A Sit Down with Liesbeth Bakker Founder of The Hub East Africa and her take on Entrepreneurship
Tell us about yourself.
I am the CEO and Founder of The Hub East Africa.
My personal story: I was born in Frisia in Netherlands and have lived and worked in several different countries on 5 different continents before deciding to spend the rest of my life in Kenya. I hold a MSc in Econometrics & Operations Research and hold an MBA from IMD in Switzerland.
The past ten years I have worked in different strategic management positions with Orange and Philips, before starting The Hub East Africa. I have always had an interest in emerging markets and have been coaching and mentoring people in business for as long as I can remember. It is a great feeling when all pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place and you can put all your energy into making your personal dreams happen.
Tell us about The Hub East Africa.
The Hub East Africa is a social enterprise that supports entrepreneurs to start and grow their business. We offer the complete eco-system from affordable office space and meeting rooms to training programs around how to run a sustainable business. We also run different partnership and community programs as well as provide thought leadership on developing untapped markets along the value chain in the areas of food & agribusiness, tourism, technology & innovation, social entrepreneurship and the creative sector.
What drove you to start The Hub East Africa.
There is a very rich incubation scene in Nairobi, but when it comes to non-webapp startups and entrepreneurship in general there is not a place where people can come to meet, do activities and work from. In addition I believe that there are different ways to start up or grow a company than the much hyped venture capital. 90% of companies if not more start without external financing, yet that’s what the media make you believe is all you need.
I wanted to make that other voice heard that having a sustainable business plan and the knowledge and drive to execute you will get very far. The Hub East Africa is that place where entrepreneurs from startups to SMEs come to get inspired and learn how to start and grow a sustainable business. We offer the complete eco-system, but on a per-need basis instead of a complete package, without any strings attached.
Getting people to understand the concept of The Hub: we offer different solutions that are build around the needs of entrepreneurs, but are very new. We have for example so called “walk-in” desks and “on-the-go” offices, which one can use for as little as half a day.
This really saves starters and part-timers from having to pay a full months rent when not needed. We also offer hands-on programs and organize events to showcase the full value chain and to develop untapped markets.
This focus on advanced knowledge sharing centered around entrepreneurs is also a fairly new concept in a country where people look abroad rather than appreciating the wealth of experience available locally.
What advice would you give to the startup entrepreneurs?
Keep up your standards and think beyond the stereotypes. The only way to make your dream come true is to stop dreaming! Give it your best shot and don’t listen too much to others. There are plenty of reasons why things can’t work, but even more why you will be a success. Work for it, follow up on every avenue possible and don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen at first, second or even third place. Learn and move on.
Who is your role model and why?
I used to have role models I admired, though nobody famous unfortunately for this interview: just people in my environment that were independent thinkers and who went out of the ordinary. Today I wouldn’t say I have a role model, I don’t look at following others but try to live up to my own ideal. I do admire different elements in different people though, but again more from people in my direct environment than from unattainable personalities.