Out of Their Shell

aurora abalone reykjanes

The Reykjanes peninsula is barren, even for Iceland. About two-thirds of it is covered by lava fields, nary a tree to be seen. The skyline stretches flatly in most directions, the mountains more modest than elsewhere in the country. The peninsula juts west into the North Atlantic, first in line to receive the low fronts […]

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New Daycare Providers to Receive ISK 1 Million in Start-Up Funding

Reykjavík City Hall ráðhús

Reykjavík’s City Council recently passed a proposal stipulating that new daycare providers receive a startup grant of ISK 1 million ($7,300 / €6,700). The Chairman of the Council believes that the proposal will result in significant cost savings for parents, Vísir reports.

Same fee for daycare and kindergartens

On Thursday, June 15, the City Council of Reykjavík approved a proposal stipulating that daycare centres that commence operations in Reykjavík will receive a start-up grant of ISK 1 million ($7,300 / €6,700). ISK 250,000 ($1,800 / €1,700) will be paid upon the signing of a service contract, and ISK 750,000 ($5,500 / €5,000) a year later. In addition, the City of Reykjavík will organise and pay for an accident prevention course every two years for all daycare providers, Vísir reports.

Einar Þorsteinsson, the Chair of Reykjavík City Council and future mayor, highlighted a significant change in the recently agreed proposal; under the new arrangement, parents will pay the same fee to the daycare centre as they would for kindergarten once their child reaches 18 months of age. As noted by Vísir, the ruling coalition had previously promised that children as young as twelve months could enrol in kindergarten.

“The city’s rules stipulate that children should be admitted by the age of eighteen months,” Einar told Vísir. “Ensuring equal treatment for parents, regardless of whether they opt for daycare providers or the preschool system, is important. The new proposal aims to achieve this by implementing a uniform fee structure. It also aims to support families who have been on the kindergarten waiting list for an extended period by covering their expenses.”

Einar maintains that parents’ payments are being reduced by tens of thousands of króna per month. “Alongside this proposal, we’re also advertising for housing among private parties. We are specifically seeking ground floors, mobile units within open-air playgrounds (i.e. gæsluvellir), and unused retail spaces that could potentially serve as suitable locations for daycare facilities. These spaces may not be suitable for kindergartens, but they meet the requirements for daycare services.”

The new proposals are not unfair to those who already work as daycare providers, according to Einar: “These proposals are aimed at increasing the number of daycare providers, improving their working environment and conditions. Reykjavík’s School and Recreation department had a good meeting with both of the two daycare parents’ associations, and the proposals take into account their views.

East Iceland Startup Makes Beverages Flavored with Locally Foraged Herbs

A start-up in East Iceland is producing nonalcoholic beverages using wild, Icelandic herbs, Austurfrétt reports. The company, Könglar (meaning ‘pine cones’), has been selling its beverages at restaurants throughout East Iceland since earlier this year and aims to be a truly local product. “People are always asking us if it’s possible to get [our drinks] in the [capital area],” says marketing manager Brynjar Darri Sigurðsson. “And we always say, ‘no, you have to come out East.’”

Producer Dagrún Drótt Valgarðsdóttir got the idea for making natural beverages from local, Icelandic ingredients after sampling a blueberry drink made in Finland. “We started to wonder if we could use that method using the nature we have here,” she says.

Könglar received subsidies from the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað, as well as the government’s Food Fund, which aims to “strengthen development and innovation in the production and processing of food and by-products from agricultural and marine products,” with an emphasis “on innovation, sustainability, value creation and the competitiveness of Icelandic food throughout the country.”

Thus far, the company’s beverages, all of which have names inspired by local folk tales, include a lovage drink, a dandelion iced tea, and a rhubarb soda. Dagrún says their focus has been “to use what’s around us as much as possible” instead of opting for imported produce or ingredients that aren’t native to Iceland. So, for instance, if they want the flavor profile of a tart, green apple, they use rhubarb, which is plentiful in East Iceland. In the future, Dagrún says Könglar would like to use their same production and infusion methods to make herbal-flavored beers and wine.

Follow Könglar on Instagram, here.

Icelandic Trivia App Off to Winning Start

Teatime Games, a startup based in Reykjavík, has won over trivia nerds around the world with Trivia Royale, its new “social gaming” app, Mbl.is reports. Teatime Games is the newest endeavor of CEO Þorsteinn B. Friðriksson, who cofounded the wildly popular QuizUp seven years ago. Trivia Royale builds on the success and basic format of QuizUp, but gives it a new, interactive twist.

Per the Teatime website, “Trivia Royale pits players from across the globe against 1000 opponents in thrilling tests of knowledge to become a ‘Royale’ and earn a coveted spot in the exclusive ‘Royale Lounge.’” Players do so by winning a series of five-question ‘duels’ against individual opponents in their bracket until they are ‘the last man standing.’ (If you lose a duel, you’re out.) This ‘royale’ structure is key to some of the most popular games in the world, says Þorsteinn, pointing to massively multiplayer games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite.

Personalised avatars are also one of the app’s big selling points – the app’s “augmented reality face filter” technology (called Gamesfaces) protects players identities while simultaneously using their camera phones to pick up their actual facial expressions. Paired with chat features, the Gamesfaces technology is intended to make the app more social and personal, or, as it says on the website, “Watching your opponent’s reaction when you deal the winning blow can be priceless.”

Screenshot, Teatime Games.

Teatime was founded in 2017, about a year after QuizUp was sold to a company in the United States. It currently employs about 20 people in its downtown Reykjavík office, not counting the question authors, most of whom are contractors based in the US, and the programmers, who are based all around the world.

Since its founding, the startup has launched several games “with mixed results,” says Þorsteinn. But each one has been a learning experience. “You’re always going up and down in this business,” he remarked. “It’s definitely always a roller coaster.” For now, however, Trivia Royale is riding high. The app was launched on Wednesday, and by Saturday, was already ranked the 17th most popular game in the US and was enjoying even more popularity in Europe. (Indeed, by Saturday, it was the #2 most popular trivia game in the US.)

But Þorsteinn isn’t resting on his laurels and is wary of “declaring victory right away. We’ll let a few days pass,” he remarked cautiously. “These are definitely good indicators and the game’s popularity is promising.”

Vocational Education and Start Up Support Keys to Boosting Economy

Central Bank Governor Ásgeir Jónsson says vocational education and financial support of start-up companies are the key actions needed to boost the Icelandic economy. Ásgeir shared those thoughts at an open meeting with Alþingi’s Economic Affairs and Trade Committee this morning, RÚV reports. The Central Bank’s economic forecast for the next two year has worsened.

“I am admittedly not speaking as the Central Bank Governor now but […] we have placed too much emphasis on book learning. We are seeing a lot of dropouts from secondary school and are seeing too many people who don’t receive education in any particular field and go out onto the labour market without education. I think we need to in some way emphasise vocational training much more.”

Worse economic outlook for 2020 & 2021

The Central Bank announced yesterday that its key interest rate would be lowered by 0.25 percentage points to 2.75%. The interest rate was lowered 1.5% last year (in stages) to 3.0%, a historic low that has now been outstripped.

Though leading indicators suggest that GDP growth was stronger in 2019 than previously assumed, the outlook for 2020 and 2021 has deteriorated, according to the Bank’s new macroeconomic forecast. Published this month, the forecast projects GDP growth will measure 0.8% this year, compared to 1.6% that was predicted in the November forecast. According to the Central Bank, “The poorer outlook is due primarily to headwinds facing the export sector and tighter financing conditions for domestic firms.”

Icelandic Collagen for Sale on Amazon

An Icelandic company is using fish by-products to produce sought-after collagen supplements and skin products. Feel Iceland, founded in 2013, is now selling their products in Denmark as well as in the United States via Amazon.

“The idea for the business sparked because my father-in-law has a little fishing company in the Westfjords, and I was sort of following what we’re doing with Icelandic fish products,” Hrönn Margrét Magnúsdóttir, one of the company’s owners, told RÚV. “I found we were exporting the raw material quite a bit and not creating many products here at home.”

Hrönn began to do some research, and found that collagen, which could be produced from fish by-products, was popular as a supplement among Japanese women and in cosmetic products. “Collagen is a really neat substance because it’s one of the structural proteins of the body and has such a broad influence, it’s really both for health and for appearance, skin and so on,” explained Kristín Ýr Pétursdóttir, the company’s other owner.

The collagen used in Feel Iceland’s products is produced in Canada, as the technology and equipment required are not available in Iceland. The rest of the production, however, is done in Bíldudalur, in the Westfjords, and Grenivík, North Iceland. The company’s main product is collagen powder, which can be added to food or drinks as a health supplement.

“We just started selling on Amazon in the US and we’re selling in Magasin du Nord and through Danish dermatologists, and then I’m going to China next week because we just got a distributor there,” Hrönn stated. “We have grown slowly but steadily but now we find there’s a lot of growth because collagen has become a very popular dietary supplement around the world and there are always more and more studies that show it’s very effective.”

New Business Accelerator Focuses on Creating Value from Waste

A new business accelerator program pushing competitors to successfully design a new product or service in a matter of weeks has already yielded a number of innovative ideas, such as cosmetics made from carrots and beets which would otherwise be thrown out as waste. RÚV reports that the program, called Til sjávar og sveita (‘At sea and in the country’), is the first accelerator in Iceland that is especially geared toward the agriculture and fishery sectors.

The Til sjávar og sveita accelerator is operated by Icelandic Startups in collaboration with the Iceland Ocean Cluster and the support of IKEA, the Iceland’s Culinary Treasures project, the seafood company HB Grandi, and the Agricultural Cluster. Seventy applications were received for this year’s program; ten were selected. These participants spend seven weeks developing their ideas under the guidance of experienced entrepreneurs.

Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir, a project manager at Iceland Startups, says that one of the primary foci of the accelerator is utilizing materials that would otherwise be wasted, to create value from something that currently, is worth nothing. The competition, she says is intended to be a springboard for entrepreneurs and a venue for them to get assistance in building the next generation of companies within Iceland’s base industries.

Melkorka explained that so-called ‘mentor meetings’ form the backbone of the accelerator. Experts from across the industry spectrum take part in 30 meetings with the participating teams with the goal of accelerating the process from concept to complete product or service.

Three of the current teams are technology related and are working to develop technological solutions in the agricultural and fishing industries. The remaining seven are product-related, with ideas stemming from both industries. Among the various ideas currently being developed are a high-speed technology that prepares DNA diagnostic tests, a beer brewed from potato skins, digital fishing books, and drinkable carbonated sea water.

Start-Up to Begin Algae Cultivation at Hellisheiði Power Plant

The international start-up ON Power will soon be starting an algae cultivation facility at Hellisheiði Power Plant just outside of the Reykjavík capital area, RÚV reports. The company’s owners believe that it won’t be long before algae will be a viable source of protein and nutrients which can be added to a variety of food products.

ON Power signed a 15-year contract with fellow start-up company Algaennovation concerning the sale of resources and property near the Hellisheiði power plant to begin their algae cultivation operation.

Microalgae are an important source of nutrients for animals in the wild and an equally viable as a source of vitamins for human beings. In the beginning, says Berglind Rán Ólafsdóttir, ON Power’s corporate market director, the company intends to cultivate microalgae as a food source for bait fish and then incrementally expand into using it in aquaculture, i.e. as food for farmed fish intended for both animal and human consumption.

In the long term, says Algaennovation founder Isaac Berzin, the is not so much to sell algae as a consumable end-product, but rather to treat and process it so that proteins may be extracted from it and added to other foods.