On Wednesday, some 100+ people met in Estonia to help startups develop their businesses further in a Seedcamp Tallinn event. Seedcamp's Carlos Eduardo Espinal said that it is about time the organisation came to Estonia as 6 of their investments are from just Estonia and even more from Eastern Europe. I joined the event as an observer, but also as a mentor to give my feedback to the companies.
I find myself at the venue, Tallinn's IT College, around 10 and immediately begin to wonder what makes this place so special that they have two secret service type guys directing traffic in the parking lot.
As I walk into the auditorium, I find it packed with only a few vacant seats here and there. A really good crowd, not only in numbers, but also in terms of their background and experience.
After the financial collapse, Iceland finds itself at a perfect time to embrace entrepreneurship. The country has the education and tech talent needed to support new industries, but being an economy of 300,000 people in the middle of the Atlantic leaves entrepreneurs without much hands-on support. To help kickstart a new era is Iceland's first accelerator, which is taking applications right now and is starting this summer.
StartupReykjavik is built in the Y Combinator / Techstars model where entrepreneurs are mentored for 10 weeks and then pitch to investors at a Demoday. Accepted companies are also given 2 000 000 ISK (€12 000) for a 6% stake, a place to work, and free services. The deadline to apply is May 7th, and the program starts the 1st of June.
This show will crack you up! We interviewed Antti Ylimutka and Ville Simola of Startup Sauna today. We discussed the backgrounds of the incubator/accelerator as well as where it will go in the future. Startup Sauna is one of the most well known and most respected accelerators in Northern Europe that has helped companies raise more than $12 million over the couple of years it has been in existence. Quite impressive, considering how it all got started.
We'd also like to thank our sponsor for this week - Kisko Labs, for supporting the show. Kisko Labs makes people happy by solving their problems with digital services. They've got a neat offering called Kisko Kickstart that will develop an idea into a minimum viable product in five weeks. This helps companies understand how the idea would work in a business environment.
In a huge move against net neutrality in the Nordics and abroad, the mobile operator TeliaSonera announced in their January-March interim report that they will now "start exploring new business models" to combat lost income from customers using VoIP services on their smartphones. The report does not give any specifics on the pricing of the tiers, but says it will be launched starting in Spain in one month, and in Sweden this summer.
Vivino has recently launched the second version of their wine app that allows users to get information and recommendations of almost any wine. Aside from providing database of around half a million bottles, the Danish startup has a pretty useful angle on the wine concept. The wines you most want to buy again are the ones you've already had -- like at a party or at a restaurant. You could rant and rave about a wine, but the next morning or a week later you've likely forgotten the name, or even if it was a red or white.
SkySQL a Finnish provider of affordable MySQL & MariaDB database solutions, has announced that it has raised $4 million (€3 million) in Series A investments. The funding round was led by Finnish Industry Investments Ltd. (a government-own venture capital company), as well as Spintop Ventures, Open Ocean Capital, and U.S.-based OnCorps.
SkySQL serves customers such as ATOS Worldline, Canal+, Deutsche Telekom, ClubMed, Lotte.com, La Poste, Constant Contact and Virgin Mobile, and has operations in Asia, Europe, and North America. The company provides products and support for both enterprise and cloud architecture, and one of its selling points is having original talent from MySQL AB.
Eucalyptus, led by the former Finnish CEO of MySQL Mårtin Mickos, has raised $30 million (€23 million) in series C funding. The round was led by Institutional Venture Partners, Benchmark Capital, BV Capital, and New Enterprise Associates, bringing the company's total funding to $55.5 million (€42.4 million).
Both aggregating content and enabling social discovery is Qulart, a Malmö-based startup that at a first glance comes somewhat as a stylish, pre-loaded RSS reader with a lot more features to tailor content to your interests. Qulart is designed to be accessible to users the first time they log in, and is useful in different ways. If you don't have a lot of time Qulart gives you an efficient way to share and discover content most important to you. And if you want to spend more time on it, Qulart lets you add in your own RSS feeds, make your own lists, and share your favorite finds.
The application looks well designed, and on a laptop I'm a big fan of the horizontal scrolling you use to run through the lists of content. The pre-loaded lists include topics like News, business, sports, humor & awesome, music, lifestyle, and architecture. Qulart says they're not trying to build another social network, but for more content you can also dig through what your friends have liked, which helps tailor more content towards you.
Transferwise, the currency transferring service, has raised $1.3 million (€0.99 million) to expand their team and help bring their service to more currencies. The company was started by two Estonian entrepreneurs, Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarmann, and is based in London.
The investment was led by IA Ventures, Index Ventures, Max Levchin (co-founder of Paypal) and a group of strategic investors -- such as Errol Damelin, the founder of Wonga. In an interview with ArcticStartup, Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus, the first employee at Skype, described this fundraising as not only a path to expand, but also a strategic way to get the best team together behind the project.
The Russian search giant Yandex yesterday announced a new step toward integrating its electronic currency, Yandex.Dengi – which translates as Yandex.Money – with bank systems. Users of this virtual currency can now obtain a MasterCard debit card tied to their Yandex.Dengi account and make payments using funds from Yandex.Dengi.
The co-branded card can be used worldwide online and offline, wherever MasterCard is accepted. In addition, authenticated Yandex.Dengi users can withdraw cash from ATMs using a PIN code available upon request.
Visma has acquired Agda, a Swedish software company specializing in solutions for Human Resource Management (HRM) and Payroll. Agda has become a large player in the payroll market in Sweden, generating approximately 525,000 pay-slips on a monthly basis corresponding to 25% market share. Visma already provides payroll software, and with the acquisition Visma will now generate 2.3 million pay slips each month, becoming the payroll market leader in the private market of Sweden.
Spring is here, meaning a new crop of Startup Sauna teams have sprung up. The Helsinki-based program has continued to accept more teams over its 5 batches over the past 2.5 years. Antti Ylitmutka, one Wingman of the program says, "We are really excited, as not only we are a wide range of different cultures in our batch, but this is the biggest amount of teams that's taking part in the program. Last year, we had about 15 teams per session. This year, we have 20! We have also expanded our coach network to accommodate such a group. These 20 teams as a group looks really determined, some of them are traveling very far to get here. "
Of the twenty teams, 8 teams are from Finland, 3 from Russia, 2 from China, 2 from Poland, 2 from Lithuania, and one each from Estonia, Italy, and the United States. Over 300 teams applied, making the acceptance rate about 6 percent. The program officially starts April 23rd, with the Demoday ending the program on June 7th.
Helsinki-based Web Of Trust noted on their blog yesterday that Google has changed its policy to disallow WOT and other website reputation services from showing reputations of the sponsored links shown before the search results. As lauded in this blogpost on the official Google blog, Google took down or disallowed 130 million malicious ads on their network in 2011 -- a 50% increase from the year before.
This is fantastic, but malicious ads do continue to slip through the cracks. In January of this year the BBC reported on Google profiting from ads sponsored by illegal Olympic ticket resellers, as well as illegal services such as fake ID cards, fake passports, and cannabis.
Something doesn't sit well with Google's policy change to control what external browser plugins can do with their search results. Google clearly decided that the marginal decrease in user safety was worth the money they could bring in from clicks to websites with a poor reputation on Web Of Trust and other website rating services. How does this fall in line with their "Don't be evil" mantra?
Ditto has just announced that it has been acquired by Groupon. While being registered into the US, Ditto has been founded by Jyri Engeström the co-founder of Jaiku. Jaiku was a Finnish company that was sold to Google in 2007. There is no announcement on the price of the acquisition, but by all factors it looks like an acquihire. In other words, Groupon is acquiring the team behind Ditto. Nevertheless, an exit is always an exit.
According to the blog post, Ditto will be pulling the plug on their applications on April 30th. The Ditto mobile application was available to users on the Nokia and Apple platforms. The service allowed people to tell before hand what they were going to do, as to allow for more spontaneous meet-ups. In addition to this, you were able to leave out the specific place you were going to, which allowed for crowdsourcing of ideas from your friends.
It what seems like a natural move for today's increasingly digital media, Helsinki-based Scoopshot has launched video support to its news photo crowdsourcing service. The app allows journalists to send alerts to smartphone users, who can arrive at a scene more quickly and cheaply than sending a professional photographer.
Users take photos and upload them through the app, and if their picture is selected they receive money through whoever requested the photos. The service is also designed for users to quickly pull up the app if they witness something newsworthy, so they can then sell the photo or video rights online. €172 000 has been transferred to amateur photographers though the site, with the leader earning over €11 000. A scoopshot user recently bought a car with his earnings, which he said he will help him get around to take more pictures.
Fruugo was one of the most talked about companies in the Finnish startup scene, perhaps due to the fact that the company was able to attract the top executives of the Finnish business world. In the early days, the most well known people on board were Jorma Ollila (the former CEO and Chairman of Nokia), Risto Siilasmaa (Chairman, Founder and former CEO of F-Secure and current Chairman of Nokia) as well as Marko Parkkinen (co-founder of Bob Helsinki and a board member of various Finnish companies), among others. The company has also gained some infamy in Finland due to the millions of euros it burned through in anticipation of their global, multi-retailer online store.
Fruugo has tried to innovate in the space of e-commerce through a multi-retailer site where consumers would be able buy goods from numerous stores on one site and pay in their own, local currency through one check out. The company was started in 2006 by Nils Forsblom, now currently running TenFarms.
Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise since they're working in the music industry, but Spotify is having a tougher time than expected monetizing its users. The number of paid users has been smaller than predicted, but currently Spotify is focused on growth and on making their program indispensable in users' lives. Spotify claims they are making money on each new user they get, whether they're free or paying, making all growth positive for them. In total, the company is shooting for around €690 million in turnover this year.
Still, country by country growth is expensive for them due to the licensing fees individual to each country. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company has paid around €200 million to labels and publishers since the service was launched in 2008.
ThirdPresence, a cloud-based mobile video platform, announced on Friday it has raised $800 000 (€614 000) in seed funding. The investment round was led by Jussi Heinila, a co-founder of Accelerando. Fellow angel investors include Matti Suokko, former Microsoft executive, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, former Nokia CEO, Ari Korhonen, Riku Asikainen, and Jussi Ilmarinen.
The Helsinki-based company provides a complete whitelabel solution for mobile video hosting, delivery, monetization and analytics. The service allows users to publish their video or audio content on mobile websites or within any native application. ThirdPresence also supports live audio or video streaming along with standard video on demand playback.
This week we have lots of events to promote, happening from Tallinn to Oslo. Take a quick scan through of those happenings, as well as news, jobs, internships, and betas here in the Friday wrap-up.
A newly launched Estonian startup seeks to provide a safe home for your bragging -- for professional networking purposes. For freelancers, contractors, and entrepreneurs it makes sense. Rather than a stuffy CV line that says, "Grew a multimedia business to thousands of customers," you can instead chart out the steps along the way, such as raising capital, bragging about influxes of users, learning new skills, and so on. Achoo saves these updates from getting lost in your Twitter of Facebook. And it cuts to the core of what LinkedIn provides -- a platform to show off your accomplishments -- but for the industries where you don't need such a contrived and professional front.