Lena Vestad Hansen was born in Norway and started her career in the salmon harvesting industry. Now she’s a business advisor and trainer at The Business Centre, working away across industries and oceans to find herself in sunny Newcastle today.
“Coming to Sydney, I was in my late 20s. I had no idea how little value my international marketing and language skills had, I had to completely re-invent myself” Lena says, reflecting on her varied career.
She worked in a range of different industries and roles, including a stint as a software tester, until finding her feet when landing a field marketing role at technology research and advisory company Gartner.
“Working on a global team, surrounded by incredibly intelligent people, helping businesses all over the world make sense of tech, that was where my love for tech started. “I’m not quite sure why I love it so much, but I enjoy tech for the problems that it’s solving, not for the tech itself.”
That love of solving real problems has stayed with her.
In 2013 she and her husband left Sydney for South Korea. A six-month contract evolved into a four-year engagement. Two kids later, and when the project was over, they decided to move to Newcastle to be closer to family. Eager to get back into work she quickly realised you needed to know people to find work in Newcastle. She ended up volunteering for Michelle Ebbins, owner and director of JettProof, helping her with her marketing.
“I just figured I need some experience and get my confidence back,” she says.
Eventually she was approached about a sales and marketing manager role at clean tech spatial analytics company Anditi. It was through this role she was introduced to Newcastle and the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem, Eighteen04, City of Newcastle’s Smart City Program as well as the teams from I2N and The Business Centre. Lena quickly realised that the Smart City, the startup and innovation space was what she loved being involved in. Anditi ended up pitching at EY’s Regional Innovation Showcase, as a participant of Start House, the Business Centre’s innovation program.
The program she later was asked to run after joining the team at The Business Centre in 2019.
“The sole purpose of The Business Centre is creating sustainability in jobs, businesses and community. We’re responding to the needs of entrepreneurs. We provide practical and actionable advice and help small to medium size businesses start and grow, and sometimes even exit,” Lena says, explaining what The Business Centre does.
The footprint of the 37-year-old not-for-profit is probably larger than you think. We work with businesses in Newcastle, all the way up to Forster, inland down through the Upper Hunter and all the way down to the Central Coast and Sydney. The Business Centre employs 22 people, including a team of 12 business advisors with heaps of skills and experience.
Through the Start House program, methodology and connections she still helps entrepreneurs start up, validating their ideas, finding ways to solve real problems. It’s all about encouraging diversity in innovation, getting regional entrepreneurs the knowledge, support and connections they need. She’s worked with startups such as BeeInnovative, Compeat Nutrition, Kompozition, Helpful Love, Spewy, Nuts and Bolts Design, GGWP and MGA Thermal. Introducing MGA Thermal to the team at CP ventures helped them secure their seed funding round as a part of the 2019 EY Regional Innovation Showcase.
“What makes Start House different to many other startup and accelerators around is that we don’t take equity , which means that our advice is always unbiased.”
Anyone who could need someone to soundboard their current business situation, their challenges or any new business ideas with, should give their lovely receptionist a call. They’ll book them in with the best suited advisor. No business is ever turned away, having worked with all kinds of different businesses from local walking tour provider Newcastle Afoot to large global corporations like Orica.
Lena still grabs every opportunity to help local entrepreneurs and engage with the innovation eco system. She’s excited by the day we can start gathering face to face again. The pitch nights, entrepreneur stories and the Hunter Innovation Festivals just haven’t been the same since COVID. But we’ll get there, one step at a time.