Sjálfsbjörg, the Icelandic federation of physically disabled people, has recently opened up a new entity within the organization called Frumbjörg, an Innovation Center with the aim of supporting innovations for the disabled.
It has been obvious for many within the community of disabled in Iceland, and those around it, that there has been a deep need for more focused research and innovation in this field, but no one seems to have the initiative and the ability to do something about it. Disabled individuals often receive limited resources and facilities in Iceland. One example of this is the low number of Icelandic companies with wheelchair ramps. With better resources and health and welfare system, this group of people are likely to live better lives and contribute to the society in a more effective and efficient manner.
The birth of this innovation center idea happened well over a year ago within Sjálfsbjörg, and the main nudge for the organization to develop this particular idea further was the enormous space becoming vacant in their headquarters. Nothing really happened though until Sjálfsbjörg hired development manager, Brandur Karlsson.
Brandur has a personal experience of the health care and welfare system and has spent a lot of personal time contemplating how things can be done better and more efficient for this particular group in the society. The goals of Frumbjörg Innovation Center were right up his alley, so he created plans to get this center up and running.
Creating opportunities for the disabled through entrepreneurship
The role of the Innovation Center will be diverse, but the main focus will be on research, innovation and entrepreneurial activities shape the field of health and welfare.
Frumbjörg’s goal is to effect positive change on the Icelandic social and health systems, as well as providing a venue for disabled people to create their own job opportunities through innovation. Frumbjörg plans on opening up applications for entrepreneurs to come and work in their center, where they will be supported, guided, and connected to the business world.
A successful crowdfunding campaign
The main barrier the center has been facing has been raising capital. According to Brandur Karlsson, development manager, the project applied for various funds to take this project of the ground. The Reykjavik City development fund, Funds from the Icelandic state, few EU funds, the Nordic Innovation fund and the United Nations’ fund all had calls for applications where development and improvement for elderly and disabled through innovation. Despite these calls, Frumbjörg did not receive this funding from these entities so Brandur created a successful crowdfunding campaign to kickstart the project. Brandur says:
“The reception from the society has been amazing. People are saying this is a great idea and wishing us all the best. However, we had some issues raising funds. But it is also about building up trust, since this idea is maybe not for everyone. That is also one of the reasons why we decided to do the crowdfunding.”
The innovation center officially opened on the 29th February and hopes to encourage entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions to specific problems while being guided along the way. “We are working on collecting a list of unsolved issues that people with disabilities face in their everyday lives,” explains Brandur.
Partnerships across Iceland
The center has also established valuable partnerships to help drive growth, including the Icelandic company Össur, a leading developer in orthopedics, and innovation networks such as the Innovation Center of Iceland, Icelandic Startups, and Reykjavik University. The aim of these partnerships is to support the entrepreneurs at their center with a strong and capable network of entrepreneurs, investors, and academics, and develop the best platform possible to make sure the ideas developed at the center come to life.
“It is becoming more common, these social innovation centers,” says Brandur. “I follow this a bit. One opened up in California and started in 1000m² and now have over few thousandm². And this is over four or five-year period. So it is proving itself socially and economically.”
Iceland’s small population a challenge
The main challenge for the center so far has been the small population in Iceland. With a smaller pool of human capital and resources, it is harder to grab ideas and run with them. It is therefore extremely important to be well organized and build a strong network.
Luckily, Iceland is becoming a hub of creative entrepreneurs and innovative new startups, and Frumbjörg is being welcomed into this growing community, helping entrepreneurs to organize, build knowledge, and connect to investors and other creative entrepreneurs in the network. This platform has huge value to Icelandic society, and can hopefully inspire similar initiatives elsewhere.
You can follow the work and events of the Innovation Center on their Facebook.