How likely is it that a foreigner moves to Iceland, builds a sufficient amount of capital, starts a business and becomes a success? In my opinion, it’s not that likely at all. Even though the Icelandic market is not completely saturated and there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurship, just finding a decent paying job alone can be a daunting task. However, there are always those with the courage to swim upstream. As it turns out, Letetia Jónsson, Director of Frístundir Ísland (www. fristundir.is), has no qualms about striking gold in this Icelandic mine.
Jamaican born and raised in England, Jónsson moved to Iceland in 2004 along with her husband and two and a half daughters (she was very pregnant at the time as she recalls). At the time she felt very isolated and without sufficient information on involving herself and her children in social activities – hence the birth of Frístundir Ísland.
Frístundir Ísland is a brainchild of Jónsson’s that has been in the works for the past two years. When Jónsson moved here in 2004 she experienced the difficulty in finding a variety of activities for her three daughters. The concept of Frístundir Ísland is that all children’s activities (from age 0–18) available in Reykjavik and the surrounding municipalities are centralised and in one specific location. This is so that parents have a variety of options in front of them to make an informed decision about their children’s extracurricular activities. The information presented on the website, as well as in a detailed handbook, also comes in multiple languages including Icelandic, English and Polish. She talks about the fact that newcomers like herself need to feel as if businesses are making an effort to make their products inviting to all types of families inhabiting the community.
Why did you decide to start Frístundir Ísland?
LJ: When I first came to Iceland information on activities for children was very limited. Everything was in Icelandic and finding courses for the kids was trial and error. So the idea came to me to centralise the information for parents and make it extremely accessible….accessible by way of crossing municipalities and by being available in multiple languages.
GG: Have you had any problems starting the business based on the fact that you’re a foreigner?
LJ: Nothing overtly obvious. If I spoke Icelandic more fluently, contacting clients would be easier and the process would flow more smoothly. I am a people person and if my language skills were present things would fall into place much quicker.
GG: Do you foresee any obstacles in the way?
LJ: Well, the idea is very new for people. When I present the idea to a client, they think it’s brilliant and they love it, but I think it’s something that they’re simply not used to seeing here. My background is in project management. Working in business process reengineering, I was streamlining and making things more cost effective so business enterprises would run more efficiently. People just need to get used to this idea.
GG: With the Icelandic economy’s current position, do you think it’s a good time to start a business?
LJ: People will always want activities for their children. My middle daughter, Thea, has always been committed to handball and no matter what the financial commitments are my family will always do what it takes to support her.
GG: What is your advice for other foreigners starting their own business?
LJ: You have to have thick skin and you can’t take no for an answer. You have to have the type of personality of someone who is not afraid to persevere. You have to keep trying and you must keep on.
GG: What will it take to make Frístundir Ísland a success?
LJ: It’ll take clients buying in and believing in the idea. This is also about integration, bringing people in and making this business accessible to all groups in Iceland.
Jónsson not only has a strong mindset for the business world, but she’s also thinking about the bigger picture in terms of creating a multi-cultural friendly business attracting all types of families in Iceland. All parents living in Iceland want the best for their children and it’s about time someone did something about it.