Meet the mumpreneurs: Sabine Hobbel, creator of Pasta with Benefits 6 years ago

Meet the mumpreneurs: Sabine Hobbel, creator of Pasta with Benefits

Sabine lives in Dublin with her Italian husband, Nico, and their ten-month-old son, Aidan. Together the couple founded Leaves a natural food company producing the non-wheat pasta, Pasta with Benefits. A former health researcher, Sabine also holds two Master degrees and competed in field hockey at an elite level. The Dutch native grew up in the United States, the Netherlands and also lived in Scotland and Australia before relocating to Ireland.

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What makes Leaves different?

When Nico became wheat-intolerant, we had a problem in our family, as we love to eat pasta, and the non-wheat based pasta did not taste or feel anything like pasta. As we were unhappy with the current offering of both wheat and non-wheat based pasta and we found out that many other people were too, we created a unique range of pasta made from buckwheat and chickpeas ourselves. This gluten-free pasta is made without wheat, is high in protein (more protein than a sausage) and is one of your five a day! It is an all natural product that tastes amazing and has a nice texture thanks to the traditional Italian processes we use to create the pasta. We also slow-dry our pasta in the traditional way, which results in a much faster cooking time and retains higher levels of vitamins and minerals. The five-minute cooking time makes it very convenient too, as well as the fact that it comes in single serving packages. You won't cook too much pasta ever again! I love seeing parents' reactions to their kids enjoying something so healthy.

How did your business evolve?

We started the company from the Spade Enterprise Centre in Smithfield in Dublin, which we had already contacted while we were still living in the Netherlands. In September 2013, a unit became available for us, and we started working as a corporate caterer. This quickly evolved into working at farmer's markets, where we sold our pasta and Spanish omelettes. Then we decided to take our products to retail. One thing led to another, and soon we were catering and retailing all at the same time! We secured a grant from the Local Enterprise Office (LEO), two loans from Bank of Ireland and a microloan from InnerCity Enterprise. Our business kept growing and growing. We participated in amazing programmes such as Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur and FoodAcademy.
I was also awarded the Female Entrepreneur of 2014 by LEO Dublin and our business has been awarded Most Improved business 2014.

What was the tipping point?

The tipping point for us came when Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc and Bord Bia saw our potential in early 2015. Suddenly we received new grants for marketing and feasibility from these organisations, excellent mentoring and we were part of the programme FoodWorks. Recently we have also won the Competitive Start Fund, which we entered in the general round so we were up against all kinds of businesses including tech businesses from all around the country. The fact that these organisations believe so strongly in us, is a great vote of confidence. Next to that, the recent rate of sale, the positive feedback from food experts and consumers alike and the loyal customers are essential for our business.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known?

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The one thing I wish I had known is that finalising projects depend on more than your own hard work alone. In the beginning, I often didn't allow enough time for the deadlines I set myself. I've now learned that it's important to schedule more time in, as the people who you need answers from might not be able to help as quickly as you think. Now that I am aware of this, I allow for more time when others are involved and it results in a much happier process.

What are the benefits of working for yourself?

The main benefit is being in charge of your own schedule. For me this is great because even though I am working, I am nearly always working with my son and husband. Aidan has come to countless conferences and business meetings. It also helps me to continue breastfeeding, as it is much easier for me to have Aidan drink without having to express milk. This is extremely important for me and I am so glad that having our own business allows us to do this.
I'm also happy that by running our own business we can contribute to charity work, we work closely with Make A Wish, which makes dreams come true for families with children with life threatening conditions.

And the drawbacks?

The main drawback is the financial insecurity. When you are employed in a company, you know what kind of salary to expect at the end of the month. When you are creating your own business in the startup phase, some months are better than other months, and, of course, we reinvest heavily in the business before taking our salary. It is also challenging to have a vibrant social life with a young baby and a young business. Fortunately the positives keep outweighing the negatives!

How do you balance such a busy schedule?

It can be difficult to find a balance when you are growing a company like ours. I love being around Nico and Aidan so much; it means that even though we're working, there's lots of fun in the mix too. For example, we often do tastings in supermarkets and independent retail stores on weekends, and we always go as a family. That way one of us can always play with Aidan during the tasting, I can breastfeed Aidan whenever he needs, and we can chat to each other whenever it is quiet in the shop.

What advice would you give to a wannabe entrepreneur?

Think carefully about whether this is really what you want, and if so, surround yourself with people who have done this before! It helps so much to learn from peers and experts, so that you can avoid mistakes that are often made by people starting out. We've had excellent mentoring from, among others, the LEO and FoodWorks.
I also strongly recommend making sure that you are well connected when you are an aspiring entrepreneur. Network in different settings, as you can learn different things in different groups.

What’s next for you?

We are very excited about the future. We are hoping to bring our Pasta with Benefits to a wider audience and show everybody that pasta does not have to be a carb-heavy, nutritionally empty product and that it actually tastes delicious with minimal effort. We'll be at different fairs this Summer in Ireland and beyond, where we hope to engage with both retail buyers and consumers. It is a very exciting time for Leaves and we can't wait to see what will happen next!

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