“Act despite the fear and courage will catch up with you”.- An Interview With Entrepreneur Lesley Williams.
By Maryem Sáder – Emzingo.
In October 2010, the first Impact Hub in Africa opened its doors in Johannesburg. Today, the Impact Hub Joburg is part the world’s largest network of inspiring workspaces, vibrant learning communities, and entrepreneurial incubation programs. But the ride has not always been smooth: in 2015 they decided to close doors to reboot the Hub, which reopened in March 2017.
Meet Lesley Williams, co-founder of the Impact Hub Joburg, and learn about some of her experiences as a social entrepreneur:
“Every entrepreneur, speaker, guru, and textbook gives advice from their own context and lens. Listen deeply for the wisdom that applies to you and then trust yourself. Even if you get it wrong, the action creates momentum. Act despite the fear and courage will catch up with you.”
Impact Hub Joburg was therefore born out of the co-created vision of many ordinary people who re-imagined what society could be and were willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work in creating the change they want to see.
1. What was the motivation behind the project?
Having moved back to Joburg from London in 2008 as both a member and host at Impact Hub Islington, I became a coffeeshop entrepreneur and missed the sense of community that Impact Hub provided. Not only did I feel isolated but had heightened awareness of the various divides we have in our society: socio-economic, racial and cultural. I had a sense that South Africa needs spaces where we can transcend our differences and connect as fellow humans. I also had the realization of the link between dreaming and innovation that seeds new ventures, but we come from the backdrop of a post-Apartheid South Africa where many people are still traumatized from their past and need to give themselves permission to dream — a creative space can be a place of healing and dreaming. I met several entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs frustrated in their corporate jobs who yearned for the same. They also needed support and space to work on their ideas on how they want to impact society. Impact Hub Joburg was therefore born out of the co-created vision of many ordinary people who re-imagined what society could be and were willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work in creating the change they want to see.
2. In light of the recent relaunch of the Joburg Impact Hub, can you tell us about the main difficulties you’ve had to face as an entrepreneur and how you’ve successfully overcome them?
There are quite a few so I’ll try to limit them as follows:
We pioneered multiple concepts in South Africa at the same time and our market needed loads of education that we underestimated. We were the first co-working space in South Africa on a bootstrap budget and within a year of opening competitors came into the market with deep pockets, using the same language as us but without the intent on collaboration and creating impact. This created market confusion. The concept of Social Entrepreneurship was also emerging and practitioners did not identify with the language so we needed to attempt different strategies to get to them. My learning is that Impact Hub is too ambitious a project to bootstrap; sufficient capital needs to be in-place before the start. Furthermore, all the work that we’ve done over the years in educating the market about what we do has aggregated and has since placed us as a regional (across Africa) thought leader and given our work legitimacy so it was worth it in the end.
Attracting and retaining talent without a budget to pay them a decent salary — we have only just achieved this by raising sufficient operating capital prior to the launch that will support the startup phase. We have also improved on job to relevant skills match which improves both morale and clear responsibility on who the revenue drivers are.
Expensive rent in a desirable location when your users can’t pay what you require to sustain the venture — we needed to get creative about bringing in revenue by creating new streams. We used the same skills to support entrepreneurs to service well-paying corporates in their product or process development. We also subcontracted Impact Hub members to deliver on these contracts so that created added value to be a member.
3. Where do you find inspiration?
When I’m in a roomful of people facilitating a dialogue and someone has their “aha” moment on their life purpose or discovered how to move their venture forward. I’m inspired when people come to me months or years later to share what they’ve achieved as a result of having been on one of our programmes. I’m also inspired by sincerity — this work is tough so the people that I surround myself with make all the difference.
4. To you, what makes a responsible leader?
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that responsible leaders practice self-care; for the good of their health, sustained passion and being reasonable on demands to others. They are practitioners of all they say they do and role model positive behaviour to inspire and influence others to come onboard. They know when to get out of the way so their team can feel empowered but with a clear enough framework so they’re supported to succeed. Even when competitive, the responsible leader acts in a way that does not harm society. They’re highly ethical and deliver on commitments or at least do it to the best of their ability.
5. Any good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Every entrepreneur, speaker, guru, and textbook gives advice from their own context and lens. Listen deeply for the wisdom that applies to you and then trust yourself. Even if you get it wrong, the action creates momentum. Act despite the fear and courage will catch up with you.
About the Impact Hub Joburg
– 1st October 2010: opened doors in Fashion District, downtown Joburg (the first Impact Hub in Africa)
– November 2010: started hosting a series of events for Global Entrepreneurship Week with a focus on social innovation (now going on our 8th year)
– March 2011: started hosting Business Clinics
– June 2011: former First Lady Zanele Mbeki spends the day at the hub on an unofficial visit and takes time to learn about each member’s business
– January 2012: Impact Hub Global Association is formed with new license agreements
– March 2012: hosted their largest Hackathon with the British Council called Culture Shift to bridge the tech community and creative economy with local and international icons as guests
– October 2012: moved to cosmopolitan Braamfontein
– September 2013: brand change from The Hub to Impact Hub
– July 2014: launch of the Social Impact Accelerator
– June 2015: closed doors for reboot
– October 2015: a new team is born
– November 2015: monthly events and pop-up hubs across Joburg kicks off
– 2nd March 2017: relaunch of Impact Hub Joburg
The Impact Hub Joburg forms part the world’s largest network of inspiring workspaces, vibrant learning communities, and entrepreneurial incubation programs – from startup to investment ready and beyond. Part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community centre, Impact Hub offers members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow impact. Learn more about them here