Reykjavik: Startup Iceland event 2014

June 2

I was wide awake by 6am, too excited about my first “gig” in Iceland. Yesterday morning I had met a nice gentleman named Thubten Comerford at the laundromat who would be speaking at the Startup Iceland 2014 conference and was kind enough to arrange that I be allowed to photograph it. This trip is reaffirming the theory that being receptive to opportunities increases the chances of good things falling into your lap when you least expect it. The fact that he and I met at all is serendipitous; I had forgotten my wallet when trying to do laundry and had to walk all the way back to the flat, which made me an hour later than expected.

I slowly got dressed and cleaned up my car to pass the time until I had to leave the house at 8:20. I donned my jeans, hiking shoes and my one semi-professional-looking top I had thankfully packed. I checked and rechecked my equipment bag before walking towards the Harpa concert and event center near the harbor.

Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-13_WEBI arrived early and I waited by the front doors but didn’t see Thubten. I started to get antsy as I watched all the young professionals walk to the check-in point on the upper floor. Just before 9:00 I went ahead and followed the last stragglers up and asked at the check-in counter if Thubten had arrived yet and he had. Oops! I quickly ducked into the auditorium which was nearly full already and I eventually found him just as the event was starting. He gave me a big friendly hug and said “take lots and lots of photos! And start with this one,” as he pointed to the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who was sitting in the front row right next to us. I’ll admit it, that caught me off guard and blew my mind a little bit.

I asked Thubten if I was allowed to move around as I photographed and he said I had an all-access media pass today so to just go for it. Groovy! By the time I found a spot to unpack my bag and assemble my gear the event was underway.

I’m not sure how interested folks following a travel blog would be about the details of the Startup Iceland event, so I’ll try to keep it short. But I will just say this: I am so excited about what Iceland is doing to encourage and foster creativity, ingenuity and economic resilience. I was absolutely moved by the President’s speech about keeping the discussion open and honest about the direction of our advancements in technology. Technology is an amazing tool and we become hindered instead of empowered by it if we are wary and hesitant that someone is misusing the incredible amounts of data being transmitted daily. Here’s a quick video, I wish I’d have taken more:

The day went well, sans my inability to be calm and sane in a socializing and networking environment. During the lunch break I basically took a few photos of the food and serving line and then hid in the auditorium while everyone was out in the hall eating and talking. Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-217_WEBI finally convinced myself that I was being a damn child and that I needed to conquer my social anxiety – and besides, what’s the worst that could happen?? So I headed out to be with the other humans and saw Thubten talking to a very chic hipster gal with a punk rock haircut and big black glasses. I joined them and tried to overcome my nerves which should have been easy – the nice gal’s name was Ally and she was from Colorado Springs and had just moved to Iceland a few months ago. Awesome, we have Colorado in common! Instead of enjoying the conversation my brain completely short-circuited and I made an ass of myself by babbling, then stuttering, then mocking myself for stuttering, and completely derailing the conversation and making everyone uncomfortable. Welp, back into solitary confinement in the auditorium with you, ya goddamned nut job! 

I retreated. My confidence was pretty shaken but I was grateful I had my cameras in hand. They do tend to make me feel like I belong and give me a renewed sense of confidence. Some people have security-blankets, I have 22 pounds of glass and plastic strapped to my shoulders that I hide behind.

I was hiding in the back of the auditorium as lunch was ending when one of the other photographers came up to me and introduced himself as Roman. He was very nice and said was hired by Icelandic Air, one of the main sponsors of the event, to shoot the event for them. I met his lovely wife and learned she was from the UK and he from Croatia. He also told me about how he knows the man and wife team that built the amazing marine-themed children’s park by the harbor that I’ve photographed multiple times already. We traded cards and chatted a bit more until the conference was back in session.

Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-151_WEBThe rest of the event was wonderful, and Thubten did a great job on his talk. He’s from Portland, Oregon and drew many parallels between his beloved city and Reykjavik, and had words of encouragement about how to embrace your city’s uniqueness, and to also to be sure you bring your innovative ideas back home to grow your city’s economy instead of draining it of talent and passion by moving your startup elsewhere. This one seems important for Icelanders since it’d be so much easier to create a company in New York or London. Wise words.

I found it interesting how so many of the talks about entrepreneurship resonated so strongly with me. The statements were all things I had felt were important to live by when I quit my day job and dove headfirst into photography. Here are my favorite bits:

– From Sherwood, a capital advisor: Leverage your assets. It doesn’t matter how much or little you start with. As long as you fully utilize the assets you do you have, there’s a better chance others will notice and be encouraged to offer their time/money/expertise to see you succeed. Asset sharing will be one of the keys in rebuilding a stronger, better economy.

– From Jennifer, MakerBot President of People: Never think you can’t do something. Be scrappy. If a system is broken, leverage it to your advnatage(referring to the broken economy). Live by your motto, whatever you decide it to be so you never lose your way. i.e. the MakerBot Way  (another good motto for doing business is GyShiDo)

– From John, a journalist : If you’re taking on the challenge such as making hardware, software or art – which are all extremely challenging to begin with – you have to step up to the plate and make it happen – no one is going to hand you anything. You have to prove yourself tirelessly before people can start believing something will come of your passion, and then they will invest in you.

– From Liad, an incredible serial entrepreneur and lucky guy: luck is a matter of increasing your opportunities to get the outcome you want. Roll a dice once while hoping for a 6, and you get a 1/6 chance of getting a 6. Roll that dice 20 more times and your chances of getting at least one 6 just skyrocketed to nearly 100%.

What an unexpected and awesome experience!

Check out the full day’s gallery if you’re interested:

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