From Trainee to Innovation Expert in Three Years

Saskia Hoebée, Analyst Food & Agri Startup Innovation

Working for a bank hadn’t even crossed my mind when I graduated in international relations and political economics. But, in fact, Rabobank’s strong commitment to the global agricultural sector makes it the perfect place for me to develop a career.

First Steps Towards the Perfect Job

I had a very clear idea about what career direction when I was looking for jobs. My first employer—the Netherlands Center for Trade Promotion (Nederlands Centrum voor Handelsbevordering)—sent me on two trade missions to Latin America. Our purpose was to help Dutch companies achieve their export objectives. It just so happened that those were companies in the food & agri sector, which is what first sparked my interest in this business. I discovered just how innovative the Dutch agricultural sector is and our strong position in the global market. I really enjoyed helping entrepreneurs put their innovative ideas into practice, so I wanted to get more involved in that too.

Surprised by the Bank’s Focus

Luckily someone I know suggested the Rabobank traineeship to me, otherwise it would never have occurred to me to consider the bank. I was really enthusiastic after I found out that Rabobank has a special focus on the food & agri sector around the world and on innovation. So with zilch experience in finance, I took the plunge. My first assignment was as a credit analyst at a local bank in the Netherlands. I’d never even set eyes on a balance sheet, so it was very educational. But it also confirmed what I already knew: I would never be a “standard” banker. Next I went to Hong Kong to work on an innovation project. It was there that I came into contact with the Rabobank Food & Agri Start-up Innovation team, which at that time was only operating in the US. That’s where I sowed the seeds that would grow into my present job.

Create Your Own Opportunities

I got on well with the team manager and he was a great sounding board for what I might do after my training year. He had set up FoodBytes! in North America. Foodbytes! is a platform that connects promising start-ups in the food & agri sector with large corporates and investors. I had my own ideas for the platform as well. For instance, I thought that we should set up a database of all the start-ups and that Rabobank should do more to respond to the issues clients face by taking a closer look at their needs. I managed to convince the team manager that I could add value. By that time, I had already developed an extensive network in the bank, which certainly helped me get on the team and start rolling out Start-up Innovation and FoodBytes! for the very first time in Europe. It’s actually a business within the bank. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity.

From Successful Event to Expertise Team

Despite my junior position, the bank showed tremendous confidence in me, which was a major boost. Of course, not everybody was convinced by my plan, so I just focused on the people who were and sought advice from colleagues with the right expertise. I decided to give it everything I had for a year before evaluating. A year has never gone by so fast. I set up the start-up database and expanded Rabobank’s network in the food & agri ecosystem in Europe.
I also helped organize the first FoodBytes! event in Europe which gives start-ups a platform to pitch to potential investors. That first edition was a great success and it’s an important project. But our team has an even greater purpose: we want to get to know our future clients at an early stage, stay on top of market trends, and deploy our knowledge and networks in the start-up ecosystem to help our corporate customers to innovate. Two years on, we now have a team of six and we get invited by colleagues to meet their clients to offer expert advice on innovation, interesting start-ups, trends, and models. Another task for me is to maintain relationships with interesting start-ups so that we can still be of service in the future when they have grown.

Winning People Over in a Huge Organization

My career has been a rollercoaster, with lots of ups and downs. I love setting up new things and am brimming with ideas. Ideally, I’d like to test my ideas straight away, check what works and what doesn’t, learn, and move on. But they don’t all make the cut, and you really need a lot of stamina and perseverance. Since Rabobank is such a huge organization, stakeholder management is extremely important. So, I’ve started making conscious efforts in that direction. And I’ve learned to accept that some processes don’t always move as fast as I’d like. I’m full of energy and I try to win people over and inspire them. That works most—but not all— of the time. But just look at all we’ve achieved—what’s not to be proud of?

Take a look at the FoodBytes!-platform