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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

How Iceland Got Its Own Tech Conference

In late 2008 the financial system was collapsing in Iceland. Bala Kamallakharan, an Indian national who moved to Iceland to be a part of the booming financial sector took a look around himself and realized that the only way for Iceland to get out of their economic situation was to create faster, smaller companies that would create value in the short run.

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So in May of 2010 he convinced a bunch of partners and friends to invest in CLARA, which produces community analytics tools. It turned out to be a smart investment. Just last month, they were able to see a decent exit after Jive Software acquired CLARA for €6.8 million.

“But while working on CLARA, one thing I noticed was there was no startup ecosystem,” says Kamallakharan. With no real community to fall back on, entrepreneurs had to solve the same problems over and over again, an had no formalized paths for mentoring options.

So Kamallakharan started doing some research on building startup communities, and found Brad Feld’s blog, who was instrumental in transforming Boulder, Colorado into a thriving startup community. One day, Feld posted on his blog asking if anyone reading his blog was trying to build a startup community somewhere different. Kamallakharan then sent an email explaining what he was trying to do in Iceland.

“He pinged back and said he was reading this book called “Boomerang” [by Michael Lewis] which said how Iceland is sunk, everyone’s back to knitting sweaters, and so on. He said, ‘I don’t get it, you’re an Indian living in Iceland, investing in high tech startups?'”

After a few more conversations Brad Feld asked Kamallakharan to write a chapter in his book, “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City“, talking about what was going on in Iceland.

Feld asked how he can help grow the startup scene in Iceland, and Kamallakharan said to just come over. And using that momentum it became the genesis of Startup Iceland, the conference, which ran for the first time last year. Despite being their first startup conference on an island of 319,000, they were still able to sell over 300 tickets and get speakers like Brad Feld of Techstars, Brad Burnham of Union Square, the President of Iceland, and a number of other names from the U.S. startup scene.

The event is having it’s second lap in Reykjavik from June 1-4. The first two days will focus on a hackathon, and moving on to an “unconference” style sessions on different industries, and cumulating in the main event, where the main conference will take place.

Speakers this year include Ryan McIntyre of the Foundry Group , Helga Waage of Mobilitus, Nassim Nicholas Taleb – author of The Black Swan, and many others from the U.S. startup and investment scene. The full list can be found on their website.

One of the organizers, Paula Gould, helped bring in a lot of the speakers, and drew from her network of Women in Technology groups to put together a compelling program with about a 50/50 male-female ratio.

Tickets are on sale for $250, and it seems like one of the best excuses for entrepreneurs to justify getting over to Iceland and talk about building a vibrant startup ecosystem.

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