A story about challenges, reinvention and daring to dream

This interview was published in the January newsletter of CCLBL (Câmara de Comércio Luso-Belga-Luxemburguesa).

Tell us a little bit about Nefelibata (An introduction to the company, its story, what it offers,…)

Nefelibata Unipessoal Lda was created in Braga, end 2019, after I had moved to Portugal.
The name ‘Nefelibata’ refers to the Portuguese words ‘nephele’, which means cloud, and ‘batha’, a place where you can walk.
A cloud walker is someone who lives in the cloud of his own imagination or dreams. Someone who is not guided by the general thoughts of society, someone who dares to walk a different path and to think out of the box.
This is also a free translation of the Dutch word ‘Friskijker’ or the English ‘Freshmind’, which I both used in my Belgian business ‘buroplus’.

Nefelibata is built on my experience and my know-how, after working for 30 years in Belgium, of which 20 years as an entrepreneur. I worked with over 150 clients, mainly SME’s and professional organisations. I have built particular experience in strategic communication.

Today I guide both individuals and businesses, in Belgium and in Portugal. I help them draw a roadmap for the future. Together we look at the challenges they are facing, bottlenecks, growth pains, etc. But also at their assets, their strengths and their experiences. These are the seeds for new opportunities.
For example, positive customer experiences and success stories are a perfect basis for a growth strategy. Every company has at least some happy customers with positive experiences, otherwise they would not exist. This goes for any company, of any size and in any sector. The opportunities are in the way you use these stories as a growth engine for your business.

My business is both B2B and B2C. Individuals who are on a crossroad in life, may be in need of a sparring partner, a sound board or someone who guides them through a challenging situation. I help them draw their personal roadmap for the future.

Something particular about the guiding sessions is that I take people out of the comfort zone of their daily business. Figuratively, but also literally. Although sessions can be online, because of the pandemic, there are still options to work face to face, provided this is allowed. In Braga, at the foot of Bom Jesus, I have my own ‘Cloud Space’. It’s a physical location which is perfectly suited for indoor and outdoor activities with small groups, like workshops, brainstorm sessions, trainings, team meetings, etc.
But I want to go further with my clients, also literally. Braga and by extension the North of Portugal is a huge hiking paradise. So, I take people outside for a walk or for an inspiring activity. On a journey, as you wish. You might be surprised how many insights and ideas already arose while climbing the stairs of Bom Jesus do Monte.

Why Portugal? And why Braga?

Starting my business in Braga was linked to my move to the North of Portugal, which was a personal decision.
In Braga I was impressed by the city’s ambition and their strategic plan for the economic development. And of course, Braga is a very beautiful city and the 3rd city in Portugal. It has many assets and even more potential for the future. In Braga I found a perfect balance between work opportunities and living in a green area, close to nature.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced at Nefelibata?

I moved to Portugal in September 2019 and started my business a few months later. Exactly six months later, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic started. It has put the development of my activities on hold ever since and I guess it will remain a challenge for some time.
During my first months here, I had the opportunity to meet quite some people and to start building my network. That is also on hold ever since. Physical networking activities are all off or they have turned into digital formats. These are valuable alternatives, without any doubt. But opportunities to meet and connect with people one on one are fewer or even totally off, of course. And I certainly miss that.
Starting to organise my own events and workshops also had to be postponed due to the pandemic measures.

Learning the Portuguese language is another challenge. I have taken quite some lessons, but the opportunities for real practice are lacking, for the same reason as all of the above.

How is your company coping/reinventing itself during this pandemic?

Moving to Portugal was part of a personal transformation process. In fact, I had already started ‘reinventing’ myself in 2018. But then, the pandemic turned out to be a real plot twist. At the time when I was still drawing my own future roadmap, I was forced to review my plans and my business model. But change is a never ending process and in fact it has shown to be an interesting exercise in resilience.
Meanwhile I continue guiding my Belgian clients since the work runs perfectly in remote.
And of course, this particular situation gives me the opportunity to work on the future of Nefelibata, to create new programmes and concepts. Every threat is also an opportunity and brings on new possibilities. The lockdown situations have generated many new business ideas. Like the launch of a Mindful Walking programme. I live at 2 km walking distance of the Portico of the stairs of Bom Jesus de Braga. I used to walk up there at least once a week, just for personal exercise and to clear my mind. During my walks ideas arose that were the basis for the development of a programme. It will be launched as soon as the situation allows me to do so.

How do you see the future?

If you would ask me how I see things evolve, for my business and for companies in general, I think there will be one certainty. Nothing will ever be the same again as it was before the pandemic. There are two ways to respond to that. At first we will all focus on what we were used to and what will no longer be possible, the loss. Then we can either sit down and cry or we can straighten our back and show resilience. We will be forced to change our mindset and draw new patterns. That goes for individuals in their daily life but also for companies. Some have already started to rethink their business, others may be struggling and may need more time or more support.

I think there might be a key role for professional networking organisations, like CCLBL. They can provide support, tools and platforms that enable companies to find each other, to connect and to explore business opportunities, partnerships, co-creation opportunities, etc.

Of course digitalization will continue to play a major role. For some companies this may seem a threat for their business. But if you take a closer look, you may find entirely new opportunities. Like being able to work with clients on the other side of the world. Clients who would never have made the physical travel or even never would have gotten to know your business or your products.
Digital trade shows are a nice example of that. I can now attend events without having to travel and I can get in touch with potential clients or suppliers through a digital platform.
Opportunities will remain endless, we will just have to change our mindset and adopt to the new reality. Dare to dream. The faster a company can make this switch and start to reinvent themselves, the stronger they will become and the more sustainable their future will be.

In my business Nefelibata, I want to develop a portfolio of activities and programmes to guide individuals and companies and to support them in their ‘reinvention process’. My goal is to guide them in seeing opportunities instead of threats and in (re)connecting with themselves. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.