Obsession and How It’s Driving Iceland’s Startup Ecosystem

August 29, 2016

3:00 pm

This is a preview of “Finding Obsession in Iceland”. To read the full post, head over to Techstars.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Iceland, a country I’ve long wanted to visit. My trip began with Startup Iceland, the annual event run by my friend Bala Kamallakhara. It was a terrific few days, starting with the launch of Ultrahack on Sunday night. On Monday, we were treated to opening remarks by the outgoing President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson who had been in office since 1996. He delivered an impactful talk about how technology has transformed society since he took office (while Bill Clinton was President); it was a real honor for me to meet a sitting president.

Bala assembled some captivating speakers including Hjalmar Gislason, VP ofPData at Qlik who shared his experiences scaling a startup to scaling a product for a NASDAQ company. We also heard from Magnus Bjornsson, Sr. Director of Development at Oracle which acquired Endeca, the startup where he headed up engineering. Among many others, I was really stoked to watch Techstars CTO Jud Valeski give a great talk on data and equally excited to have Techstars Managing Director Jenny Fielding join me and Bala for a fireside chat about the impact of the global accelerator movement. We all spent the next day at Reykjavík University working with a bunch of terrific startups.


I left Reykjavík the next day in a 4WD with Jud to do some exploring in the sparsely populated north highlands. As we bounced around the dirt roads, we spent a lot of time talking about how inspiring it was to see another entrepreneur-led startup community unfolding. Bala has adopted Brad Feld‘s Startup Communities as his blueprint and it’s easy to spot the familiar pieces falling into place that will surely make Reykjavík a city that’s going to produce its share of important startups for years to come.

I finished my time in Iceland by fulfilling a dream to spend a week side-by-side with my friend Chris Burkard, who many believe to be the most inspiring outdoor / adventure photographer in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with Chris, check out his Instagram feed or better yet, take a few minutes and watch his incredible TED Talk and you’ll see why he’s motivated so many millions of people to spend more time outdoors. We spent a week with a small group of passionate photographers exploring the remote Westfjords. The highlight for me was an absolutely epic hike from 6pm to 6am in the Hornstrandir nature preserve on the northern tip of Iceland, where I captured this shot of Chris somewhere around 1am.


While the week was truly remarkable and I learned so much, the most inspiring moments of my time with him occurred on the drive back to Reykjavík at the end of the trip. Instead of taking the 30-minute flight we had booked or a 6-hour drive on the highway, Chris decided we should drive through the most remote single lane and dirt roads in search of more great frames to shoot. We jumped in a Defender with his assistant Ryan in Ísafjörður and set out on a 24-hour adventure which crystallized for me why Chris has reached the pinnacle of his field.

This post was originally published on Mark’s blog and is only a preview of the post. To read “Finding Obsession in Iceland”, head over to Techstars.

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Mark Solon is a Managing Partner at Techstars. Previously, he co-founded and helped build Highway 12 Ventures and was a General Partner at Atlantic Capital Group. He shares his thoughts on startups and entrepreneurship at his blog – http://towriteistothink.com.

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