Icelandic Winners of the Nordic Startup Awards

Yesterday the Icelandic startup community got together at Reykjavik University, courtesy of Klak Innovit, Nyherji, and Stjornvisi, to find out who were the Icelandic winners Nordic Startup Awards 2015.

(photo credit: Haraldur Gudjonsson)

“We are proud to connect with the nordic startup scene and other community leaders through the Nordic Startup Awards. It’s a great platform to bring attention to the great dynamic within the Icelandic startup scene. Congratulations to all those who were nominated and to those who won their category,” Salome Guðmundsdóttir, CEO of Klak Innovit said when asked about the impact awards like these can potentially have on the Icelandic startup community.

The Icelandic winners of Nordic Startup Awards 2015 

The winners this year, who will compete at the Helsinki Grand Finale on May 26th, are:

Startup of the Year: Bokun
Best Newcomer: Mekano
Founder of the Year: Georg Ludviksson (Meniga)
Best Bootstrapped: Modio
Best Accelerator: Startup Reykjavik
Best Professional Investor: Sigurdur Arnljotsson (Brunnur)
Startup Journalist of the Year: Thorður Snaer Juliusson (Kjarninn)
Best Office Space: 27 Nyskopunarhus
Developer Hero: Kristjan Ingi Mikaelsson (AppolloX)

Thinking Big and Fast

Last year’s Icelandic Startup of the Year, Plain Vanilla, ended up winning that category at Oslo’s Grand Finale in 2014, so this year’s winner has large shoes to fill. Founded by Hjalti Baldursson and Olafur Gauti Gudmundsson, Bókun is a community-based software solution that enables the cross-selling of travel products to enhance revenues for those connected to the platform.

“We would like to think we are a community platform which enables travel service providers to collaborate and share resources. Since Iceland is one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the world with a great variety in terms of product offering – it’s been a perfect test market for us. We don’t see any big disadvantages, apart from the fact that we have to compete for a very limited source of tech talent,” Gudmundsson says when asked about the main challenges of launching in a small market like Iceland.

When asked about expansion plans, Gudmundsson explains that the Bokun Software has spread all over Iceland in just over a year.

“We’re confident we can replicate that success in other markets. In terms of expansion, we plan to enter six new countries this year. We are thinking big and fast, but not at the expense of profitability,” Gudmundsson adds.

Gudmundsson and Baldursson say that winning the Icelandic Startup of the Year at the Nordic Startup Awards is a big motivation for the team.

“This sort of recognition helps out with recruitment of the best technical professionals and can also give us a boost when entering new markets. When we have previously received awards and acknowledgements it has always opened up some new doors we did not know existed. So we’re feeling very excited and optimistic right now,” Baldursson adds.

A Catalyst in the Developer Community

Iceland’s Developer Hero, Kristjan Ingi Mikaelsson, is co-founder of Appollo X, an app production company founded by a team of young and highly enthusiastic entrepreneurs. Their first product was Blendin, a social network for party-goers.

“In 2013 I met a visionary that won me over to join him in solving a well known problem of connecting friends when going out. This vision, Blendin, was a great startup journey to say the least. We went to San Francisco and got our company funded as well as releasing the first version of the app. After a while we saw that it wasn’t the right solution for the current market so we moved onto our next journey, Watchbox, a platform built for groups to communicate through photos and short videos,” Mikaelsson explains.

Kristjan Ingi Mikaelsson says that they’ve had much better feedback from the Watchbox app than when they launched Blendin.

“We clearly saw that this was something to build on. The next few months will be used to improve the product and take it to the next level. From day one we have been determined to make something awesome that people love,” Mikaelsson adds.

But how did Mikaelsson get into developing apps and platforms?

“I started out building interesting solutions for me and my friends. It was fascinating how easy it was to build something that you could show to someone simply by giving them a link to your site. During college I started building some real solutions around my problems,” Mikaelsson explains.

Among projects that Mikaelsson worked on was a website for the student community at his university where they could find up-to-date information and a book exchange platform. He then went on to build a website that aimed at helping voters make up their mind in the parliament vote. The site went viral with over 50,000 users within the span of a few weeks.

“During this time I was mostly working alone and building things on my own with maybe one or two friends at the most. The grassroots support network was lacking and it was really hard to meet the best local people in the tech industry if you were just starting out,” Mikaelsson says.

But Mikaelsson took matters into his own hands and funded the OpenSource project Apis.is, which has the goal of helping developers get open data in a reliable way. Over the past few years the project has grown into a well known data aggregation platform and went viral last year related to Bardarbunga’s eruption as it provided some of the best publicly available data for scientists and developers to use.

“Driving the developer community here in Iceland was my top priority last year. My early work was recognised during the last year’s Nordic Startup Award event and that motivated me to push harder to grow the community here in Iceland. I organised a programmable quadcopter hackathon in collaboration with Reykjavík University and hosted the largest monthly get together where more than 100 people showed up each time to give talks and share their thoughts on software development,” Kristjan Ingi Mikaelsson concludes.

The winners of the Icelandic Nordic Startup Awards will compete against other Nordic finalists at the Helsinki Grand Finale on May 26th 2015.

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