An Interview with Riku Seppälä, Partner at Icebreaker.vc, the Nordic’s newest fund

Icebreaker.vc are the new VC in town. A €14 million fund based out of Finland, Icebreaker.vc have an interesting approach. Clearly an early-stage fund, it’s the type of people they are targeting that is particularly novel. By backing ‘pre-founders’ (a term favoured by Icebreaker) they are looking to provide capital and guidance to those that are on a different career path right now, for example, have been working for a corporate for five years, but have an idea for a startup and don’t know where to turn next or how to take that first step.

My first thought was that this made a lot of sense in Finland, however, when I thought about the rest of the Nordics, this looks well suited to working well there also, particularly in Denmark and Norway where there is a lot of talent tied up in more traditional industries.

The team behind Icebreaker.vc is Aleksi Partanen (Founded Nervogrid), Lasse Lehtinen (Founded Frontier Accelerator) and Riku Seppälä (formerly of OpenOcean). I caught up with the latter in order to get to know what really interests the latest Nordic VC fund.

 

What start up verticals interest you most right now?

Actually the ones I’m not thinking about already. I think the most interesting ones will be surprising; like I just met a “pre-founder” who was looking into opportunities in the energy sector which he knows really well, that’s interesting to me.

With that disclaimer, I’m very interested in software automation in all its forms, being able to automate processes, projects and complete supply chains. Now AI is opening up interesting possibilities there. This is maybe a “Software development, API, Automation” vertical. For example, I work with a company making apparel. The bulk of what that company does could be completely automated and the result would probably be better than with humans involved. Certainly product design, the marketing message, and content would still be done by humans. But that’s really the fun stuff.

Then really anyone working on VR, blockchain, voice and chatbots for any vertical is interesting to me. All of these technologies are opening up very large opportunities. I’ve been working on my own chatbots and can really see a large opportunity there, but we’re still looking for exactly the right tasks and right way to implement and interact. Check out an alpha version of an Icebreaker.vc helper chatbot here.

 

What are your biggest predictions for the next 12 months?

– There will be 2 significant exits where the acquirer is a large European Corporate (fingers crossed)
– AI will still feel “underwhelming” to most people
– The discussion about jobs being lost to technology will increase and the discussion will be more nuanced backed by more research done in the area.
– We’ll continue to see “surprising” companies that people are underestimating at the moment taking over the world. They will use new models that will then be copied in the same way that Snapchat, Uber or Airbnb have done, potentially from a blockchain company.

 

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

Automating a fashion company for example like we discussed above, or other industries. I’d like to see bolder bets in “re-imagining” how industries or meeting human needs works. There’s a lot of capital for bold ideas and bold ideas are needed.

Another one I’d like is new thinking around how we work with projects, email, messaging and tasks. I think there could be a new way of arranging how we work that fits the current digital world better than what we have.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Transportation. I’d like teleportation, but I’d settle for a self-driving car with a coffee machine that would take me to a Hyperloop station.

Neil S W Murray founded The Nordic Web in 2014 in order to provide the Nordics with the quality coverage it deserves. As well as being Founding Editor of The Nordic Web, Neil is also an active community builder in the region, participating in a number of initiatives, and has previously worked for Tech.eu.