Student entrepreneurs #3

Just like Elon Musk

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

Matt Mullenweg developed WordPress when he was a student. Elon Musk started PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla after he got his physics degree. Who wouldn’t want this? The UK followed three promising start-ups by students for a year. They participated in VentureLab, an initiative for young entrepreneurs organised by the RUG and Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Part 3: Dare to dream.
Text and photo’s Menno van der Meer / translation Sarah van steenderen


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

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

According to Envitron’s Marro Mijnans, every building produces energy. While an increasing number of Dutch people generate the energy they need, but we haven’t yet started using our homes as a source of energy. Envitron wants to help create an energy system made up of thousands of miniature household energy factories, rather than just a few large energy plants.

Envitron is creating a sensor platform with a number of applications that will be able to measure, direct, and divide energy flows. These sensors can measure electricity, gas, and temperature. This would allow people to keep an eye on how much energy they produce, and even share energy with their neighbours. ‘Our product is the missing link in the energy transition’, Marro says confidently.

Three months ago, the guys were hoping their machine would soon be certified. They also wanted begin making their offices at the EnTranCe site (Energy Transition Centre) energy neutral.

But today, construction of their autonomous microgrid is still in the pipeline and their sensor platform has not yet been certified. The electronic components on their printed circuit board do not comply with regulations; all the little technical parts circuit board must be rearranged in order to make the invention reliable and safe.

Thijs, who is in charge of the prototypes, has spent many long nights trying to determine the perfect circuit board composition. His new 3D model of the printed circuit board is ready for testing, and will hopefully be finally certified.

Marro admits that it’s all taken a bit longer than they had expected. ‘Our machine was a product of idealism and a lot of fantasy. But we then met with all these rules and regulations. We didn’t really take into account what that would be like.’

But the boys refuse to lose their creative flair. When they were making the casing for the machine, they decided to design it themselves from sustainable materials using 3D printers. ‘We just think that is fun’, says Marro. ‘We’re just a bunch of technical nerds. We really love this stuff.’

We don’t want to go too big too quickly

Marro hopes to start production on the sensor platform in July. They will start small. ‘We don’t want to go too big too quickly. First we have to fix all the teething problems.’ By summertime, the company will have to start generating its own income; until then, Envitron can run on the development budget from their investments.

Marro is convinced that Envitron will be successful. ‘I can’t imagine we’ll fail, because we have such a unique product. People produce their own energy, and we’re here to help them get everything they can out of it. I truly believe in our cause.’

Their dream is for their sensor platform to be installed in many meter cupboards in the Netherlands within a few years, making sure the various energy flows are connected. ‘We didn’t start this business for the money’, says Marro. ‘The energy transition is absolutely necessary. As an energy company of the next generation, we just want to help with that.’

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


Devises and implements marketing strategies

Reinard van Dalen (doing a master in computer science)
Freya Liemburg (doing a master in marketing)
Stijn Eikelboom (doing a bachelor in computer science)

Many companies have outdated websites and don’t really know what they’re doing online. They consider marketing to be a one-time effort to drum up extra business. But the Flocker entrepreneurs know this is the wrong approach. A good, functional website is worth its weight in gold – and you should always advertise, whether your business is doing well or not.

Flocker builds websites and provides does marketing for hire. Their young enterprise is doing perfectly well, but they can always do better. Three months ago, they had to say ‘no’ more often than they wanted, simply because they were too busy.

Over the past few months, approximately twenty companies have come to Flocker for their services. This led to a quote in approximately ten of the cases, which ultimately led to three to four new clients. In February, Flocker’s goal was to hire freelancers and take on more customers.

But they haven’t hired anyone yet – Freya, Stijn, and Reinard felt it was a bit too early for that, after all. ‘We felt we needed to work on the basis for our business first’, Reinard explains. ‘We need to create a framework within which people can work. So that’s what we’re doing now.’

And as business owners, they would like to minimalise any financial risks. So they came up with a new expansion plan: interns. They’re expecting their first intern this summer. ‘It will allow us to grow as a company, and the intern can grow alongside us’, says Stijn.

Over the past few months, Flocker has had to take a small step back. Its founders realised that combining the company, other jobs, their studies, and their social life wasn’t as easy as they’d hoped. Reinard is currently working on his master’s thesis and has decided to take a break from Flocker in May.

Freya and Stijn understand; it’s important for everyone to take it easy before they get overworked. Stijn: ‘If you hit a rough patch, you shouldn’t try and hold on at all costs. You have to be able to make that choice and take that time you need.’

Flocker is going through a challenging time. In order to re-focus on their company’s original goals, the three business owners are organising their very own ‘Flockerthon’ in the summer. The idea is to retreat to a cabin in the woods to work on their company rather than for their company. ‘We want to get a clear vision on the future’, says Freya.

Because we’re still in school we’re currently missing business opportunities

The student entrepreneurs would love to work on Flocker full time. ‘Should we invest all our time in Flocker right now, we’d make giant leaps forward’, says Reinard. Nevertheless, they have all decided to finish their degrees. ‘Because we’re still in school we’re currently missing business opportunities. But you can’t do anything without a diploma’, Frey explains.

In five years, the entrepreneurs hope to occupy a large office with approximately thirty employees, in a great Groningen location. ‘I used to have plans to move out west’, Freya confesses. ‘But I won’t be leaving any time soon; Groningen is growing at an exponential rate, and this city works for us.’

The IVWear entrepreneurs in their office. From left to right: Max Heintzen, Melcher Frankema, and Niels Weijermars.


Is developing a portable IV

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

The sooner patients are able to leave their beds, the faster they heal. But moving around while dragging a heavy IV stand around is difficult. IVWear came up with a solution: an IV pouch that can be worn like a belt.

Three months ago, the boys were hoping to obtain a patent for their invention. They also wanted to expand their start-up company with four or five student assistants. IVWear did everything they could to reel in investors, to convince hospitals of the importance of their creation, and to find developers who could produce their belt pouch on a large scale.

Unfortunately, they have not yet received a patent for their invention. ‘It’s taking longer than we’d thought’, Melcher admits. ‘Turning a technical idea into a patent is truly a skill.’ Max chimes in: ‘We have to keep adjusting our schedule, but we do have a more realistic picture of how things work.’

They also haven’t been able to hire their large team of student assistants. They currently have an assistant on staff who works on a business plan and presents IVWear to potential investors. They have two more job openings available, but that’s all for now. ‘We’d rather have fewer people who can work more hours’, Melcher explains.

But they can’t do business without a patent. After all, the guys can’t talk about their pouch’s technical details, because they don’t have the exclusive rights to their invention yet. And hospitals, investors, and product developers won’t take on something if they don’t know how it works yet.

The guys do think their patent is around the corner. So if their pouch gets tested and certified, things could move quickly. Melcher: ‘When it’s shown in hospitals that the belt pouch works and enables patients to leave their beds sooner, we can start to scale up. First the Netherlands, and then the rest of Europe.’

Their big dream: ‘To walk into a hospital somewhere in Italy and seeing someone using our belt pouch’, says Melcher. Niels agrees: ‘That would just be awesome. Our main goal is for our pouch to help patients all over the world. To me, that’s more important than making heaps of money.’

Right now, we’re still living of off DUO

Until then, the guys are working their asses off. ‘We’re basically making no money right now’, says Melcher. ‘There will hopefully come a time when we’re able to pay ourselves a nice salary. Right now, we’re still living of off DUO.’

The guys are grateful for all the help they’ve received achieving their dreams. ‘Without VentureLab, we wouldn’t be half as far as we are now’, says Niels. ‘They have been a really great help.’ Melcher agrees: ‘We’ve had a lot of support. So many business owners have shared their experiences with us. That’s been of great value.’

And what if it all collapses and the boys have nothing to show for it in a few years? What if they never get their patent, or a competitor comes up with a better product? ‘I still wouldn’t have wanted to miss this’, says Niels. ‘No matter what, this has been the most educational year of our lives. But we’re obviously counting on our work being a success.’


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