🇮🇸 Ten Years of Icelandic Innovation: A Round-Up of Startup Iceland 2023

By Misha Radkevitch - June 2, 2023
Startup Iceland founder Bala Kamallakharan addressing the audience at Startup Iceland 2023. (Photo: Nata Zaharova)

By Elías Thorsson

The tenth iteration of Startup Iceland was a tightly packed affair of talks, panel discussions, networking, and the event’s patented 90-second startup pitches. Several founders shared their stories and Stefán Baxter, Founder and CEO of Smart Data and QuickLookup announced the launch of his company’s latest product Context Suit.

Following opening remarks by Startup Iceland founder Bala Kamallakharan and President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, US ambassador Carrin F Patman took the stage. She revealed that the US State Department had awarded Startup Iceland with a $20,000 grant to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs, who are currently in Iceland as refugees.

US Ambassador to Iceland Carrin F. Patman gave a speech at the conference. (Photo: Nata Zaharova)

The red thread, as with most startup events these days, was AI. Björgvin Ingi Ólafsson, Partner and Board Director at Deloitte Iceland, was the first speaker from the business community and he discussed his experience working on large language models and how small languages can exist on the digital stage. In 2022, he was part of an Icelandic delegation, which included President Jóhannesson and then Icelandic Minister of Education, Science and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, which met with Open AI in San Francisco. The meeting was the catalyst for Icelandic becoming the second official language of the chatbot ChatGPT.


Many speakers shared their experiences with using AI in their businesses–both the benefits and the challenges. For instance, David Stewart, CEO of Travelshift, talked about the challenges his company has faced with large language models, such as uncertainties about regulatory implications and how to implement personalized customer service.

Most of the new startups giving 90-second pitches to the audience of investors and founders utilize AI in their projects, which ranged from solving the shortage of fresh vegetables in supermarkets to forestry and how to speak Icelandic.

The ebb and flow of the startup scene can be hard to predict as trends and investment opportunities are constantly changing. However, the man behind Iceland’s biggest annual startup event remains bullish about the future.

“Iceland has everything going for it and there is no reason not to be optimistic about the future,” Bala Kamallakharan answers when queried about what’s in store for the Icelandic startup scene. “Since we started ten years ago, the amount of funding to the startup asset class has grown a hundredfold and we could see it grow by a hundredfold more.”


Elías Thorsson is a journalist, writer, and marketing specialist with extensive experience covering business and technology affairs in Iceland. He has been covering Startup Iceland 2023.