Editorial note: This is a guest post by Kristoffer Lawson, the Travelling Salesman. He’s on a 10 000 kilometre drive to meet Nordic startups. ArcticStartup is supporting the project, by covering his travels and findings.
There are very few countries I would consider living in permanently. Places that I feel I could end up calling a home. Iceland is now one of them. The arrival by Smyril Line ferry was immediately majestic with those eery misty cliffs rising gently above the sea as I approached bohemian Seyðisfjörður along that 20km fjord to eastern Iceland. It set the mood perfectly. This was to be followed by travel through boiling earth and volcanos to the heart of the Icelandic startup scene, Reykjavik, where my fiancée also had flown for an all-too-short visit to experience this mystical location.
There Microsoft Iceland had put together a great Travelling Salesman meetup with one super presentation after another, and many of the most interesting tech companies from Iceland showcasing their work. I especially appreciated the variety of companies, with no limitations on them being in any way linked to Microsoft, thus giving a truly authentic feel. The message of free software for startups, through their BizSpark programme, was thus well accepted, as well as the Imagine Cup entrepreneur/technology competition.
The event was in a wonderful cafe called Rubin which was a highly atmospheric fair, being built into rock and, in true Icelandic eccentric fashion, situating beside a rather trendy looking bowling center.
The companies there were of top notch quality, and from many different backgrounds. Locatify, for instance, was taking a brand new twist on the digital travel guide segment by providing very lively and vivid storyboard style guides. Lonely Planet is great, but it is mostly facts and information, with the odd anecdote. There’s a market and need for that, but Locatify makes your travel experience into a story, especially suited for Iceland and its strong storytelling tradition (a fact that popped up time and time again during the evening).
But the fun didn’t stop here. Elinora was, in many ways, the very opposite of the high tech social media mobile cloud crowdsource things, with young entrepreneurs and (often) little actual moneymaking. She is selling fish skins for dogs. Online. Her background is not in technology, yet she is using it to slowly build up a business with buyers coming from many countries, and all swearing by the product.
As many have no doubt realised, I do like my cars. So I pricked my ears up when Nuevo Vehicles started talking about their one-wheel drive electric car. The way it works is they have a single driving wheel close to the center of the vehicle, and four other wheels which are just there to stabilise the car, but turn freely according to wherever the vehicle is moving. This allows a Nuevo vehicle to be parked by driving sideways!
I am not yet sure how well they have solved the practicalities of traction and steering grip with a one-wheel solution like this, but I would love to see how it works in practise, so I’ll definitely be waching them.
Another favourite for me was Mindgames, which is using fairly cost-effective headsets to read your mind. OK, maybe the actual reading is still on quite an abstract level (are you concentrating or relaxed), but it was loads of fun passing through relaxation levels and seeing how just your state of mind would affect the game. With the way things are going, and if the reading process gets more accurate, who knows what possibilities this has in the future. The best is that this is now affordable for anyone, with a new version of the headset costing around 100 euros. This could lead to a whole new genre in gaming.
The creativity of these people and companies was simply astounding. Remember that Iceland is a country with around 300,000 people. That’s half of only Helsinki, without even including Espoo and Vantaa. They’re also going through a bitter financial crisis. Yet here these people were creating new things and new businesses, with no loss of enthusiasm. I was told this is very much an Icelandic quality. They’ve seen much worse in the past, and survived. They are ever keen to move forwards.
However it was not only Reykjavik and these startups which got me hooked on the country. It was the land itself. To drive through some of the oddest and most remote places on this planet was an indescribably wonderful experience. In a matter of days we walked between teutonic plates, relaxed in naturally hot geothermic pools, heard the creaking sound of glaciers breaking up, saw fountains gushing out of the ground and drove through some of the most otherworldly landscapes I have ever been to. As a big fan of things like Star Trek and Doctor Who, it was like being able to actually walk on the face of some of those alien worlds. It made me want to write, to paint and to create new things, in a manner which very few places do. The greatness of those surroundings inspire you to strive to be great yourself.
It is with a heavy heart that I say adieu to Iceland, for the ferry did indeed pick me up as planned. One week was all I had. But if the other Scred founders were for it, I wouldn’t say no to moving…
Startup Weekend in Iceland.
Travelling Salesman event in Cafe Rubin.