Iceland is a well-known haven for cryptocurrency miners. Its cold weather, cheap geothermal energy, and robust tech scene make it an ideal spot for international mining firms like BitFury and Genesis. The focus in Iceland is shifting, however, toward blockchain businesses, as Halldór Jörgensson, chairman of Borealis Data Center, told Red Herring last September.
Iceland Venture Studio is part of this shift, but its scope is not limited to blockchain technology: It aims to fund any projects that will result in sustainable decentralized businesses. The venture studio is "technology- and industry-agnostic," according to its investment thesis:
"[W]e are not betting on any one technology or industry but instead on the people behind any technology that enables the underlying customer centricity. This means we are open to investing in any technology or industry. This includes but is not limited to cryptocurrencies, AI, AR, Blockchain and related technologies, Biotechnology, Genomics, etc."
"Customer centricity" is the underlying idea that drives the studio's vision. It believes centralized data aggregation is past its prime and that we should look toward a future of "services, products, applications and solutions where the individual consumer is in total control of all the interactions (s)he has with said product or service." The studio thinks the development of voice-activated device technologies like Google Assistant and Amazon Echo, the incorporation of augmented reality (AR) and granular sensor technology, and the growth of artificial intelligence have changed human-machine interaction and reflect a paradigm shift for user experience. In this world of learning machines, access to relevant real-time data is crucial, which means decentralization is also crucial to protecting personal data, privacy, and security.
To this end, Iceland Venture Studio has created the Developer's Ecosystem, a "toolbox" that connects company founders to a multi-disciplinary team of people who are also passionate about solving hard problems and building companies: developers, marketers, analysts, designers, operators, and scientists.
In keeping with the studio's goal to fund projects from a wide variety of industries, initial startups include RetinaRisk, 50Skills, and FLOWVR. RetinaRisk is a diabetic retinopathy calculator, a mobile application that allows diabetic users to track and monitor their disease progression and get information about their condition. 50Skills is a decentralized recruiting platform. And FLOWVR is a virtual reality app that provides guided meditations for both personal and corporate use.
Decentralization is a growing interest in other areas for Iceland, not just technology. The Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) asserts that decentralization in the political sphere became of interest in the 1990s as a response to economic and administrative problems: "The focus was on efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility by transferring government activities to the competitive marketplace through privatisation or by adopting a market mechanism within government."
OPSI maintains that since Iceland's fiscal crisis of 2008, the focus has moved from further decentralization to more collaboration and cooperation. Yet Iceland's dealings with cryptocurrency, blockchain technology, and other decentralized technologies suggests that an interest in decentralized solutions in various spheres has not entirely abated. In October 2016, for example, Iceland's Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture joined with the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education to host a seminar in Reykjavík on decentralized education systems.
According to the seminar report, a decentralized education system in an Icelandic context means that power is passed to local community and schools, as opposed to a centralized body that controls things like finance, administration, personnel, policy, curriculum, and assessment. The report maintains that decentralization is not receiving sufficient attention despite its well-documented importance for education:
"The extent to which national education systems are decentralised has a clear impact on policy and practice for inclusive education. Decentralisation can be considered a key variable in context analysis and change management at all education system levels."
Will Iceland become the proverbial Mecca of the global decentralized future? Only time will tell.