Brussels is a city teeming with individual entrepreneurs who specialise in everything from design to political consultancy. Working on your own can be challenging though, so Danish businesswoman Anne-Sofie van den Born Rehfeld, who arrived in the Belgian capital 9 years ago, had the idea of creating a homely workspace where ideas, friendships and informal networking could thrive.
City of ideas
“When I came to Brussels as a consultant, I didn’t know anyone,” she explains. “I was working from home and my clients were mostly in Denmark. I missed the social aspect of work, like finishing on a Friday and wearing smart clothes.” Anne-Sofie had the notion of renting a house, making it look attractive and inviting people to work there. Her aim was to combine the cosiness of home (including amenities such as a stocked kitchen and plush bathroom) with the advantages of a shared workspace. “In 2013 I ended up taking my savings and renting a lovely townhouse in Ixelles (a municipality in Brussels),” she says. “I then decorated it with everything I could find in the house, such as family heirlooms and paintings. My husband would come home from work and find another painting missing!”
Anne-Sofie called her business The Library, a name inspired by her childhood. “I grew up on a very small island in the south of Denmark, where my mum was a librarian,” she says. “Every day after school, I’d go to the library. When I was looking for a name for my business this just popped into my head – I love the friendly, calm atmosphere of libraries, which bring different people together to pursue their interests.” Anne-Sofie has since rented 2 other properties in Brussels, and her husband has since left his job and joined the company.
Making a positive difference
The business venture was challenging at first, in part because the coworking concept was not so well-known in Brussels. Anne-Sofie had to explain the benefits to entrepreneurs who were used to working from home. Nonetheless, all the hard work was worth it. “I remember when a guy told me that his girlfriend had noted how much happier he’d been since he joined,” she said. “This is what I wanted to do – to help people be less lonely, more productive, and happy to go to work as entrepreneurs. We now have 150 members, but I still remember that feeling.”
Anne-Sofie is adamant about the importance of doing something positive. “I think if you are in it just for the money, then the stress will become too difficult to handle. You’ll have a higher success rate if you have a higher purpose,” she says. She’d also advise young entrepreneurs to pace themselves. “My mistake at the beginning was being too immersed in my business,” she says. “Launching something is like having a baby full of needs, and you can’t give in to every need.”
Time to be heard
Anne-Sofie is also active in promoting female entrepreneurship, and hosts workshops on issues such as public speaking at The Library. She believes that confidence is one of the most important qualities in an entrepreneur, and suggests that girls are often shyer at speaking out. As a participant in an initiative to promote entrepreneurship in schools, she noted that girls tended to come up to her afterwards to discuss things; they were often afraid to ask questions in front of their peers. “This is why it is important to have strong role models and to show girls that anything is possible if they are willing to invest their time and work hard,” she says.