Students

Student and entrepreneur

Just like Mark Zuckerberg

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

Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook at college. Larry Page was a student when he started Google. Who wouldn’t want to be like them? The UK will follow three promising start-ups by students for a year. All three participated in VentureLab, an initiative set up by the RUG and Hanze University, among others, to help out new businesses.
Text and photos by Menno van der Meer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Flocker

online marketing business

Reinard van Dalen (master student computer science)
Freya Liemburg (master student marketing)
Stijn Eikelboom (third-year bachelor student computer science)

While many business have a website, few are actually truly engaged online. Their site is out of date, social media is barely used, and no one knows anything about hosting and domain names. The start-up company Flocker wants to offer a total package that gets rid of all these digital concerns.

They actually had the idea as far back as December 2016, and they’d designed a logo and a house style. But Reinard van Dalen, Freya Liemburg, and Stijn Eikelboom were far too busy with their studies, internships, and association work.

They finally had time over the summer holidays. They registered Flocker at the Chamber of Commerce and their website went live in July. The first job soon presented itself: through Humanitas, the trio made a website for a Syrian refugee who had his own catering company. According to Reinard, it was a great start. ‘We worked really well together. We immediately wanted to make another website!’

They landed new projects through their network of friends and acquaintances. In order to make a name for themselves and build up their portfolio, they charged competitive prices. Then, they decided to ‘reposition’ themselves. Now, Flocker focuses on a higher segment consisting of businesses that provide for other businesses. ‘We know that what we do is of a high quality, and we’re ready for the next step’, Stijn says with confidence.

We’re in the middle of it, which means we miss things sometimes

The trio has known each other for years, and they have a clear division of labour. Stijn is the programmer, Reinard designs, and Freya takes care of marketing and sales. But because they are all experts in their field, they complement each other. ‘We know what we’re good at, and how to combine our strengths’, Freya says.

Now that classes have started again, the pressure is on. When everything – meetings, deadlines, exams – comes together, it can be difficult to manage. Although, they have recently come under the protection of the RUG’s top level arrangement for student entrepreneurs, which means they can move or skip certain classes and exams.

The trio has not used the arrangement yet. In fact, their studies come first. ‘A business is always a risk’, says Stijn. ‘So we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket. Studying keeps us grounded, and we gain knowledge that we can then use in the business.’

Everything is going smoothly for Flocker. The jobs are pouring in, and the clients keep getting bigger. But they’re not celebrating just yet; many start-ups end up in trouble. ‘It’s enough to make you wonder when it’ll go wrong. It’s almost too good to be true’, says Reinard. ‘Maybe we should knock on wood’, Freya says. ‘I’ve certainly never felt any hesitations about working at the company. I think we’re doing really well.’

Flocker is participating in VentureLab in order to stay sharp and decide on a course for the future. ‘We’re in the middle of it, which means we miss things sometimes. We hope to learn how to view our business in new ways’, says Stijn.

In a year, Reinard, Stijn, and Freya will still be students. They hope to have landed at least two truly big clients. They want to slowly continue to grow and deliver a quality product. Their ultimate dream? Reinard: ‘To be able to work full-time on the business after we graduate, and to be able to make a living out of it.’

The IVWear students at the Harmony square. From left to right: Melcher Frankema, Niels Weijermars, and Max Heintzen.

IVWear

medical start-up that makes portable IV bags

Max Heintzen (recent medical graduate)
Melcher Frankema (doing a master in law)
Niels Weijermars (doing a bachelor in biomedical product development)

For patients, it’s important to regain their mobility as soon as possible after surgery. After all, movement helps with recovery. But what if you’re attached to an IV? The entrepreneurs at IVWear came up with a portable IV system to increase patients’ mobility.

The idea came from professor of biomedical product development Bart Verkerke. He tipped off the University of Groningen Centre of Entrepreneurship where Max Heintzen and Melcher Frankema were taking a course. It was the ideal project for a medical student and his friend from the law faculty. ‘It was a really good idea. Definitely something we could work with!’

When Verkerke introduced them to Niels Weijermars, team IVWear was complete. Niels created the portable IV bag in the shape of a belt pouch, and is responsible for the technical side of things. Melcher is the operations manager and Max has practical knowledge of medical devices.

We’re spending a lot of time on this, and we’re not even sure if it’ll succeed

In March, the trio won the VentureLab Weekend, a competition for new businesses. In June, they struck gold again. They won the Sustainable Healthcare Challenge for young entrepreneurs. ‘The prizes and praise made it that more serious’, says Max. ‘When we started, we had our meetings in the evening over beer, but now they’re in the morning, over coffee.’

The results of the first lab trials are positive. Rehabilitation specialists are enthusiastic, and the first prototype will be tested in a few weeks, by real patients, in a non-invasive manner. This means no equipment will actually enter the body. ‘It’s exciting. The results of these trials are very important’, Niels says.

For the real trials, which involve invasive testing, the product has to meet many extra requirements and have proper certification. ‘We’re not there yet’, Melcher says. ‘We need a lot more time and money for that.’

They might soon win some of that money, though. IVWear is one of three contestants in the Medische Inspirator, an incentive prize set up by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development. They might just become 75,000 euros richer. ‘People will be able to vote for us. It would be a great boon to our product’, Melcher smiles.

The students have applied for a patent to protect their invention. It would greatly increase the chance that their product will make actual money.

Max, Melcher, and Niels combine their company with slightly delayed studies, other jobs, and a social life – all three have girlfriends. It can be a tough balancing act. ‘We’re spending a lot of time on this, and we’re not even sure if it’ll succeed’, says Niels. ‘But we stand behind it.’

They hope that in a year, IVWear still exists, and the three of them are still together. But first, the IV bag needs technical improvements, they have to get the company ready to go on the market, and they have to get strategic partners.

If they don’t win the grant and their patent is denied, it will not be for naught. ‘We already got friendships, experience, and an enormous network out of it’, says Max. Melcher agrees: ‘It’s like a roller coaster, and just when you think you just did the coolest loop, an even cooler one comes up.’

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

Envitron

is building an energy management system (these students study at Hanze)

Marro Mijnans (recent sustainable energy system management graduate)
Niels Tammeling (recent engineering graduate)
Thijs de Jonge (recent facilities management graduate)
Jacco Koning (recent computer engineering graduate)
Reinder Schuil (recent international business and management graduate)

Approximately three years ago, Niels Tammeling wanted only one thing: to travel around the world in a self-sustaining boat powered by solar, wind, and water energy. To that end, he was looking for a system that would provide him insight into how much energy he produced and used. He wanted to know how long the storage capacity of his battery would last him. This didn’t actually exist, but thanks to Niels’ idea, it does now. He is currently sailing around the world using an innovative device: the Envi.base.

Niels asked his friend Thijs de Jonge for help, and he designed a prototype for the energy measuring system. Jacco Koning joined the team, writing the software that would be able to read the data. They had no experience in starting a company, so they recruited Marro Mijnans to be their director and Reinder Schuil to handle sales and marketing.

Participating in VentureLab was a turning point for Envitron. ‘Before that, we would just come up with the wildest ideas’, Marro says. ‘Afterwards, we had a focused plan and we got started on making the product market-ready.’ In the meantime, Envitron won the Energy Academy Europe’s acceleration programme Startup Fast Track and received two grants: over 23,000 euros from the Versneller Innovatieve Ambitie and approximately 13,000 euros from the Mkb-innovatiestimulering Regio en Topsectoren (MIT).

The time to try new things is now

The students have had their own office at the EnTranCe site at the Zernike campus since June. There, they are working on developing the Envi.base. ‘It started out looking kind of like a shoe box, but the end product will be much sleeker’, says Thijs. In 2018, it should be able to measure sustainable energy, control energy by 2019, and by 2020, it has to be able to distribute energy. Their invention will go on sale in early 2018. They have to wait until then because they haven’t got all the necessary licensing yet.

The device converts energy flows such as gas and electricity into graphs on a screen. ‘It’s an incredibly complex system’, says Marro. ‘But it basically means that we can see exactly how much energy flows through a ship or a building.’

The guys think that companies can use the Envi.base to make their energy use more efficient. That would be good for the environment, as well as cheaper. A company dealing in illuminated advertising was measured and shown to have a much higher energy use during the night than during the day. The culprit was the lighting on the front of the building. Now, the company shuts this off between midnight and five AM, which saves them 3,500 euros a year. ‘The business owner was really sceptical at first’, Reinder says. ‘But now he’s grateful.’

For their third goal, the distribution of energy, the guys want to turn the EnTranCe site into a ‘microgrid’. This generates, uses, and stores sustainable energy. Any surplus is sold off or shared. This will make the site climate neutral and independent from the centralised energy network. ‘It’s an enormous amount of work’, says Marro. ‘I’ll be very proud if we pull it off.’

For Marro, his contribution to the energy transition is more important than money. ‘We have to make radical changes when it comes to energy. It is absolutely necessary. The product is more important than the sales.’

They hope to have created the energy-neutral microgrid within the year, and to have improved the energy flow of a large number of businesses. This week, Envitron has a meeting with a potential national client and an investor. ‘You never know when things can take off’, says Marro. ‘The time to try new things is now. We’re young, and we’ve got nothing to lose.’

Nederlands

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