Liza Andrea Kuster, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who represented Switzerland in the 2010 Miss Earth beauty pageant, is on a mission to help startup companies in the Philippines.
Kuster says the Miss Earth competition was an opportunity that developed her passion for various causes such as environmental protection, eco-tourism and sustainable business.
“I’m a former banker [Credit Suisse] and I studied International Management in Switzerland and at De La Salle University in Manila. I also have several businesses in Switzerland which are all still running. The sustainability side or the impact side [of the business] is because of Miss Earth. In 2010 to 2011, I was crowned Miss Earth Switzerland. With the crown, I got so much exposed to the whole sustainability topic,” Kuster, who speaks five languages, says in an interview.
She also became popular in Switzerland as a brand ambassador, TV presenter and host of sustainability events. “Today, I’m still a host for TV events in Switzerland and I go back there maybe three or four times a year,” Kuster, a dual citizen, says.
She was already running her businesses when she joined the pageant. Two years ago, Kuster got involved in a global movement called Impact Hub, which means a place for impact entrepreneurs. Kuster, along with Swiss adventurer and business strategist Matt Jaeggi and lady community builder Ces Rondario, brought the Impact Hub concept to the Philippines. “We were connected by Impact Hub. We got to know each other and we wanted to pursue that idea,” she says.
The result is Impact Hub Manila, which started in June 2015 with a site at the fifth floor of Green Sun Building along Chino Roces Ave. Extension in Makati City. As a part of expansion, Impact Hub Manila is moving from the old site to four new locations to serve more entrepreneurs and startup companies with big ideas.
Impact Hub Manila is described as a co-working and events space for a membership community of entrepreneurs, activists, creative individuals and professionals supporting positive social and environmental change.
“We’re really a combination between co-working space, incubation or innovation lab where we offer services and a lot of training programs. We have trainings for entrepreneurs on how to scale their businesses. We provide mentors and experts in different fields who can help them to scale basically faster. In the incubation program, we offer fellowships, meaning we are partnering up with corporations such as LBC, WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature] and PEF [Peace and Equity Foundation],” Kuster says.
“If we train startups and entrepreneurs and innovators, they will be creating jobs and they will be creating an impact. They will make products and services which are solutions to the market. They will employ people and create real value,” she says.
Kuster, who was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mother and a Swiss father on Dec. 8, 1986 before moving to Switzerland when she was three months old, says she “believes in the Philippines, its innovations and startups and the people behind them.”
Kuster experienced the strength of typhoon Ondoy in 2009 and has since felt that the Philippines is one place she could have the most impact in. She moved to the Philippines last year to help establish Impact Hub Manila, which she believes can contribute to the country’s development.
“We will make Impact Hub more successful, so that means making the whole startup community more successful. That’s our solution to making a better Philippines,” she says.
Impact Hub Manila is a part of a global network focusing on incubation and innovation. It supports startups, talents, corporations and organizations with a wide range of training programs and consulting services, offering networking and co-working space. There are now 81 impact hubs around the world, with more than 15,000 members, according to Kuster. The original Impact Hub was established in London in 2005.
Impact Hub Manila has already rolled out two incubation programs, two accelerator bootcamps, hosted over 80 events and became home to more than 200 ‘hubbers’.
Following the success of its first fellowship program on innovations in mobility and logistics with logistics company LBC, Impact Hub Manila is launching a new fellowship program focused on sustainable energy solutions in partnership with WWF and PEF.
This is to support the best and most innovative ideas and business enterprises which address the need for sustainable energy solutions through the Impact Hub Fellowship Program. Kuster says Impact Hub is looking for solutions that could really have large-scale impact and disrupt the current system.
She says deadline for application is on July 24. “We are searching for all innovators in the energy sector. These can be renewable energy, access to energy, energy systems or off-grid solutions. Please go to our website or our page to basically apply there,” she says.
Kuster says to support the expansion in the Philippines, Impact Hub Manila teamed up with staff leasing and serviced office solutions company KMC Solutions to give members or ‘hubbers’ the flexibility to work in more locations.
Impact Hub Manila and KMC Solutions now provide up to 400 seats at V Corporate Center-Makati, Uptown Place Tower 1-Bonifacio Global City, SM Aura Premier - Bonifacio Global City and Rockwell Business Center in Ortigas.
“We wanted to get closer to the city and also because we want the ‘hubbers’ to be able to work anywhere, anytime and not need to travel around just to get to the hub. We at Impact Hub have to go to the ‘hubbers’. That’s why we take this strategical step,” she says. Kuster says the plan is to open more sites in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.
“I think we are one of the cheapest co-working spaces, but with a huge quality again because you have access to all four sites, you have community events and you have of course the global network. There are 81 impact hubs around the globe with 15,000 members and with that we are one of the largest networks of entrepreneurs worldwide,” says Kuster.
“We hope to double our number of ‘hubbers’ by the end of this year. We would love to welcome more ‘hubbers’, more entrepreneurs, more innovators. They don’t need to be freelancers or working independently but they can also be like professionals in big corporations who have anything to do with impact innovations and entrepreneurship and like-minded people,” she says.
Kuster says ‘hubbers’ can avail of a space in the lounge area for a monthly fee of P2,900 or they can choose an upgrade with the use of a room in any of the four sites for a monthly fee of P4,900. Impact Hub Manila also offers “virtual membership” through HubNet, an international business portal of entrepreneurs and like-minded professionals. For an annual fee of P 2,000, ‘hubbers’ can connect with 81 impact hubs around the world and over 15,000 members worldwide, she says.
Her passion for travels and her stint at Miss Earth competition brought her to different parts of the Philippines. “I listen, read a lot and travel a lot. I love traveling. I love ecotourism. I love everything that has to do with ecology. I try to buy sustainable products. I am very interested in it,” she says. She has visited major eco-tourism sites all over the Philippines such as Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, Davao and Baguio.
When she was 20 years old, Kuster travelled all over the world for a year. “I saved a lot of money by myself and I had five or six jobs when I was younger than 20 because I wanted to reach my dream and goals of traveling the world. After I had worked enough and saved enough, I traveled for a year. I went to Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. I learned a lot from traveling and I also learned that with strategic hard work, you can really achieve so much. I understand that life is hard but I believe that you can reach your goal no matter what. There are so many opportunities out there. You just have to reach them,” she says.
Kuster says Impact Hub Manila, which now has a team of seven, embraces the three Ps—people, planet and profit. “We would love to do more fellowships on different topics such as health or nutrition or access to water which are extremely important topics here in the Philippines. We hope that corporations and the government will come to us to help find innovators and to support them to grow, so we can have an overall bigger impact,” she says.
Kuster says Impact Hub Manila has been quite successful so far, with more than 5,000 people visiting its first space. “We had over a hundred events, two incubation programs, two acceleration programs, more than 200 hubbers. We are cash positive. But of course, we are so much further away, so we work very, very hard to reach our goals.”
She says the company’s vision is to create a very strong ecosystem for startups and innovators in the Philippines, who will in turn create impact, generate jobs and contribute to higher GDP. “Personally, I absolutely want to be a part of this exciting journey of Impact Hub together with my team and we will for sure have more companies in this industry,” she says.
Kuster advises startups and entrepreneurs to follow their dreams. “First, you have to exactly know what your dream is. You have to visualize that. You have to imagine yourself reaching that goal. When you know where your summit is, where the top of your mountain is, then focus on one step after the other. Otherwise, you get overwhelmed with the whole path,” she says.
She says entrepreneurs should not be discouraged by the lack of capital. “Don’t be scared because of the investments. So first of all, entrepreneurship is not limited just to a certain income class. This is extremely important to say. Everyone can be an entrepreneur. Everyone can have an idea and come to entities such as Impact Hub which is supportive of their ideas,” she says.
Kuster is attending the Unlikely Allies Conference in Seattle, Washington to meet other Impact Hub stakeholders on July 5 to 6. She says 500 participants from 80 cities around the world are expected to attend the event, which will discuss the role of the global movement.
“We are for impact, for purpose, for profit,” Kuster says.
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