Chef Semi Hakim empowering innovation

Tell us about yourself

My name is Semi Hakim, and I’m the Co-Founder & CEO of Kök Projekt, a startup accelerator and a corporate innovation partner for the agri-food sector in the Emerging Markets of the world. 

How would you describe your professional career?

I would describe it as “curious.” I’ve started my career as a chef, then moved into food event organizations, conducting food & culture research activities, taking part in gastro-diplomacy projects, and then working for small-scale food producers to support their traditional food production techniques as part of an EU co-funded project which I was a coordinator for Turkey.

My career before Kök Projekt was submerged with the agri-food industry within pretty much all aspects of the sector. Then comes the Kök Projekt, which we co-founded with my business partner Shirley Kaston back in 2015. Since 2015, we’ve been working towards the future of agri-food systems focusing on empowering innovation and supporting entrepreneurs to reach their potential and beyond. 

As my whole career was build upon curiosity, I’m always curious for the next horizon to come in and work on. 

Can you tell us about a time where you encountered a business challenge? 

In Kök Projekt, we mainly focus on emerging markets, and agri-food entrepreneurship back in 2015 was something novel to talk about as we didn’t saw many startups coming to the podium and changing the conversation around the agri-food systems. Thus our first years focused on sharing the importance and need for a vertical focus for agri-food entrepreneurship, rather than clustering them with FinTech, HealthTech, or other topics. 

Over the course of the years, the interest and the need became more apparent. We’ve started focusing on building the network and collaborations for startups and bridging the gap between the teams and the corporations. Then the question became on the number of existing startups that are pretty low to conduct programs and activities. At that moment, as a team, we started to focus on representing and shedding light on the emerging market’s agri-food ecosystems through our ecosystem maps and other content development activities as one of the main reasons for us to work on the ecosystem maps is to showcase these fantastic teams and entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, we’ve decided not to follow a traditional route on ecosystem maps to showcase the teams, and we wanted to showcase everyone, as investors, corporations, governmental organization, and then startups, as a guideline for startups to understand the players and develop their game plan in the selected markets. 

We as a team quite enjoy the challenges we encounter as we focus on developing more activities, services, and support mechanisms for agri-food entrepreneurs to succeed in their journey. 

Which supporting skills do you think are most important when it comes to leadership?

I would say enabler, and less-intrusive approach is the way they go for us. As the legendary football coach, José Mourinho, once said, “I coach the team, not the player.”

Thus, in our team we focus on creating task-based mechanisms and providing the structural information flow for transparently planning those tasks. As such, we don’t do meetings unless it’s needed, neither conduct them more than they need to be, time management for us, is everything. 

Therefore in Kök Projekt, transparency, self-enablement, and co-creation are in our core culture. One of the critical factors that we’ve validated this way of working is that, we’ve been working remotely since February 2020, and we’ll be continuing this way.

Another part of our company culture is that we focus on subject-based work; as an example, instead of working directly within our programs, our interns work on the particular subjects that they apply to us to join as an intern. We provide them the Kök Projekt’s tools and methodologies. It’s a similar model that they’ve used back in the day at the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark, which I was a big fan of their work. 

What steps do you take to make sure that projects are completed on time, on budget, and to the proper standard?

We divide and determine the roles based on topics, in a transparent way. Thus, every team member has a specific role in conducting each project, plus open space for personal implementation. Therefore we work as quite a flexible, task-based system, where each member of the project can follow the progress in each topic. We apply this model to each section of our activities.

What are you passionate about?

Food. For sure. I’m a big fan of food, food production, agriculture, and everything and anything about the food itself. This passion drove me into cooking and being a chef, researching local recipes and their history, organizing events, working for small-scale producers, and working on accelerator programs. It’s always food for me. 

I think this is also a shared passion for anyone in Kök Projekt. Our team consists of ex-chefs, farmers, and food entrepreneurs. Everybody here loves or produces food some way, and for us, that’s the first thing to have to join our team, have a passion for food in some form. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

We’ve been working towards building a global network across the emerging markets, including companies, governmental organizations, investors, and many more players within the agri-food sector. Now, we’re working on building our fund to invest in the tremendous and game-changing agri-food startups for our next step. Thus in five years, we would dive deeper into investing in our teams while also supporting them to build their unique products and services across the emerging markets. 

How do you see the food industry? 

Exciting. The food industry changes every day as we become more aware of the effects of production and sourcing our food. This led all of us to supporting and choosing more sustainable solutions, not because it’s the cool thing to do, but it’s a must to do for future generations. Therefore we’re in the shift of change for the food industry as we see a new and exciting startup coming to the picture; I mean, just thinking about there’s a startup that produces protein out of thin air, is massive. 

It’s also quite exciting because it resembles the rise of the internet back in the ’90s; thus, I think we’re still at the beginning phase of all of these fantastic technologies and services. There’s going to be a lot to come in the future. 

The foodeshow in 2 words

Fantastic Platform

Your advice to the foodeshow community 

Stay updated regarding all of the developments in this exciting and everchanging sector, have a passion for it, and take action to be part of that change. 

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