NIELS ROT, Co-Founder and Program Director of HUB Zurich

“Deep down we all do our activities with certain drivers; most people feel it deep inside.  I think everybody has an intrinsic motivation to do good.”

Niels Rot is one of the smiling faces greeting you when you enter HUB Zurich, a community workspace and social entrepreneurship incubator.  Niels’ journey from his native Holland, around Europe and across the world, has led him back to Zurich a number of times.  Niels has for several years been involved in designing and executing programs to support the HUB’s broad-based mission.  This includes learning to build a sustainable organisational culture.

Many triggers along the way guided Niels to follow his intuition and sense of values. His parents often discussed societal issues at home, and a favorite TV show was ‘News for Kids’.  Initially however Niels was not interested in education, rather in football and socialising, and was kicked out of gymnasium.  At age 17 he “sort of stumbled into” an International Business program at a school of applied science because “it was close to home.” Meeting students from across Europe, he began drawing inspiration from a variety of outside sources.  Two years later he was interning in Paris and lived with a variety of bohemians whilst working in olfactory marketing. In his next semester abroad in Lyon he submersed himself in an intellectual environment with good professors, and “it turned out learning is interesting.”  Despite the challenge of studying in Spanish, in his final semester Niels pursued his growing interest in economics at university in Madrid, also tuning in to the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR). In Ecuador he moved from CSR to NGO and experienced the ins and outs of a small non-profit.

Back in Madrid Niels had met a Swiss girl who began to figure prominently in his pathways. “Private concerns determined a lot:  when I would go traveling, where I would live before, where I would study, where we would go back to.”  In order to save money and learn German, Niels returned to Holland for a year where he worked as a pharmaceutical trader.  At the same time as Niels shipped products all around the world he became increasingly aware of the environmental implications – he was reading Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents.

In 2007, he was accepted to St. Gallen University, through an interview, largely based on his concern for sustainability.  This environment was a nurturing ground for Niels’s entrepreneurial ideas, networking and student politics – “The tools were there.”  He saw a poster for an oikos (Students for Sustainable Economics and Management) & Pizza and – “jumping in, following my intuition” – it was not long before he was invited to join the board and was soon after elected President of oikos St. Gallen. Deciding to pursue a Master’s, Niels met Michel Bachmann who was starting his PhD.  Michel had heard of the HUB in his research on social entrepreneurship, and that summer a spark was created with discussion meetings, a solid team including Christoph Birkholz and Hagen Krohn and a strategy retreat. Shortly after, Niels and his girlfriend chanced upon the last two vacancies in the newly developed Zurich Viadukt, and the team managed to secure a location for the HUB. A special mention goes out to Thomas Vellacott, the CEO of WWF Switzerland, who played a vital roll in helping the team secure the deposit for the Viadukt space.

Fast forward.  Niels was studying full-time and preparing for a well-deserved year off to travel with his lady, amidst turbulent organizational shifts at the HUB.  Knowing he would take a break allowed him to work non-stop, growing the community and operations of the HUB while completing his academic activities.  In southeast Asia they relaxed, read books – including The Future Makers – and looked at their own future.  Upon return to Switzerland and after considering other options, Niels returned to the HUB in a new role as Program Director, although this had not been predicted.

Relying for years on intuition, today Niels feels he has a more conscious awareness.  His intention is to “build up the HUB to run on its own”, and then address another area of growing interest:  Education.  In particular Niels would like to help “change how we teach children” by changing regulatory structures in educational systems. Yet, perhaps his biggest project ever is also planned for this year:  he plans to get married, focusing on family and assuming even greater responsibility.  Among Niels’s criteria for next steps include flexibility, learning new things, working with inspiring people, and “doing something that matches with my values, creating impact through my work – once you’ve done it, you can’t really do anything else.”

Additional Quotes

“Helping people and making money from doing so is a very powerful combination, and helps you develop as a person.”

“I’m very inspired by how people, when they have a vision, can actually realise it and live according to their principles .”

About the HUB

Ongoing programs and activities including Future Impact Prize with Partnering for Global Impact, Hub Fellowship awards from WWF and AXA foundations, startup job matching, Business Help Desk, ‘Sexy Salad’ networking, Brown Bag discussion lunches, Hub Xpres pitching sessions and more.


Country: Switzerland

Type of Education: Universität St. Gallen-Hochschule für Wirtschafts-, Rechts- und Sozialwissenschaften Bachelor (2009), Masters (2010) Both in International Economics.  Hogeschool INHOLLAND (2006) International Business and Languages, Economics

Awards: VSB Scholarship, for further education.

Foundation Affiliation: oikos

Pathway to Impact: Path of Values

Impact Area/s: Social Relations – social cohesion, mutual respect, ability to help others

Organisation Type: Social Enterprise, NGO, Corporation


Other Media

Niels Rot in HUB impressions

About the author Charles Blass

Charles is a media advisor with experience as a copy writer, journalist, broadcaster and content developer. Charles founded Lovevolv Inc, a non-profit arts and education company, and co-founded the LiveWired music network. Current activities include editing digital media and business writings, teaching English, mind-mapping, and producing two Zurich-based radio programs. See

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