Icelandic people turn towards more innovation

iceland satIceland’s economy may be struggling, but regular Icelanders are trying to find new ways to fend for themselves and their families. Innovation centres have been formed in many towns and the low value of the Icelandic krona helps exporting companies.

Some years ago, many firms in Iceland had to watch as the country’s largest banks literally sucked talent from them, with stellar salaries dwarfing those in regular companies.

In recent years, there were even stories of engineering firms having problems recruiting, since all newly graduated engineers were snapped up by the banks.

Today, with the banks considerably smaller than before, knowledge-based companies are again able to tap the talent which Iceland’s highly educated people have to offer.

“Now, all this has changed and regular firms are more competitive. Entrepreneurial companies are even seeing investors again,” says Thrainn Thorvaldsson, CEO of Icelandic biotech firm SagaMedica. His company researches Icelandic medicinal herbs and produces dietary supplements from them. These are used, for example, in cases of frequent urination, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We now have an online store for the international market and teams of people working all around Iceland, harvesting herbs to keep up with increasing demand,” he adds.

With unemployment on the rise, innovation centres have sprouted in many Icelandic towns. There, entrepreneurial and degree-wielding people come together and work toward forming new companies in Iceland.  Since last fall, publicly run Innovation Center Iceland has overseen the opening of six new incubator centres which have led to the creation of 140 jobs. This may not seem much, but in terms of per capita it would amount to roughly 140,000 jobs in the United States.

“We are seeing tremendous interest in innovation in Iceland. We have had that before, but now external circumstances drive people towards creating their own opportunities. They simply can’t rely on the same things as before,” says Andri Kristinsson, head of Innovit, a privately run entrepreneurial incubator in Reykjavik. “One of the best ways of preventing a brain-drain from Iceland is to give qualified people a platform to use their education to the fullest,” he adds.

With exciting companies being able to compete in salary, one would expect Icelanders to flock into more diverse sectors of the job market.

Who said banking was fun, anyway?

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