Riegiena Eefsting, Business Developer AgriFood 'The work should really matter'
Her love of cooking and good food culminated in the creation of several companies in the agri-food sector. Meanwhile, Riegiena Eefsting has traded entrepreneurship for an adventure as Business Developer AgriFood at the NOM. 'I am convinced that our food system needs to change drastically.'
She had just bought a small vineyard in Hungary when Riegiena Eefsting saw a vacancy at NOM last fall. NOM was looking for an AgriFood Business Developer. And yes, that position seemed right up her alley. Riegiena, an entrepreneur active in the agri-food sector for years, decided to apply and was hired.
'I don't want to work just anywhere,' she motivates her choice. 'The work has to really matter. Like NOM, I want to contribute to accelerating the food transition. In fact, I was already writing a plan on how to make the food chain more sustainable, healthy and smart. In the middle of that process, the vacancy caught my eye. I immediately thought: I can make much more impact with an organization like NOM behind me. That was the main reason for me to apply and return to the northern Netherlands, my native soil. Exciting too, because it would mean going into paid employment after years of entrepreneurship.'
Helping to innovate
She got to know NOM well in 2009, shortly after she started Wenning Fresh Organic. With the Orvelte-based company, born out of Riegiena's passion for cooking and healthy eating, she offered a wide range of organic fresh produce of processed and unprocessed potatoes, vegetables and fruits. To purchase the property and install some new packaging lines, NOM had provided her with a subordinated loan. 'I knew NOM mainly as a pleasant and sound investment partner,' Riegiena says. 'Of course, I knew that the organization does more than just provide capital. Helping companies innovate, for example. When I saw the vacancy I started to look into that even more and became more and more enthusiastic.'
Innovation goes beyond developing new products and services. For NOM it also means: advising and guiding promising companies, facilitating talent and ensuring together that innovative ideas are converted into business opportunities as well and as quickly as possible. And precisely that role of connecting partner, in this case in agrifood, was what appealed to Reigiena so much.
'Even as an entrepreneur, I tried to bring relevant parties together when necessary,' she argues. 'Now, as Business Developer, I get the opportunity to do that with a whole team. A strong team, for sure, that together has a wealth of knowledge and experience. At the same time, I am now dealing with issues that I also focused on as an entrepreneur for quite some time. I am convinced that our food system must change drastically to be able to continue to feed the growing world population in a healthy and sustainable way. With more plant-based - and less animal-based ingredients. I notice that many companies in the sector feel the same way. They know very well that things have to change and that innovation is the only way forward. But how and with whom do you do that? And how do you link a good business model to it? It makes me happy to support companies and entrepreneurs as best I can and help them on their way. Together with my colleagues, of course.
After parting ways with the Wenning Fresh Organic did several interim assignments, Riegiena began a new entrepreneurial adventure in 2016, again in the Drenthe museum village. In a historic dairy factory, she started Zuivelatelier Orvelte. There, after taking several targeted courses, she applied herself to the artisanal production of organic cheese and dairy products. But the business also included a store, a tasting room, a meeting location and workshops. "Besides preparing food myself, I've been interested in where our food comes from since a young age," she says. 'As with the Wenning Fresh Organic, I saw the dairy workshop as an ideal opportunity to work on raising consumer awareness about where my products come from. After all, with the future in mind, knowledge about sustainable production is more important than ever. If you create awareness, people are more quickly willing to make other choices.''
About three years ago, she sold Zuivelatelier Orvelte. To rest and make new plans, Riegiena decided to travel through Asia. Preferably for a long time. But alas, she had been on the road for just under seven months when corona broke out. She decided to play it safe and flew back to the Netherlands just before the skies closed. She didn't stay long. Thinking corona would be short-lived, she rented a property in France and a little later bought a small vineyard in Hungary. 'I wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible in Hungary and also learn to make wine purely as a hobby,' Riegiena explains. 'However, the political climate started to bother me quite a bit. Hence, despite the peace and beautiful nature, I did not want to settle there permanently and wanted to play a role in the food transition elsewhere.'
Meanwhile, Riegiena has been working as Business Developer AgriFood for over six months. How has she fleshed it out over the past period? 'I have been given a lot of freedom to do it my own way. I am rather proactive and from the very beginning I approached several companies in my network to come and have a talk. What are you up against now and what can NOM do for you? The great thing is: to help startups and existing companies innovate, we can offer a number of valuable programs, including the Business Innovation Program Food. In that program, entrepreneurs who want to contribute to the food transition are guided step-by-step from idea to a sustainable business model. Not infrequently, this leads to surprising results. Many companies associate NOM primarily with providing capital. While innovation is simply a very important part of our services.'