Hackathons are fairly common in Silicon Valley and while they’re starting to pop up in pockets around the world, Iceland may not be a place that immediately comes to mind when you think of start-up geek fests.

Reykavik, Iceland’s largest city and home to two thirds of its 320,000 people, recently held a Hackathon in conjunction with Start-Up Iceland, an event committed to helping local entrepreneurs build a thriving start-up ecosystem in the country.


Started by serial entrepreneur, angel investor and
Greenqloud CEO Bala Kamallakharan in 2012, Start-Up Iceland has not only grown in size
in just one year, but attracted top notch angel investors from the states, as
well as European and American entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

TechCrunch’s John Biggs presented, as did American venture capitalists Brad Burnham from Union Square Ventures and Foundry Group‘s Ryan McTyre and Jason Mendelson. To top that list, Iceland’s US Ambassador Luis E. Arreaga and the country’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson thought
the event was important enough to
show up to address the more than 300 attendees at
the beautifully designed conference center HARPA in the city center.

In true start-up conference style, the event kicked off with an UnConference led by Joshua Kaufmann and a Hackathon, held at the University of Reykjavik, where geeks gathered together to cook up some innovative ideas.


The Hackathon was free and open to students, hobbyists, professionals and frankly anyone who likes to hack on cool code and be creative. 


Startup Iceland Hackathon participants were asked to create and present hacks around the central idea that the world is undergoing drastic cultural, climate and economic shifts that impact global business.

As the founding organizers mission suggests: “Strengths lie not within avoiding catastrophe but in planning and mitigating problems before they arise. We can accomplish this by understanding the needs of the business community, anticipating the hurdles and creating proactive solutions.” Well said.


Above, locals present their ideas to attendees and a panel of judges and below, Seattle Angel Conference’s John Sechrest moderated a session.


Below the Hackathon finalists pose with American thought leaders and entrepreneurs.



Winners and finalists receive acknowledgement on stage.



The winner of the Hackathon was GreenQloud Automated Server Balancer, which is a collection of scripts that manage and change attributes to a GreenQloud hosted server depending on the load.

Simply put, when a user’s server is idle, only one system is running. Once the load gets to a specific point, a new system is activated, which allows for consistant performance across the board without wasting so much power. Lower Power usage, lower wasted dosh.

While green energy may be enviromentally friendly, it’s not unlimited, so their notion is that you should only use what you need. With their approach, you can efficiently waste the least amount of power with enough performance to do what you need.The team was awarded $1,000.   

Below, Bala does a fireside chat style interview with Ryan and Jason from Foundry Group.


The UnConference presented a host of great ideas, which were far more varied than what you’d find in technology hubs in the United States, largely because many of the needs and problems that locals need to solve on a Nordic Island are unique.


Some of the ideas included angel investing in Icelandic start-ups, the role of big companies in the start-up ecosystem, women’s role as investors, entrepreneurs and consumers, cultural barriers between those who have money and those who don’t, the value of mentoring, bootstrapping, what can be gained from a Pan-Nordic collaboration, growing Icelandic tourism through better customer service, attracting talent to Iceland and the importance of having a start-up friendly government policy.

Kudos to the Start-Up Iceland team and everyone behind the scenes who made everything happen, from the Hackathon and UnConference, to the more formal Start-Up Event at HARPA, which included a VIP dinner and the President’s speech.



I first heard Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson speak at PopTech, an annual event in Maine I’ve had the pleasure of attending and being involved in over the years. His presentation style is very warm and inviting and once again, he brought that quality to the stage. Below he gives a touching and inspiring talk to attendees.


The video of his talk below.


My takeaway went beyond the fact that Iceland now has a thriving and growing start-up community as demonstrated by Start-Up Iceland and the level of support for the event. Icelanders have resilience and dedication to making things work regardless of what is thrown their way.

Consider what the country went through in 2008 during
their financial crisis and how as a nation, they came out the other side as
committed and united, able to move forward with a team and “can-do” attitude,
something every startup needs to not just survive but thrive.

The fact that Iceland is a small country can be used to their advantage. Icelanders help each other out, share and cross pollinate ideas and don’t give up easily. Smaller communities in the U.S., such as Boulder
and Portland also implement more of a sharing and caring mentality, something
Silicon Valley could use a bit more of. As Foundry Group’s Jason Mendelson commented on a
panel, “in Silicon Valley, it’s more like every man out for himself.” 

We have a lot to learn from Icelanders and I felt fortunate to meet some of the early entrepreneurs who are helping to make Iceland grow and thrive as a global player in the entrepreneurial world.

Photo Credits: Distant shot of UnConference & Close Up of Coders at Hackathon from Start-Up Iceland Facebook page, all other photos Renee Blodgett.

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