In the fourth in our series of interviews, we speak with entrepreneurial wunderkind Guðjón Már Guðjónsson. In 1990, at the age of 18, he established his first international software company, OZ Communications, a consumer mobile messaging solutions provider that was acquired by Nokia in November 2008. He is a founding partner of a number of ventures, the driving force behind the research, development and design of many leading-edge technologies, and the author of several granted patents. Among his most recent ventures is the highly acclaimed Ministry of Ideas.
IWR: What is the Ministry of Ideas?
GMG: The Ministry of Ideas is a grassroots organization set up to communicate knowledge and facilitate networking among Icelandic entrepreneurs. Every Saturday the Ministry organizes an open meeting that is free of charge and which is basically an opportunity for people to make contacts, improve their skills and help them realize their ideas and projects. It is also a forum for innovators of all sorts, in all fields.
IWR: Where did the idea come from?
GMG: I probably had too much free time during the most recent Christmas holidays! Ever since the economic collpse I had been thinking of ways in which I might do something positive and help out. So at the start of the year, just when I was thinking of my New Year’s resolutions, I came up with the idea to form an open group called “Ministry of Ideas”. It is basically about channeling some of the human potential we have here in Iceland into innovation and entrepreneurship.
IWR: What sort of response have you had?
GMG: It’s exceeded my expectations, particularly since I had no idea of how it might turn out. Right now we have a strong core group of grassroots innovators here in Iceland, and between 60 and 80 people have turned up at each of the last four meetings. From among that group there are 10 to 15 very interesting seed companies that I think are extremely promising. To me, this is an exciting opportunity for investors as well as individuals interested in helping nurture innovation and entrepreneurship in Iceland.
IWR: How do you see your effort as helping Iceland at this time?
GMG: There is such a vast resource inherent in our common experience, know-how and relationships, which is so crucial for us to harness right now. We can do this by changing our methodology and ideology. The Ministry of Ideas is not operated for profit but rather through the motivation of the participants; for that reason we are much more likely to make headway. We have no political agenda and we are not competing with each other. No one shows up on a Saturday afternoon unless they feel it is for their own benefit, whether it be in the form of social responsibility, through passing on knowledge, or because they hope to learn something from the group.
That way, the grassroot is nurturing itself and consequently strengthening itself. To me this is new for Icelanders. We have been far too busy competing with each other, when we should be joining forces and supporting one another.
One thing about innovation is that it is not tangible enough at the beginning for those who make the rules. Part of it may be that, in recent years, people have been more into buying something that others have created, with a great deal of leverage. Like buying up shares in foreign fashion chains, airlines, or other things that have been created abroad. This is not innovation and it is something that a small country like Iceland should not necessarily be proud of.
I also wonder whether the fish, that we are fortunate enough to have, is standing in the way of us creating something new, in that our politicians always turn directly to fishing, or the aluminium industry.
Those of us who meet regularly hope to be able to map out the knowledge and resources inherent in Icelandic innovation at the grassroots level, thereby creating and developing valuables more quickly than we could otherwise have done. This is one of the major foreseeable gains that an effort like this could have for our society.
The next meeting of the Ministry of Ideas is Saturday, February 14 at 16.30, at the Iðnó theatre.
[This post is filed under Interviews]