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This article was published on September 12, 2011

VC life, face recognition and the European Pirate Summit: TNW meets Nikolaj Nyholm

VC life, face recognition and the European Pirate Summit: TNW meets Nikolaj Nyholm
Martin SFP Bryant
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Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

The Next Web will be attending The European Pirate Summit in Cologne, Germany on 20 September.

As we previously noted, this one-day event is set to celebrate true technological innovation, creativity, risk disposition and delight of entrepreneurship. Only open to those with a ‘pirate’ attitude, you need to apply for your ticket and a panel of eight judges will decide whether you’re enough of a ‘pirate’.

A great lineup of speakers and startup pitches are lined up for the event (full programme here). One of the Summit’s speakers will be Nikolaj Nyholm, a serial entrepreneur based in Denmark, who was most recently CEO of Polar Rose, the face recognition company acquired by Apple last year. Now a partner at VC firm Sunstone Capital, we spoke to him to find out more about his work, the Danish startup scene and the future of image recognition technology.

The organisers of the Pirate Summit have arranged a special ticket price of €55 (for founders of a company under one year old) or €85 for founders of companies older than a year – a significant saving on the standard ticket price. You’ll still need to apply (so that the judges can make sure that you’re ‘pirate’ enough). Just make sure that you select ‘TheNextWeb’ in the “Recommended by” field on the application form.

TNW: How is the VC life treating you?

Nikolaj Nyholm: While my entrepreneurial background should be a good step towards being a good VC, I am still learning what it takes to be a great VC. The past year at Sunstone has made me more humble towards this task and we’re continuously hard at work at creating one of the best Northern and Central European VC firms.

Beyond that, new potential investments in Finland, Lithuania, and Germany are taking my time these days alongside working with our current portfolio.

TNW: What are the top mistakes companies make when they pitch for investment?

NN: It seems rudimentary, but most companies still cannot plainly articulate what they do for whom. Thus, I also tend to ask for their product marketing material as one of the first things.

TNW: You’re on the board of a number of technology companies. What qualities make a good board member?

NN: I wish that I could say that sparring on product was the most important aspect for board members early-stage companies, but unfortunately they seldomly get the opportunity to dig deep enough to say anything insightful. It turns out that the most effective board members constantly challenge management, force them to smell reality, and sometimes make them think about the bigger picture.

What do you make of the recent Earlybird presentation which said that Europe is starting to outpace the US in return on investment on tech startup investments? Do you agree?

I don’t have insight into the data but I agree that there is a huge market opportunity in European early-stage investing simply because of increasing supply (startups) and limits in demand (capital). Demand is limited because of a sharp decrease in new funds along with an unfortunate late-stage drift by the large VC funds.

TNW: You’re one of the most prominent figures in the Danish tech scene. What is Copenhagen’s startup scene like at the moment? Any startups we should look out for?

NN: The scene is definitely improving through initiatives like Startupbootcamp and the various Startup Weekends, but I’m still a bit disappointed. When Steve Blank spoke in Helsinki there was 1000+ attendees. In Copenhagen he’d be lucky to gather 200.

Companies I follow closely are Umbraco (open source .NET CMS), Podio (web and mobile collaboration tools), Issuu (online publications), GameAnalytics (SaaS analytics for games) and Playdead (creators of the game Limbo). Generally, I have high hopes for games in Copenhagen in the next years.

TNW: You were CEO of Polar Rose, the image recognition company that was acquired by Apple last year. Face recognition has a public perception of being ‘creepy’, as demonstrated by the response to Facbeook’s Tag Suggestions feature. Do you think this is something the public can get over?

NN: Despite the fact that there are so many more accurate technologies for tracking people (like cell phone positioning or bluetooth broadcasting), people will always be most scared of face recognition because it targets the most personal part of anyone, the face.

That said, we learned at Polar Rose that it’s all about packaging. If people get face recognition served in a closed loop like Picasa or iPhoto on their desktop or mobile, they very seldomly seem to mind.

TNW: Where do you see image and face recognition going in the future?

NN: The great thing about image and face recognition technology is that it has matured enough to become a feature for other developers. Apple is making some of the Polar Rose technology available through API calls in iOS 5 and Google will do something similar soon. Initially it will be integrated in the hundreds of camera apps out there for organizing and taking better photos, but soon we’ll start seeing it in mapping applications and as a sensor delivering more information (Layar Vision is showing early signs of this).

TNW: What will you be speaking about at the Pirate Summit?

That’s still to be confirmed, but I’m looking forward to attending for the people, as always.

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