Iceland Startups and Mapping

While in Iceland I dropped by Startup Reykjavik for an informal meet and greet with the current crop of companies being incubated/accelerated. I also paid a visit to the Land Survey of Iceland to chat about mapping and related spatial data issues.

Startup Reykjavik is the brainchild of Balla Kamallakharan, whom I coincidentally met in San Francisco earlier this year. Iceland is a funny country–it is old (arguably the first parliamentary democracy) and young (geologically speaking). It also went through some seismic (pun unavoidable) shifts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The economy has certainly rebounded, with GDP growth outpacing the rest of Europe since 2009.

Back to startups– a nascent culture in venture investing, small market size (300,000 people!) and tight capital controls since the meltdown has made it hard for startups to be a ‘thing.’ Some teams were wrestling with business models– my instinctive advice was to hold off on any clear path to monetization, but that often runs counter to the more conservative investor profile. Maybe this means Iceland becomes home to a VC-lite class of capital, one that is a bit more risk averse, but also more patient. Certainly returns won’t be the same as US investors would expect, but if you have only lemons…

My advice for these folks was to couchsurf to Silicon Valley to meet, meet, meet and network, network, network. Nothing is worse than pitching an anachronistic concept/technology to investors!

Land Survey of Iceland

A few days later I met with Magnús Guðmundsson, the Director General of the Iceland Land Survey, and two of his colleagues. Most countries have some kind of agency that oversee spatial data, and Iceland is no different. However, with a staff of less than 30 and annual budget of around USD$2.5m, it’s just hard to get it all done.

NLSI has primarily been an ESRI shop, and for those in the know, it’s clear how costly and limiting that can be. When I asked about the use of open source mapping technologies, I learned there was very limited expertise in software development available within the agency. This wasn’t too surprising as technology often outpaces organisational change.

The Land Survey does collaborate with Nordic countries and is able to leverage their technology skills; the hope is that as open source tools improve, they will be more facile to the generalist.

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