Icelandic exporter: Crisis has restored competitiveness

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When Kolbrún Eydís Ottósdóttir's employer left Iceland in 2006, she teamed up with colleagues to start her own health technology business. Despite the economic meltdown, their company continues to thrive and has seen export growth thanks to Iceland's improved competitiveness.

Kolbrún Eydís Ottósdóttir is quality manager at Nox Medical. She was speaking to Gary Finnegan.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

The birth of your business has come at a time of major economic crisis in Iceland. How has this affected your company?

The excessive growth of the Icelandic banking system before its collapse in 2008, with the following inflation, resulted in very poor competitiveness of many companies, especially for those in export. This was the reason why my former employer ceased its operations in Iceland and this course of events resulted in the start up of Nox Medical.

The crisis has increased the competitiveness of the Icelandic export industry in general due to decreases in local costs and actually most of those companies are doing better than they did a few years back. The negative effects on companies like Nox Medical are mostly because of the loss of reputation and credibility of everything that can be related to Iceland. This has for example affected Nox Medical regarding the willingness of doing business with us along with the terms and conditions that we are being offered.  

Nox Medical has, however, shown strong growth since the time the product entered the market, and I am optimistic on a bright future.

What does your company do?

The mission of the company is to develop the next generation of sleep diagnostic systems based on the latest advances in the fields of electronics, wireless technology and software architecture. Our innovations in improved sleep diagnostics contribute to better health by making it more simple, efficient and comfortable to diagnose sleep disorder threatening all types of patients, especially children.

What was the most difficult thing about getting your own business started?

It does not require much bureaucracy in Iceland to start a new business. The purpose of the business was to develop and market a medical device for sleep diagnostics, a process that takes many years.  The limited possibility of financing such a long-term project with equity at the start-up puts high pressure on delivering the products to entering markets on time and does not allow much deviation from original plans. 

For me, this resulted in working long hours to compensate for inevitable delays that always accompany a project of this size. 

Another big challenge was that it was essential for the success of my business to get access to a worldwide distribution network. The Icelandic home market is negligible for this type of product, and indeed the sleep diagnostic market in general is relatively small and global market access therefore important. 

For this reason we started contacting large medical distribution networks soon after the start-up of the company. This resulted in a worldwide distribution agreement with CareFusion, one of the world's largest medical equipment companies.

How helpful was it to receive government support and to be located in an innovation centre?

The government support made it possible for us to start immediately focusing on the project itself, instead of spending valuable time financing day-to-day activities. It was also essential for the entrepreneurs to be able to keep a fair share of the business, compared with financing all the activities with private equity.

Being hosted in the Innovation Centre of Iceland was very helpful for the business regarding access to all necessary infrastructure. This resulted in more efficient usage of financial and human resources, which is crucial for micro-sized start-up companies like Nox Medical. 

What's the best thing about becoming an entrepreneur?

For me, it's the opportunity to improve the quality of life for some of the millions of people suffering from sleep disorders.

What would you consider to be the best preparation for becoming an entrepreneur?

Have a clear goal, a good business plan and a good market overview, and learn how to run your business.

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