Is it possible to conjugate a fulfilling work experience, an entrepreneurial drive and the possibility to get to know strange foods and different ways of living? According to young Dutch talent Simon Goddek, who is taking part in the programme “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs”, it is. Even more so when the destination is as exotic as Iceland.
But what is Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs exactly? In a nutshell, it is an EU-funded programme that gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced business people running small businesses in other participating countries. To learn more about it, we talked to Simon and to the entrepreneur hosting him, Raghneidur Thorarinsdottir, owner of Svinna Engineering, an Icelandic company specialised in renewable energy solutions.
Host entrepreneur, Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir:
Could you tell us more about your business? What is your activity? How many people work there? And when was it created?
My company, Svinna-Engineering Ltd., is a family business created in 2008. Our main focus is on innovation and entrepreneurship, specifically the direct use of geothermal energy with sustainable sources of food production. Now, we are looking for some opportunities in tourism, embracing in this way the three main sectors in the Icelandic economy: renewable energy, food production and tourism.
The key to our method lies in trying to find innovative solutions in this field and generating other spinoff companies from there. Svinna now owns two SMEs, both active in aquaculture, which offer a total of eight full-time jobs: Islensk Matorka, founded in 2010, and Matorka, founded in 2011.
We are now working on the establishment of two new sectors. One is “aquaponics” (an innovative way of food production that combines animals and plants in a symbiotic environment), on which young entrepreneur Simon Goddek is working. The other one is land-based farming of European lobsters on which we work with some partners all around Europe.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
It started out with some ideas and then I came to like it. I utilised my education, contacts, experience and so on; and I really think it is fun.
How did you discover the programme “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” and why did you decide to take part in it?
I had already been part of a similar programme, which was a partnership between my SME, an SME in Denmark and one in Spain. Once, I was talking to my partners about my new project, here in Iceland, and they told me about this Erasmus for young entrepreneurs programme. I received emails from many young people in Europe that were working on similar projects and were very interested in coming to Iceland to work on renewable energy, and I thought that it could be a very interesting opportunity to interact with young people from Europe.
Is this your first experience as a supervisor?
I have worked with several young people in Iceland, but they were mostly Engineering Master or PhD students from Denmark that worked with me for several months. But nothing like this kind of project!
So far, do the results live up to your expectations?
Actually, Simon has just arrived since he started in January. He is very enthusiastic and he had already been designing a hybrid aquaponic system before he came here. We had several email exchanges and Skype discussions before the beginning of his programme. He is now working with one of our partners in southern Iceland, where he is building an aquaponic system, and he also took some interesting trips around Iceland. He likes it here very much!
What would your advice be to aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice is to always be open-minded and curious, especially towards collaborations and ideas from others. You can start with an idea and then you can end up somewhere else. So, just enjoy the ride!
Have the cultural differences between you and Simon been a problem or more of an advantage?
Mostly an advantage, I would say. But once again, it is definitely an advantage to be open-minded.
Young entrepreneur, Simon Goddek:
What is your age and your educational background?
I am 28 and I have an MA in Environmental Energy and Water Management with a specialisation in Water Management Technology.
How did you discover the programme and why did you decide to participate in it?
It was a coincidence. I have been working on aquaponic systems for some years already and the owner, Mrs Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir, also works in this field. So we established contact and she asked if I wanted to come over, and I said: ‘Yeah, cool’.
Do you already have a business or are you planning to launch one? In what field?
Yes, I am planning something with some French, Dutch and German friends. We have started to do something already. We have not established a business yet, but we hope to launch an aquaponics startup in some months’ time. That is why I am here, trying to gain some experience.
Why do you want to become an entrepreneur?
I want to live by my own ideas and not have other people telling me what to do. I can only do what I want the way I want it. I do not want to work to live; I want to live to work.
What is your mission and what are your daily activities at Svinna?
They always change. Actually, since I have more experience in aquaponics than they do, I am quite free to do whatever I want. I am designing an aquaponics system for the company, which allows me to combine my theoretical knowledge with practical activities and the issues that I have to work on every day.
How long is the exchange going to last?
I think that the contract says six months. This is the maximum period of time for funding students, so until June or July. And then, we will see.
What skills are you developing and which ones would you like to develop? Does it match with your expectations so far?
I started to work on it in October and then I came here in January. Actually, it is very interesting to transfer theoretical knowledge into practice. I had already done this in Vietnam and in Germany, but here it is completely different: the system I am working on is very big, about 30×60 square metres. So now I am taking the knowledge I have and I am trying to apply it to this new experience.
What would be your suggestion to aspiring entrepreneurs? Would you suggest them to take part in the programme?
Concerning the programme, the outcome depends on what you make of it. If you decide you want to do something special and in another country, then I would strongly recommend it. This is a very small company and so I have all the freedom. If you go to work for a bigger company it is less fun, I think. I would strongly recommend to look for smaller companies in another country to gain the best possible experience for the working world.
Have the cultural differences between you and your host entrepreneur been a problem or more of an advantage?
I have lived in five countries all around the world, so Iceland did not shock me that much. The only thing that I would like to mention is food. For instance, they eat whole sheep heads and fermented shark.
Another slight difference is that the pace in Iceland is slower than in Central Europe. So, what you would do in one week in Europe, would take you two weeks here. The problem is that everything you need has to be imported as it is an island in the middle of nowhere.
For the other aspects, it is a very young country and they have Germanic, Scandinavian roots, so it is something I am used to. Compared to Africa or Asia, where I have also lived, it is a much easier experience.