykjavik and apparently not being used. I was both surprised and delighted to hear about this. I think WiFi is the killer app of this decade. Like everything else the City of Reykjavik does, no-one knows about the existence of the free WiFi, and rightfully the Mayor was surprised that there was not much usage. We agreed that the reason is probably because no-one knows about it. If any of you know of a website which lists all the Free WiFi’s in the City of Reykjavik, please post them in the comments section. I found this website WiFiCafeSpots.com, that lists all WiFi hotspots in the City of Reykjavik
Free WiFi Hotspots in Reykajvik
, but I think these are all Cafes and merchant shops that have free WiFi. I believe a modern city like Reykjavik needs to have WiFi has one the core infrastructures and to that end the Mayor of City agrees. It was really inspiring to meet him and get his support for Startup Iceland. I think he is very smart man and an Entrepreneur himself and super funny. He even came up with an idea to start a business! I think it is so funny that it might just work. You heard it here first, Mayor wants to pitch his idea of “Bingo Bar!” in Startup Iceland, it is a cool idea, everyone who walks into Bingo Bar and orders a beer gets a Bingo Card and the bar tender is rolling and calling out the numbers through out the evening and anyone who wins a Bingo, gets a Beer! it is so simple, smart and visual that I think it could actually work. So if you are an entrepreneur thinking about starting a business and do not have an idea here is one! you maybe able to get the Mayor of Reykjavik to work with you
Check out the Entrepreneurial journey of Jon Gnarr to becoming the Mayor of Reykjavik. I think he is an inspiration, being entrepreneurial, we take ourselves too seriously and maybe doing what he has done is really cool, he says in the interview below that when people elected the Best Party, they were voting for more honesty and fun. He said that he was going to do something the next 431 days he is in office. I don’t understand either why we have made Politics so boring and serious! Below you will find the link to an interview and the link to the Documentary GNARR
April 9, 2013
I have been writing a lot about Entrepreneurship and Startups, but I am not a big fan of the Cluster concept primarily because getting established companies to be Entrepreneurial is very hard because they look at different metrics and the incentive for the established companies to participate in Cluster building is a long term game, however established companies are relatively short term focused because they are trying to increase their yield on invested capital by getting more efficient on the operation, sales etc. On the other hand a startup in the same sector is more or less not too focused on efficiency, they are trying to exploit a weakness or a problem in the existing solutions, therein lies the challenge. It would take visionary leaders in established companies to harness, foster and encourage the building of a ecosystem around the sector that their companies are built in. This is exactly what Dr.Thor Sigfusson has done with his startup/project Seafood Cluster a.k.a Sjávarklasinn in Icelandic. It is fascinating to see how he has convinced established companies in the Seafood sector and new emerging companies to co-located in a building in harbor of Reykjavik. He has ambitious plans to expand the facility to allow more startups and established companies to have meetup spaces. It was exciting for me to watch this because Seafood is the sector that is as traditional as they come, we are talking about really established fishermen looking into working with young new startups, mentoring them and seeing if they can improve the established methods using new technology.
There is a wealth of information and reports around the concept, I have not read all the reports but I believe this is something that I believe can work. I like the idea and the execution of the fact that if you put new companies and established companies near each other and once they start talking magic usually happens. In addition, the same location has some support services like legal, marketing and publishing etc Think of this as an Accelerator for a startup in the Seafood Sector. I think the missing piece is what typical accelerators do which is a 3 month bootcamp like environment that basically focuses on the validation of the new startups and also getting investors to be part of the project. I think Dr.Thor Sigfusson has already done that because the Seafood sector or the Fishermen are the richest cohort in Iceland and they are starting to see the value of having such a place and are investing in this.
We have invited Dr.Thor Sigfusson to be a Speaker in Startup Iceland 2013, I think this concept needs to be communicated in the Startup Iceland platform, and he has agreed to do that. In addition, it would be interesting to learn from his talk what were the challenges, opportunities and road block that he had to cross to get this project off the ground. If you are interested you should definitely buy the tickets soon as they tend to run out fast.
March 22, 2013
Image via CrunchBase
I started on this journey to build a Startup Community in Iceland right after the Financial Collapse of 2008. What is needed when you need to create a lot of startups is an acceleration platform and I searched tirelessly for it and I bumped into TechStars and the first video I saw of TechStars I knew that is what we needed to have right here in Iceland. Here is that video:
And then I started viewing all the videos in the Founders – Techstars – Boulder. I was so inspired 3 years back and I went and met with everyone that I could to get Techstars to Iceland. I was extremely pleased to see that dream come true when Arion Bank took the initiative to launch Startup Reykjavik, which is part of the Global Accelerator Network which is the network of accelerators that is part of the Techstars program. If you have not watched the videos, I really encourage you to check out the TechStars TV channel in YouTube. Go to the videos that were loaded 3 years back. I get really inspired even today when I watch those episodes. What is this got to do with Startup Reykjavik? well there is only 6 more days to apply for Startup Reykjavik. If you are stuck in a dead end job and really don’t enjoy what you do here is a fantastic opportunity to go build a business. It is also for those of us who have always been saying that one day we will be our own boss (actually that never happens because you are always reporting to someone, either your board or investment committee or whatever but thats not the point, its about taking ownership of your destiny).
The 2012 program was the first accelerator in Iceland and I was very happy to see to complete and as far as I know many of the companies are still in existence and trying to create a business some have actually made more progress than others. It is a marathon and not a sprint, so I am looking forward to seeing some of these companies build a sustainable business in the future.
I volunteer as a Mentor in Startup Reykjavik and in every other Startup or Entrepreneurship related activity in Iceland because I have made that my life purpose. I want to help Entrepreneurs no Serve Entrepreneurs… I think that is a pretty good goal. Anyways enough about me. Have you applied yet? if you have been telling yourself you want to do something this is your chance like Nike says Just Do It.
March 18, 2013
Startup Weekend Reykjavik happend this last weekend. I volunteered again as a mentor and it was a lot of fun.
This time around the organizing team at Innovit had brought an external facilitator from the UK, and I was also impressed that the organizing team nudged the participants to aggregate around ideas that actually had some meat in the bones. In the previous few Startup Weekend that I have participated in Iceland, the challenge has been that some of the team members were married to their idea but the idea did not have a big enough market or potential of becoming a business. Anyways, the teams that were working on the ideas this time had some programming resources with them and some designers. It was obvious as they could actually develop the websites and have some working apps within the 54 hours of the weekend. There were 13 teams presenting at the end of the day, I met with most of them and talked to all of them and I learnt a lot and I was tempted to write a check to a couple of the teams, but realized that it would be too soon and the teams were not ready for that. I intend to follow up with the teams to see how they are doing and who knows maybe I will invest
Here is the coverage of the event in Icelandic, It was great to see a lot more mentors participate in the event.
I think what is missing is if an Angel Investor would show up and write a check at the end of the Weekend to the winning team and get them started on the journey to becoming entrepreneurs. My intention is to be able to do that here and also in Startup Reykjavik. I think we are starting to see the green shoots of yearly activities showing up in Iceland which goes back to the strategy of building a startup community here in Iceland. In my opinion, we are on Year II on the journey to building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem here in Iceland.
March 5, 2013
I am the first one to reject the notion that Ideas don’t matter, but to a certain degree they do. Usually a problem drives one to think about how to solve the problem. I actually like this video that talks about this, by the author of the book Where Good Ideas come from? Steven Johnson. There is one element of the video that really appeals to me which is connecting with other people, sharing our thoughts and idea actually helps in formulating, incubating and birth of new ideas. It was the basis for me to found Startup Iceland – A Conference where Entrepreneurs from all over the world could meet in person, share ideas, thoughts and take away a great experience and do it a place like Iceland which is inspiring in its own right. I get inspired every time I leave my home and start running in the running trails. What if we could expand on this notion? Would it not be wonderful if we could have a retreat- a place to basically kick back and let our ideas run loose? well, that is the ultimate plan. My partners and I are also in the Hospitality business, ie. we build hotels, invest in hospitality technologies and run hotels as well. Our intention is to build this retreat in Iceland.
I think it is not a bad idea if I say so myself. Now we just need to Execute and make it happen. There are several insights in the video about Ideas. I have not read the book but I think Accelerators and Incubators that I have been writing about are the same things, they put a bunch of motivated, smart people in a single physical space and let them interact and solve different problem. That is the same reason I love Hackathons, and we are promoting the periodic hackathon events by GreenQloud.
February 28, 2013
I have been thinking a lot about how to get new breed of investors into the fold of supporting the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. I think it would be great to have a mentorship driven accelerator just like TechStars or YCombinator focused on building Investors or Investment companies. I think everyone can learn from having mentors and advisors, even Warren Buffet had Ben Graham, time box the creation of the concept and get validation on a public forum and then go on to raise the money and build a venture firm. I wrote about the documentary “Something Ventured“, it was obvious all the early investors had some mentors and advisors who did not know much about startups or silicon valley but they acted as sound boards, what if we could create that here in Iceland?
I think the current club of investors is a crap shoot. It is an exclusive club of someone having pedigree, a wealthy family or should have been lucky to have been a entrepreneur who cashed in or lucky to be appointed as a fund manager by the government or a pension fund or a bank. I think this model is broken. I am sure there are very qualified people playing the role of investors in all these platforms, but I think there needs to be a better way to build a new generation of investors. Waiting for the new generation to successfully exit and return back as investors takes too much time. What if we could create an accelerator that allows anyone who is willing to go through the troubles and tribulations of an entrepreneur, but to become an investor?
The reason I have been thinking about this is because of all the nays I get when I suggest that we need to have more investors looking at startups and investing in startups. The more nodes we have in the ecosystem the stronger the node becomes and what drives people to take on the role of an entrepreneur is a supporting community that provides the environment but also the capital. I have said it before I will say it again, there is enough and more capital well within the confines of Iceland. I wrote about Local Capital a while back. I have come to believe the reason people don’t want to jump and do this is because it is a lot of work and you need to be willing to become a student even though you may have some money and success.
Now that we have a accelerator for Startups in Iceland called Startup Reykjavik, I think creating an accelerator for investment firms is not such a bad idea. The intention would be to create 10 investment companies, solicit applications, pair the teams with mentors, time box it for 3 months and at the end of the 3rd month run a investor day where the teams can present the idea of how they will run the investment firm. What do you think?