pelskgra2nu-fabian-blank

The Technology Development Fund’s role in the Ecosystem

Everyone somewhat involved with startups in Iceland knows of TDF (Technology Development Fund). The fund gives out grants to a lot of companies, and is the lifeline of many in the early stages. While some might argue that angel investments are lacking in Iceland, the TDF definitely takes part in the early stage funding of the Icelandic startup scene.

With recent changes, the fund now offers bigger grants over a shorter period of time. Something that many had been calling for regularly. Last week the fund announced the first recipients of their new, big grant: $600k over two years ($300k per year).

TDF’s announcement:

Sprettur is a major grant, meant to support companies with good opportunity for big growth in the next five years. The companies need to show equity based funding to match the grant.

Obviously, great news for the companies. The one thing I’m puzzled about is the role of TDF in all this. As it is now, TDF and its vetting method (Business plan / excel sheet, who many will tell you is mostly made up) is the gatekeeper for government matching of investment money. Actually, this way the investors are matching the government money.

Now, I’m no expert on government matching programs, but this sounds a bit strange. Most matching programs I’ve heard of – be it Yozma BIRD, or varius angel matching schemes in Singapore, Korea or elsewhere – have the government funding following the investor, not the other way around.

I haven’t found any data on any of this, so I can’t make a judgment, but just based on basic intuition it would make more sense to me that the person making the decision have skin in the game, which is something the TDF definitely doesn’t have.

What do you think of this? Send me a message with your thoughts.

9_1486991769-_everest_vr_sherpa_on_rope_ladder

Everest VR to be part of permanent Everest exhibit at the Royal Geographical Society

VR producers Sólfar and RVX have donated their collaborative product, Everest VR, to the Royal Geographical Society in London. The VR experience will become a permanent part of their Everest exhibit.

Read More

cklhktcjzkk-aaron-burden

Feedback Friday: Stock Options in Icelandic startups

A couple of weeks ago I sent out a Northstack Memo titled “Do startups in Iceland offer stock options?” discussing whether companies used them or not, and if not, why. I got a lot of feedback on that post, some of which is published below. If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, shoot me a message.

  • Jenný: I sit on five startup boards. One has no share option plan, two initiated a share option plan to employees during the past two years and two implemented a share option plan which I handed to them. My feeling is that this is in pretty good shape in our portfolio. The first point on founders losing stake can easily be addressed with founder vs common class of stocks.
  • Founder: We offer options at my company and have used the new laws to do it in a flexible and nice way. We think it’s a necessary as a way to give a sense of ownership, and not only for the earliest employees, but also for the ones that will come later. I don’t think Icelandic startup employees think much of the value of their options, which is reasonable because most startups fail, or never become valuable enough for the options to gain massive value. It might be that Silicon Valley employees deem the options too valuable, but there’s probably some middle ground there that is correct.
  • Sigurður: We are focused on this. We want a minimum option pool of 10-20%, depending on the company. I think all VC’s emphasize this. We want the company to have options available to make recruiting easier and make the team better. A startup should pay lower salaries and give out options.
  • Helga: We don’t have options, but we have a bonus plan instead. In general, Icelandic employees don’t value options that highly. They mostly look at what they get paid every month, and don’t focus on the long-term possible upside; which is understandable, because there are very few instances of upsides affecting employees.
  • Haukur: I am a founder and CEO and I will definitely offer stock options when it comes to hiring, which I hope I can do Q2 this year. Especially in the early stages, I believe wholeheartedly that it will benefit the company morale and increase productivity. It was one of the things we specially discussed when noting up partnership agreements between the founders.
  • Investor: I’m not sure whether the company’s I’ve invested in offer stock options, but it seems common for early employees to get equity. It’ll be interesting to see whether the new law will make stock options more common. I think your speculations are largely correct.

You can sign up to the Northstack Memo here. Delivered (almost) every Monday to your inbox 🙂

1-7-capture-main-image

Vivaldi adds built-in screenshot options and more in new update

Vivaldi, the browser founded by former Opera founder Jon von Tetzchner has released a new version.

Read More

txkzueuheu-michael-hirsch

The Nordics aren’t going to be the next Silicon Valley

But they could be something even more exciting for a new generation.

“Si c’était à refaire, je commencerais par la culture.” Jean Monnet

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Silicon Valley is great. But every time I hear some one say that the Nordics could be the next Silicon Valley or paint Silicon Valley as the one and only recipe for innovative excellence I’m reminded of a report done by Endeavor Insight in 2014. In that report they tried to find the answer to the question: “what do entrepreneurs want in a city?”

Oddur Sturluson

Oddur Sturluson

And while there’s no question that Silicon Valley is the global tech and startup hub of today, the things we outsiders often do to emulate Silicon Valley don’t reflect the findings about what it actually is that entrepreneurs look for in a city (or even what makes Silicon Valley great for that matter). Above everything else, it’s about talent. And attracting talent is about having a place that’s nice to live and work in. The founders rarely mentioned low taxes or business-friendly regulations as reasons for their choice of location, and yet those factors are some of the most common improvements politicians, journalists and lobbyists call for. And that’s understandable. They’re quantitative, easily manageable and rational.

But people aren’t always rational and things that are immensely important to a successful startup ecosystem can often be unquantifiable. Of the 100 descriptive words entrepreneurs used to answer the question “Why did you choose to found your company in the city that you did?”, the words Tax and Girlfriend are side by side. That’s right. Dating plays roughly as important a role as taxation in that regard, and yet I have a hard time seeing local governments opening singles bars for entrepreneurs in an effort to attract talent.

What I imagine a government campaign to attract single, lonely entrepreneurs would be like.

Yet that’s exactly where our focus should be. No, not singles bars. Attracting talent. After all, if our goal really is to try and replicate the Bay Area’s success it’s worth noting that despite California being ranked as the least business-friendly state in the US, it tops them all in job creation. Then again, why are we trying to measure our success by some one else’s metrics? After all, as Adrià Hernández put it, “Imitating any success formula, in the best case scenario, limits you to second place, as you’ll never be able to beat the original playing the same game, with the same rules and less resources.”

The Nordics aren’t Silicon Valley. The culture, history and economy is vastly different. That doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to compete on though. Quite the opposite. A high standard of living, safety, creativity, equality, vibrancy. Things which matter and are only going to become more important in a world where traveling and working remotely becomes easier and spending absurd sums for the privilege of living in cramped quarters competing with millions of others for the same prize seems increasingly ridiculous.

For Scandinavians, trying to replicate the Silicon Valley brand of “startup culture” doesn’t make sense. Scandinavians don’t do 80 hour work weeks and unbridled optimism. We do social responsibility and life-work balance. In a future where access to knowledge and talent is increasingly international, offering entrepreneurs a sustainable lifestyle is going to count for a lot more when it comes to creating a leading startup ecosystem. While the Nordics still face challenges (reforming immigration regulations, access to capital, etc.) the foundation for a truly revolutionary creative and innovative future is already in place. And for us, it won’t look anything like Silicon Valley.

This is a guest post by Oddur Sturluson, project manager at Icelandic Startups. You can find him on Twitter.

16300468_1857363701142722_58660628295245837_o

Icelandic Payment Startup Memento chosen Best of Show at Finovate 2017

Memento, the company behind Kass – the payments app whitelabeled by Íslandsbanki last year – was chosen Best of show at Finovate 2017 in London.

Read More

siglo-ski-lodge-er-stadsett-a-siglufirdi2-ljosmyndari-markus-rohrbacher

Ten startups participating in Startup Tourism

Yesterday, Icelandic Startups announced the ten companies that will be participating in Startup Tourism 2017.  From the announcement:

“Startup Tourism received 94 applications this year, which is an increase of about 29% from last year. The selection committee emphasized products and services which could increase recreation options, strengthen infrastructure and support the distribution of tourists all across Iceland, all year round.”

Read More

allir-saman

Tulipop introduces new product line with US toymaker Toynami

Tulipop, maker of the cute figures from Tulipop island, is launching a new product line with the US toymaker Toynami. The product line includes plush toys, piggy banks, and small vinyl figures that will be sold in Happy boxes.

Read More

sidekick_health_cofounders

SidekickHealth maker Goodlifeme raises $1.5m round led by Frumtak Ventures

Frumtak Ventures just announced a $1.5m investment into Goodlifeme AB, maker of Sidekick Health. Other participants in the round include Tennin ehf. and other investors.

This investment gives our team of physicians, psychologists, public health professionals and game developers the opportunity to deepen SidekickHealth’s global reach, particularly in the United States,” said Tryggvi Thorgeirsson, co-founder and CEO of Goodlifeme said in a statement.

sidekickhealth_banner

Sidekick Health is a lifestyle companion app, utilizing insights from behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, and evidence based guidelines from the US CDC, to enhance the effectiveness of lifestyle education and coaching.

According to the statement, the app has shown great benefit to its users:

To date, companies and health organizations that have augmented in-person Diabetes Prevention Programs (DPPs) and employee fitness initiatives with SidekickHealth have seen an 82% retention rate among participants over a 4-month period, 76% increase in participant weight loss, and a 65% reduction in soda consumption.

Eggert Claessen, managing partner of Frumtak Ventures: “SidekickHealth’s solution … presents a significant opportunity to positively impact the wellbeing of employees and patients, while also reducing health-related overhead costs for enterprise companies and organizations globally.”

Picture is of Sidekick Health co-founders Tryggvi Þorgeirsson and Sæmundur Oddsson.

vw8mubhyxcu-jonathan-riley

Innovation Center Iceland opens co-working space in New York

Innovation Center Iceland (NMÍ), the government institution tasked with projects focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, is entering a partnership with other Nordic countries to open a co-working space in New York City.

Read More

Page 1 of 21

Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene