“We are more interested in people who are interested in creating change in society. Everything we do is driven by the needs of our community.” These are the words of social entrepreneur Lesley Williams, aged 34, is founder and managing director of Impact Hub in Johannesburg.
Impact Hub is a co-working space that connects entrepreneurs by giving them a space to exchange ideas. Established in 2010, it forms part of a global network made up of 8,000 member hubs found in six continents and 47 countries including Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Germany.
The Impact Hub, situated on a buzzing corner of inner Johannesburg has a community of over 150 members. The hub also works as an accelerator for entrepreneurs with programmes to guide entrepreneurs and invest in them.
“It’s a place for entrepreneurs to come to meet their clients and colleagues,” Williams says.
She says the organisation supports entrepreneur’s learning objectives and provides them with the right connections. The kind of support offered to entrepreneurs depends on the stage of their business.
Members are given access to the hub’s telephones for all business-related communication, as well as Wi-Fi allowing members to access the internet.
“We are a local and international community which supports you in getting your idea to becoming a fully-fledged business. We take care of the individual experience of an entrepreneur.”
“Entrepreneurs should not be locked in, they should have the freedom to benefit the offerings of the incubator”
Woman with a cause
Williams has a history of helping to advance young people. Before starting on her own, she worked at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) where she worked in the policy, leadership and gender Studies unit and was responsible for creating the Young Professionals Forum.
The biggest challenge she faced, William says was finding an investor, she originally planned on starting the Hub with R2 million but ended up having to go ahead with just R200 000. “I had fear, my friends pushed me to come up with this idea,” she says.
Sharing a common vision
Impact Hub also holds business events aimed at creating a social impact. This is done by inviting guests from other established organisations to conduct workshops.
“I can organise them [workshops] in a way that will make entrepreneurs understand each other,” says Williams, who has a vast international network, which makes it easy to connect various experts with her entrepreneurs.
Each one teach one
The hub has made great strides in connecting small businesses to other established companies. One of her success stories is a startups called Shake The World, which makes bracelets educating the public about Millennium Development Goals. The startup managed to strike a deal with one of South Africa’s largest fashion retailers, Edcon.
“We connected them to Edcon and the CEO liked their idea and sold the product in 40 stores around the country,” Williams says.
“Make sure you are offering something that people will like, be creative and resourceful. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean your business is successful.”
A home for like-minded individuals
Williams says the Hub is more than just an office space. “It’s all about creating a relationship, we get to know you and you get to know us. We will then decide if you are in line with us.”
As part of the Impact Hub family, Williams says members have to be active and participate in the sessions and workshops conducted at the organisation.
The need for more incubators
Williams says that South Africa has a shortage of good incubators which should give entrepreneurs the platform to present themselves to the outside world.“We have a few fantastic incubators in SA who are doing amazing work and we need more of those” she says.
She also cautions entrepreneurs to be careful when choosing the right incubator to join. “An incubator has to understand that you can’t own an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs should not be locked in, they should have the freedom to benefit from the offerings of the incubator.
“Everybody has to do their homework, don’t waste entrepreneurs’ time if you can’t support them. It becomes costly for entrepreneurs if you don’t have what they want,” she says.
Her advice for entrepreneurs is not to mistake ideas for success. “Make sure you are offering something that people will like, be creative and resourceful. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean your business is successful,” she says.