The sheds were packed with hardcups. Expectations were high. 2020 would, in short, be the year of StarCups. Until the corona crisis hit the event industry hard. Sales literally dropped to zero. Still, courtesy of the Corona Bridging Loan (COL), the promising Leeuwarden company was able to continue investing in the future. "I sleep significantly more peacefully now.
Thousands of empty and smashed disposable cups scattered all over the grounds. The mess after festivals is sometimes hard to comprehend. Because of the often high clean-up costs, but mainly because it is not exactly sustainable. Not to worry: StarCups offers a valuable alternative. The company rents and sells so-called hardcups to events and festivals. Sturdy, comfortable and environmentally friendly drinking cups for which a deposit is paid. Visitors rent the cups, so to speak, and return the used cups to the bar.
'The hardcups are picked up again by us after the event and cleaned in our energy-efficient and environmentally friendly car wash,' says co-owner and former catering entrepreneur Alex Elsinga. 'Then they go into storage until the next event presents itself.' The concept of the company founded in November 2018 caught the imagination from the very beginning. Festival organizers and renowned breweries showed great interest and, more importantly, came up with concrete orders. For Alex, this was reason enough to sell his on-trade businesses and, together with founder Rik de Nekker, go full steam ahead with StarCups. An excellent choice, as it soon turned out. The company continued to develop steadily while investing heavily in new innovations. StarCups was ready for a bright future.
'Everything pointed to 2020 being the year of our final breakthrough,' Alex says. 'But that turned out quite differently. Corona put a line through all events and festivals. Of course, if you followed the developments in China, you could feel it coming a bit. I just didn't expect it to happen so quickly.' And so for StarCups, from mid-March, everything fell completely silent. While at the time the company's warehouses were bulging with hardcups for King's Day and May 5. A sledgehammer blow, for sure. But of great panic, no, there was none, according to Alex. 'You don't do anything about it, it's the way it is. When Carnival was finally canceled, I knew that for the event industry the whole year would be nothing. We resigned ourselves to that as well.'
But still: zero assignments, zero sales and therefore no salary. How do you drag yourself through this grim period? 'That's pretty tough,' Alex stresses. 'Especially if you haven't been around very long. After all, as a startup, you've hardly built a track record yet. That means you fall outside almost all regulations. You don't have to knock on banks' doors either. Although of course we tried. They were enthusiastic about our plans and ideas and recognized the potential of StarCups. But because of the uncertainty surrounding corona, they didn't want to finance it now.
Alex kept looking for new opportunities for start-ups. Through the Internet, COL came his way. He was surprised and excited at the same time. This arrangement might just keep StarCups on track, he realized. He decided to take it up immediately. 'It all went amazingly fast,' Alex looks back. 'Shortly after submitting the application, I already received an email from NOM with additional questions. I answered these and then waited in suspense. That wait didn't take long either. I received a response well within the deadline. A positive response, to be sure: the COL had been granted. The relief was, as you can understand, great. With the bridging loan, we can not only continue to pay current expenses, but also continue to shape our future plans. So I sleep significantly more peacefully now.'
There is no shortage of innovations at StarCups. In fact, the company is already seen in the event industry as a forerunner in its field. For example, in addition to the sustainable car wash, a system was developed with which the collected deposit can be settled quickly and easily. 'We entered into a partnership for this with Tikkie from ABN Amro,' Alex clarifies. 'That resulted in a cashback terminal, a kind of calculator. After collecting the cups, a receipt with a QR code rolls out. When a visitor scans that on his or her smartphone, a Tikkie immediately follows. Within a split second, the money is in the account.'
Completely new are their own cups, made possible in part by the bridge loan. Previously, the cups were purchased from a German supplier. 'Stubborn as we are, it was a fervent wish to have our own cups,' says Alex. 'In this case, too, corona seemed to throw a spanner in the works. But fortunately, there was the COL. Recently the new cups arrived in our sheds. Even nicer and brighter than the ones we always purchased. Plus they contain less plastic, so they are less likely to break.' Speaking of less plastic. From 2021, disposable plastic will be banned in the Netherlands. In Belgium, it had already been the case since the beginning of this year. Hardcups are then an excellent alternative, according to Alex. 'In addition, we entered into a partnership with Bordex Packaging from Apeldoorn,' he says. 'As a result, we will soon rent and sell PET360 cups, circular drinking cups, in addition to hardcups. So we're all set. Or better: we are eager to be allowed to start again.'