Student enterprises #2

Just like Bill Gates

The IVWear students in front of the Harmony building. From left to right: Max Heintzen, Niels Weijermars and Melcher Frankema.

Bill Gates was a student when he invented Microsoft. Evan Spiegel started Snapchat when he was still in university. Who doesn’t want to be like them? The UK follows three promising student enterprises for a year. They participate in VentureLab, an initiative for young entrepreneurs organised by the RUG and Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Part 2: We need growth
Text and photos by Menno van der Meer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen


Is developing a portable IV.

Max Heintzen (graduated medical school)
Melcher Frankeman (doing a master’s in law)
Niels Weijermars (doing a bachelor in biomedical technology)

IVWear’s goals are clear: they want to introduce the portable IV bag in hospitals, allowing patients more mobility and a quicker recovery time. But the road to these goals is long, because medical innovations have to meet an enormous amount of requirements.

Six months ago, IVWear team’s plans were to technically improve the IV bag, obtain a patent, get subsidies, find strategic partners, and prepare the company to go public. They were also planning a series on non-invasive tests, meaning no equipment would be inserted physically, at the UMCG.

As far as the tests are concerned: they haven’t been done yet. They will start in a few weeks, in cooperation with rehabilitation specialists, at three different hospital departments. It’s all right that they’re delayed, says Max: ‘We’ve put a lot of extra work into the prototype. If we had tested it earlier, the results wouldn’t have been as valuable.’

Applying for a patent was also more time-consuming than they’d hoped. But they had help from the RUG’s patent agent, and they are expecting to soon get the exclusive rights to their invention. ‘We tend to get a bit impatient’, says Melcher. ‘It’s a matter of perseverance.’

Subsidies help them on the long road to success. In November, IVWear came third in the ZonMw Medical Inspirer Prize, winning 25,000 euros. Take-off, an incentive set up by ZonMw and The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for entrepreneurship at universities, will add another 40,000 to that this week. This is enough money to last IVWear at least another six months.

Winning prizes is a good start, but now we have to increase the actual value of the company

And there’s another milestone: next week, the boys will move into their own offices in the Lutkenieuwstraat, close to the Harmony building. There, they will add four or five student assistants from various study programmes to their team. Supervised by Melcher, Max, and Niels, they will work on the IV bag and a market analysis.

Before the product can go to market, clinical trials will need to be done after the summer. This involves extensively, and hopefully fully, testing the IV bag in various hospitals. These tests are extremely expensive; IVWear will not be able to pay for them without wealthy partners. ‘We need to find some big players’, says Melcher. ‘Those negotiations are going to be nerve-wracking.’

Over the past six months, the team has had to shift focus. First, they had to sell the idea of their product. ‘We entered into all these competitions, held pitches, joined master classes’, Melcher says. ‘We got a lot out of it, but now we have to prepare for the next phase.’

Now, they have to sell the product itself. ‘Winning prizes is a good start, but now we have to increase the actual value of the company, both in the lab and on the computer. We’re working on reaching our final goal: introducing the portable bag to hospitals. We’re much more focused now.’

That focus is something they’ll need, because the next six months are crucial. They have to get their patent, find investors, and the non-invasive tests have to go well. There’s a lot riding on it. But Niels isn’t too bothered by the pressure: ‘Every six-month period is crucial for start ups. But we’re no longer daunted by that, we just keep working.’

The Envitron entrepreneurs. From left to right: Marro Mijnans, Thijs de Jonge and Reinder Schuil.


Is building an energy management system
(the students are enrolled at the Hanze University)

Marro Mijnans (recent sustainable energy system management graduate)
Niels Tamming (graduate of engineering)
Thijs de Jonge (facility management graduate)
Jacco Koning (computer engineering graduate)
Rein Schuil (recent international business and management graduate)

Envitron wants to correct the imbalance between supply and demand of power such as electricity and heat. Their dream is to first gauge, then direct, and ultimately divide the energy in order to prevent the waste of sustainable energy. It’s an ambitious plan, since they can’t just go ahead and build a machine that does this; it takes a lot of complex technology.

Six months ago, Envitron had several objectives to get them closer to their final goal. The students wanted to find a large investor, improve national companies’ energy flow, and work on creating an energy neutral and self-sustaining microgrid, at the Zernike complex’ EnTranCe site.

They have found their investor: Envitron has joined forces with IT company New Nexus. This company is host to various software developers, which will now also be working for Envitron. ‘We’ve got a lot more brain power now’, says Marro. ‘We can work on our system even more efficiently.’

So what is this system exactly? It consists first of all of a sensor platform. This is sort of like a router which can be plugged into the meter box and which shows exactly how energy is flowing through any given building at that time. The platform shows all the peaks and valleys in energy use.

‘We’ve just received the first prototype ready for certification’, says Marro. It’s a circuit board with electronic parts, just like you find in computers. ‘It took an enormous amount of time to create this technical marvel, and to make it increasingly compact and work better. The next step is to try and produce it cheaply.

This is when we have to prove ourselves. It’s time to show people that this works

People should be able to read the data the sensor platform receives. To that end, Envitron is developing operating systems and applications with the aid of New Nexus. They will soon be adding a new employee to the Envitron team who will take care of technology. The applications should ultimately enable people to identify and adjust the readings for individual appliances.

The investment they received means Marro and his partners will be solvent until at least the fall. They want to bring their product to market before the summer, so they can stand on their own two feet. ‘There’s a lot riding on Rein’s shoulders’, Marro laughs. ‘He’s responsible for bringing in the customers. But he’ll do fine, so I’m not worried about that.’

The first major clients have already installed the sensor platform prototypes. They’ve allowed Envitron to show them how they can become more sustainable and save on their energy bills, on a sall scale. ‘This is when we have to prove ourselves’, says Marro. ‘It’s time to show people that this works.’

They want to show people this through their own microgrid, a project that they have started since we last spoke to them. If they can make the EnTranCe site energy neutral and self-sustaining, it would clearly show what their technology can do. Marro is already dreaming about all the other things they could do: ‘It would be great to make the whole Hanze campus more sustainable.’

They guys are still enjoying their lives leading a business, but not everything is perfect. ‘We do make mistakes occasionally’, Marro admits. ‘There are high highs and low lows. We’ve all fucked up sometimes, and then we fight. But we always talk it out, and get back to work in order to reach the goal that we all share.’

At the end of the day, they are mainly enjoying their adventure. ‘We’re learning so much’, says Marro. ‘We have the ability to immediately put into practice what we come up with. It’s extremely demanding, but we also have complete freedom. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made.’

The Flocker entrepreneurs. From left to right: Freya Liemburg, Reinard van Dalen and Stijn Eikelboom.


Online marketing company

Reinard van Dalen (doing a master’s in computer science)
Freya Liemburg (doing a master’s in marketing)
Stijn Eikelboom (third-year bachelor student of computer science)

Every company has to have an online presence, but in order to make an impression on the internet, they need something special. A fancy website, for example, a proper marketing strategy, and software to guide clients’ navigation on that website. They could employ different companies for each thing, but they could also go to Flocker: they want to invent and create everything at once.

Six month ago, they had the ambition to reel in bigger clients, and to do more for those clients. They didn’t just want to build their websites, they also wanted to manage their social media and make posters. But how does one get that first company that’ll trust you do everything for them?

They found one through their personal network: Flocker has created a wealth of digital gadgets to get and retain customers. ‘It’s the most fun and educational things we’ve ever done’, says Reinard. ‘This will be really good for our portfolio. It’s a steppingstone for us.’

When a big client calls me right before an exam, it can get a bit too much

Flocker is popular. So popular even, that they have had to turn down at least ten potential clients. This is something they’ve had to learn over the past six months. ‘When you’re just starting out you want to say yes to everything’, says Freya. ‘But you can’t. Not every client is a good match. And we also need time to study.’

Combining their studies and their start-up is not always easy. They try to keep their worlds separate, but sometimes it all becomes a bit muddled. ‘When a big client calls me right before an exam, it can get a bit too much’, says Freya. Studying also requires a different kind of discipline, Stijn explains. ‘You can’t study for fifteen minutes here, and e-mail clients for fifteen minutes there.’ This means that studying sometimes takes a back seat, which can lead to stress.

In order to combat this, Freya has taught herself not to answer work e-mails during class, Reinard has designated his evenings as personal time, and Stijn has adopted a new tactic for making decisions: ‘If I don’t do this right now, will something go wrong? If the answer is yes, I’ll take care of it. But if the answer is no, it can wait.’

Flocker even dropped out of VentureLab, which means they no longer have their top level arrangement for student entrepreneurs. This arrangement was supposed to give them more time to study, but they actually spent that time on their VentureLab work. And they didn’t feel like they were learning all that much. Flocker already knew what they wanted, and they weren’t taught sufficient concrete tips and tricks.

They are now putting more hours into their company, in order to grow. They not only want to work for the company, but also on the company. They want to both make websites for their clients, and work on their own website. They had been planning to launch it in the first week of 2018, but it will finally be online this week.

Flocker also wants to grow by hiring freelancers over the next six months, so they can take on more work. ‘Right now we simply can’t handle the demand’, says Reinard. ‘And we need to grow. Otherwise we’ll get stuck, and we don’t want that.’

Their dream is to be able to make a living with the company after they graduate. In the beginning they didn’t get paid at all, but now they’re doing just fine. ‘It’s not like we’re rich’, laughs Reinard. ‘But we’re making more money than we would working in a pub. We’re really getting there.’



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