Iceland is becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse

On centre-stage: some inspiring women entrepreneurs from Iceland

That Iceland offers immensely spectacular views is something that we all know. But here’s a reality check – it’s also becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse.

The story of women’s empowerment in Iceland is indeed, an inspiring one. Most importantly, Iceland has been on an incredible journey to empower women. In 2019, Forbes named it the most ‘gender-equal’ country in the world for the 10th year in a row; which was achieved through an unwavering commitment from the Icelandic government and the business community.

Now, we will explore the unique Icelandic entrepreneurial story and how it has enabled women to become leaders in business and beyond.

Here we feature some inspiring women entrepreneurs from Iceland.

> BjörkGuðmundsdóttir, Singer-songwriter, Entrepreneur

This popular singer and songwriter had carved a slot on the international music scene during her 30 year- career as a singer-songwriter, musician and producer. Significantly, she has also been championing environmental causes and has actively campaigned for environmental preservation in Iceland.

In 2009 she collaborated with a venture capital firm to set up an investment fund to invest in green technology in her motherland. Besides being a lynchpin of the experimental music scene, she has turned out a number singles on mainstream music charts, which reflect her eclectic musical tastes and styles. She has had 30 hit singles in the Top 40 of global pop charts and has scored 22 Top 40 hits on UK charts. The Icelandic artist has bagged a number of music industry awards throughout her career. In 2011 she became the first artist to release an album, Biophilia, as a series of interactive apps, which were later inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

> Chandrika Gunnarsson, Founder, ‘Austur-Indíafélagið’

Chandrika Gunnarsson (from India) is the owner and manager of her popular restaurant ‘Austur-Indíafélagið’ in Reykjavik and, also a chain of restaurants “Hraðlestin” – in and around Reykjavik. It is an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik. The restaurant has indeed captured immense attention – for it got featured in some of the world’s most glamorous magazines, including the Louis Vuitton City Guide; and it even got a mention in the Lonely Planet guide.

Of course, the immense support provided by warm, friendly people in Iceland only builds closer cultural ties.

> GuðbjörgMatthíasdóttir, Founder, ÍsfélagsVestmannaeyja

GuðbjörgMatthíasdóttir is the owner of one of Iceland ‘s largest seafood companies, ÍsfélagsVestmannaeyja. Her business empire straddles many sectors in Iceland.

She successfully led the expansion process of one of the country’s largest fishery and seafood processing companies, following the untimely passing of her co-owner husband in 2000. Matthíasdóttir’s reach also extends to other sectors – like the publishing industry by way of her stake in Reprints (Arvakur) owner of a number of print and online titles, including the major Icelandic daily Morgunbladid. Her other business interests covers the insurance and wholesale trades. A teacher by profession, Matthíasdóttir was honoured by the Association of Women Business Leaders in 2005 – for her contribution to local business.

> ÁsthildurOtharsdóttir, Chairman of the board of Marel & Frumtak Ventures

ÁsthildurOtharsdóttir has prominent place in the Icelandic business scene, partly as an independent consultant with a rich background in corporate finance. She has been involved in a number of prestigious roles like – she was global head of Treasury and Corporate Development at the orthopedic equipment manufacturer Össurhf, Senior Account Manager at Kaupthig Bank and Consultant with the US and Danish operations of the global management consulting firm Accenture. Currently, she is chairman of the board and part owner of Marel, a publicly-listed company producing equipment for the food processing industry. Recently, she joined the board of Frumtak Ventures, Iceland’s leading venture capital firm. Plus, she is on the board with a number of companies and organizations such as – Icelandair Group, marine energy management Marorka, the Research Center for Business Ethics at the University of Iceland and the Court of Arbitration of the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce.


> Agnes Anna Sigurdardottir-The Unlikely Microbrewer

Agnes Anna Sigurdardottir found her goal in life, by sheer chance. When her husband Ólafur, a fisherman for 26 years, sustained a career-ending knee injury at sea, the couple were lost, and suddenly they had to start from scratch. Inspired by a television interview with a Danish brewer, the idea struck her that she could make great beer using the spring water flowing from Sólarfjall mountain (in her backyard). And out of the blue, Iceland’s first microbrewery, Kaldi was launched in their fishing village Árskógssandur (population: 100)!

It is all in the family. Currently, Agnes, Ólafur, and their second-oldest son Sigurður (Siggi) make Czech-style beers, which is unique as they are unpasteurized, with no preservatives or added sugar. Siggi is Kaldi’s brewmaster and a part owner in the brewery; and his two younger siblings, Ester and Svavar, work with him in the summer.

Agnes’ father and her uncle support Kaldi financially and serve on a board, and Ólafur works full time in the brewery as a brewer with his son and is the chairman of the board. Kaldi beer is popular all over Iceland — including brews like a dark pilsner, IPA, and Stinnings Kaldi made with angelica picked on Hrisey island, which gives it an anise flavor. Besides, there are tours arranged to their brewery every day. Then they extended the concept – as they opened the Kaldi Beer Spa, a traditional Czech bathing treatment that includes beer, yeast, hops, beer salt, and beer oil and purports to improve skin conditions, reduce wrinkles, hydrate skin, open pores, stimulate circulation, and even increase metabolism.

> Helena Hermundardóttir, Co-founder, Friðheimar

Helena Hermundardóttir and her husband Knútur, Helena owns Friðheimar, a year- round tomato farm and restaurant in Reykholt (about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik on Iceland’s Ring Road). When the couple bought the farm in 1995, it was simply a bunch of abandoned green- and glasshouses. Today, they have established themselves – for they are the second largest tomato growers in Iceland. At Friðheimar, 370 tons of plum, Flavorino cocktail, and Piccolo tomatoes are grown annually – using geothermal energy from a nearby hot spring and, zero pesticides. Their five children also play a large role in the business — from picking tomatoes and turning the vines to helping with the restaurant and Knútur’s summertime Icelandic horse show, also on the property.

Helena opened the farm’s greenhouse restaurant way back in 2011. Soon, three years later, she started hosting tourists (up to 160,000 annually), hoping to provide an experience within the plants. Tomatoes and basil reign on the lunch menu; and the farm’s “ugly tomatoes” are the star ingredients in soup and fresh pasta, as well as ice cream served in a terracotta pot.


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