Iceland’s landscapes have a unique beauty. But despite their appeal, they also present logistical issues for people living and working in the country, and especially for those trying to access services such as therapy. With the help of the Enterprise Europe Network, Icelandic digital platform Kara Connect is solving this problem by eliminating the need for travel, connecting therapists and professionals with their clients through virtual appointments.
Helping Iceland’s young population has always been a motivating force in the career of Kara Connect’s CEO and founder, Thorbjorg Helga Vigfusdóttir. Originally trained as an educational psychologist, Vigfusdóttir entered the political sphere in order to improve the lives of young citizens but left politics soon after to take an even more active role.
She recognised the logistical issues that the Icelandic landscape presented in terms of getting children to access therapy and realised that the solution could be found in technology. "It’s hard to drive in Iceland in the summer but imagine in the wintertime when it’s snowy and windy. You have children who need support. They either live far away, or their parents can’t drive for an hour in traffic in the city," said Vigfusdóttir. "All these things can be helped tremendously with digitalisation."
Vigfusdóttir developed the technological platform to facilitate this connection and founded Trappa, a business that employs a team of speech therapists to conduct online sessions with children who, otherwise, would not be able to access a traditional appointment. She quickly realised that the platform used in the Trappa sessions had greater potential than just speech therapy. She then founded a second business, Kara Connect, to make the platform itself available for all therapists and service-based professionals.
"Kara is a workstation for professionals in the fields of health, education, and welfare. It works as a platform for all kinds of therapists to hold digital sessions and chats," explained Vigfusdóttir. "We have 14 kinds of therapists using the platform – including alcohol support, psychologists, social workers, nutritionists, and nurses. We're transforming the pen and paper office into the digital era."
The platform, which also handles the professionals’ administration, calendars and invoicing, maximises the time spent with each patient and minimises the associated paperwork and travel.
Vigfusdóttir knew that there was potential to expand the technology firm, but found that other markets represented a significant change from her native Iceland. For this reason, she enlisted the support of the Enterprise Europe Network. "The main problem for Kara Connect and most companies expanding abroad is that you know your local market, but when you come to another country, there are always big differences," said Mjöll Waldorff, Project Manager at Innovation Centre Iceland, the Icelandic Network member.
"The Network came into play because we needed help with our growth strategy, and together we figured out that the Swedish and Danish markets were highly digitalised and they would be more ready than other markets," said Vigfusdóttir.
To target the Danish and Swedish markets, the Network introduced Vigfusdóttir to contacts in Denmark and facilitated meetings in Stockholm and Gothenburg. With the Network’s support, the business even established an office within an incubator in the Swedish capital.
The Network has also introduced Kara Connect to EU grants and helped them successfully apply to the Nordic Startup Awards, which gave the business credibility in other European countries. The Network also invited Vigfusdóttir to speak at events for female entrepreneurs – a subject close to her heart. Overall, the Network’s support has helped Kara Connect blossom from a small Icelandic start-up to a well-connected, pan-European technology firm.
Vigfusdóttir has ambitious plans for the company and wants to continue expanding Kara Connect into new markets. "Kara Connect has had a big social impact, not only for people in rural areas but also for people who don’t have support," she said. The Network has already introduced the business to Network contacts in the United Kingdom, their next focus market. Other locations considered for expansion include Germany and Eastern Europe.
"With the Network’s help, Kara Connect can move faster on their journey to grow," said Waldorff. This certainly looks to be the case, as next year the business is projecting a growth of 20% per month. "I am very happy about the opportunity and the connections that we have with the Network, especially with the people, they are very supportive. They keep offering us help and they have proved to be amazing," said Vigfusdóttir.