Follow Your Heart, Forge a Fresh Path

Becoming an Expat Entrepreneur

Lisette Allen

Written by Lisette Allen Published on 12.06.2012 14:56:46 (updated on 12.06.2012) Reading time: 5 minutes

Moving abroad for love is a risky business. Meet three women who followed their hearts and transformed an apparent career dead end into the ultimate business opportunity.

When I’m asked why I came to the Czech Republic, my reply is simple.

“It’s a love story.”

I’m not alone. Whether they fall head over heels for a Czech guy (yes, it can happen) or trail a spouse who has been transferred to Prague, many female expats come to the Czech Republic to build a life with their soulmate.

Following your heart – and your long-term partner – takes courage, not least as it often means being unable to continue on the same career path as before. If you’re struggling with the conundrum of how to forge ahead professionally in a different country, take inspiration from these three women who since moving to Prague have all unexpectedly become entrepreneurs.

From Family Solicitor to Beauty Queen: Meet the Brazilian who gives Brazilians

Spend five minutes with Selma Diniz and you’ll soon see she is far too energetic to live the idle life of the so-called “trailing partner”.  She had already taken the bold step of leaving her native Brazil for the UK to further her career prospects where she met her Czech-born husband, Martin Mareš.

In 2009 the pair decided to settle in the Czech capital. Selma had already begun to have doubts about her chosen field – family and divorce law – which she found emotionally draining. Coming to Prague seemed like the right moment to turn a long-held private ambition into a reality: opening her own beauty salon.  

“It was my husband who said, ‘Why don’t you do what you like but make some money out of it too?’ Selma explained. 

“I was always the one waxing my mum and my sister,” she continued. “I even gave facials to my father.”

Since opening for business in September 2010, Beauty Secrets has gone from strength to strength: such is the demand for professional pampering among the city’s expat community that Selma has recently had to hire two additional staff.

Beauty Secrets Waxing Studio
Beauty Secrets Waxing Studio

What’s the secret of Selma’s success?

Hard work, certainly – the hours can be long, especially in the summer. Identifying a niche is also key: most of her customers are expats whose Czech doesn’t stretch to “bikini wax” or who have found Czech beauty therapists too surly. It seems if you need a Brazilian, the best person to go to in Prague is – wait, here comes the punchline – a Brazilian.

“I left Brazil to make a 180 degree turn,” Selma tells me, “but in the end I did a 360 degree one.”

What advice would she give to other expat women who are considering a new direction?

“Sometimes you have to be brave and take the risk for the sake of your happiness,” Selma says. “It can be very challenging but it’s still worth it.”

As Easy as ABC Activity: Find a Niche by Building on Skills You Already Have

Becoming an expat entrepreneur needn’t entail making a dramatic change. It can be as simple as evaluating the skills you already have and then deciding if they might be put to better use by setting up your own business.

As a fully qualified British primary school teacher, Sarah Vaughan had no difficulty finding work in Prague. Her journey to the Czech capital began not in the UK but on the other side of the globe where she first met Tom Vrtiška in a bar in Melbourne.

Fast forward a year and the pair had returned to their respective countries while continuing their relationship long-distance. With Sarah’s professional profile, the best option for the pair’s future seemed to be for her to up sticks to Tom’s home city.

Initially Sarah worked in an international pre-school while supplementing her income by giving private English tuition to youngsters after work.

“Because there aren’t so many teachers out there who are qualified to work with children I had a massive response,” she explained. “I soon got to maximum capacity.”

The overwhelming demand inspired Sarah to come up with a more ambitious plan: creating an after school activity club in English. 

ABC Activity, which first opened its doors in September 2011, is about more than drilling the fundamentals of English grammar into already exhausted kids. “It wouldn’t work if it were conventional because they’ve been at school all day so it’s learning through play,” Sarah explained. “It’s theme-based so they don’t realise they’re in a classroom.”

Sarah Vaughan in action at ABC ActivitySarah Vaughan in action at ABC ActivitySarah Vaughan in action at ABC Activity

Sarah Vaughan in action at ABC ActivitySarah Vaughan in action at ABC ActivitySarah Vaughan in action at ABC ActivitySarah Vaughan in action at ABC Activity

The concept has proved so popular with parents that Sarah plans to quit her teaching job to devote herself full-time to the business. “It takes a bit of time to get things off the ground but I think Prague is really entrepreneur friendly,” Sarah says.

From Number Cruncher to Wedding Planner: Using your New Home to Reach a Market in Your Old One

In an increasingly globalised world, setting yourself up as a thriving entrepreneur can mean working out how to sell what you love about your new home country to those living in your old one.

A whirlwind romance brought Sophy Jonason from Shanghai to Prague in 2008 where she joined her new husband so he could pursue his studies at Charles University. It was the beauty of Prague that inspired Sophy to set up her own tour agency, Eagle Travel, to introduce other Chinese people to the Czech Republic. “I studied Mathematics back in Shanghai so I knew nothing about the tourism industry but I wanted to open a door for others from my country.

“When the Chinese come to Europe they always think first about France, Germany and Italy, but after they come to Prague they say it’s even prettier than Paris.”

Sophy Jonason
Sophy Jonason

Sophy’s most recent business venture also takes advantage of the Golden City’s international allure: tailor made weddings for the upwardly mobile Chinese. “The couples look really delighted,” says Sophy. “I don’t think you can get anything like it anywhere else in the world,” she adds. “Prague to me is magical.”

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