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Sea-based Icelandic cluster worth its salt and then some
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Sea-based Icelandic cluster worth its salt and then some

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir, photo: Baldur Kristjansson

The business cluster Íslenski sjávarklasinn or Ocean Cluster in Reykjavik is a cooperation between innovation companies and Iceland’s fisheries which has been running for two years. Foreign visitors are showing great interest. Other countries are very likely to set up similar centres in the future.

Íslenski sjávarklasinn has a big fisheries building in Reykjavik’s old harbour at their disposal. Economist Bjarki Vigfússon and some other staff work in the office. Most member companies have offices in the same building. Many businesses are interested in becoming members and gaining access to space in the building. They are keen to explore the chance to cooperate with experts on various levels. 

Ideas are born

Foreign visitors have taken great interest in the cluster. Bjarki Vigfússon believes that similar centres or clusters will be created in other countries in the future. 

The centre gathers different businesses which otherwise would not be cooperating. All of them - both old and new - are linked to the marine sector in some way or other, and not only through fisheries. They save money by sharing the building, where new ideas are born and cooperation develops. The companies sometimes quite unexpectedly find cooperation projects and partners.

“We have good examples of how company staff meet over lunch and by chance find solutions to problems which the companies sometimes have been struggling with for months,” explains Bjarki Vigfússon. 

“The building becomes fertile soil for ideas and the execution of those ideas. In this way it is unique, as far as we know,” he says.

Student fellows started cooperating

He uses the Norðursalt company which produces sea salt in north-western Iceland as an example. It started as a cooperation between an Icelander and a Dane at a university in Denmark. The study project has become a company which produces certified organic foodstuffs. The sea salt is their first product on the Icelandic market. 

The factory in Reykhólar provides jobs for many people. The company has an office in the Sjávarklasinn building. The high tech company 3X Technology also had an office there and the cooperation between Norðursalt and 3X Technology was born. 3X Technology has skilled technicians who produce machinery and equipment for the fisheries industry. They helped Norðursalt find solutions to problems with pumping water out of the sea. 

“This is a good example of problems being solved when people meet during the morning coffee break,” says Bjarki Vigfússon. 

“This means companies benefit from having their offices in the same building. Staff meet and talk about their projects. This leads to solutions you wouldn’t arrive at otherwise,” he continues. 

Creating a forum

Íslenski sjávarklasinn has succeeded in creating a forum for companies looking for investors and partners. Pioneering work can be hard but if several companies are sharing a space you create a forum for them. The new companies get support and are more successful at airing their ideas and gain the attention of investors.

All pioneers in Iceland are struggling to find capital and investors. Íslenski sjávarklasinn will start working with financing this autumn.

“Investors will get the chance to visit all the new companies. This is very important to the companies, including those who have been up and running for several years but who are looking for capital,” says Bjarki Vigfússon. 

He talks about the centre’s history. It was founded in the winter of 2011-2012 when dr Þór Sigfússon finished his PhD, mapping ocean and fisheries related companies in Iceland and investigating how much the fisheries industry meant to Icelandic business.

Cutting overheads

Bjarki Vigfússon says focus was on technical things at first. Several small technical companies existed in Iceland, but they did not know about each other and as a result did not cooperate. Now, two to three years later, the companies have started cooperating, for instance through marketing themselves abroad and to Iceland’s fisheries companies. 

“The technological solutions are as good and possibly better than in other countries, but the companies have not been able to present their technology abroad because they are so small. Now they are able to do it, through this cooperation,” says Bjarki Vigfússon.

“The cooperation clearly helps larger companies too, for instance through lower overheads,” he continues.

The business cluster Íslenski sjávarklasinn was founded by some 70 companies. Within the cluster there are several cooperation groups, including one technology group and one transport and harbour group, and they meet a few times every year. There is fierce competition between many companies within the same group, but they can always find an opportunity to work together and to reach a common policy within their trade. 

“Companies never used to do this,” says Bjarki Vigfússon.

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