Will ambitious student entrepreneurs stay in the North?

Will ambitious student entrepreneurs stay in the North?

There is no shortage of entrepreneurial talent in the North. This is evident from the large number of applications for The Northerners, a minor that guides a selection of ambitious college student-entrepreneurs. The only question is: will they stick around in the North of the Netherlands?

Have you been out and about? In most lecture halls this question comes up on Monday morning. With the average northerner this conversation often runs a little differently," laughs Eelco Bakker, founder of De Noorderlingen. 'They talk about their business.'

Student entrepreneurs are the target group of The Northerners, a program by agency BBENG, commissioned by NHL Stenden and the Hanzehogeschool. Eelco started this program in 2013 because he saw that guidance for students who want to grow in their entrepreneurship was lacking. Half of the minor is composed by teachers from the Hanzehogeschool and NHL Stenden. Involved partners from the field fill in the other half.

For five months, a selection of ambitious student entrepreneurs work on the growth of their business under the guidance of teachers and practitioners. They can call on knowledge from organizations such as Rabobank, TRIP Advocaten and NOM, among others. 'Much of the program takes place outside the lecture hall. There is not only learning from the books, that is really the strength of this program," says Eelco.

Ambition and drive

And that's not the only thing. When you put a group of entrepreneurial individuals together, something wonderful happens. Eelco: "Although the students are often very different individuals, they find each other in their ambition and drive.

This was also true for Bakschik Martirosian, founder of BMTEC, which grew into a major player in laser cutting plastics. 'I was a real techie when I started at The Northerners. This program allowed me to build a network.'

Virgil Swagemakers, owner of Innosend and Jakefood agrees. 'I think for many student-entrepreneurs the period right after college is a tough one. Then they come to a point of: do I continue for myself or do I have to be employed somewhere because I need money? At that point, thanks to The Northerners, I have fortunately never been. And most of the people I followed the program with are still entrepreneurs.'

Points of interest

Both men are not thinking of leaving the northern Netherlands. 'I'm a Rotterdam native, but I think the North is really perfect,' Virgil laughs. 'Many people think Amsterdam is sexy, but Groningen is just a really good place, we're close to Germany. The facilities and staff are good and the geniality here is very valuable.'

Project manager Anna Vellinga of The Northerners sees that the minor plays an important role in binding entrepreneurial talent to the North. Nevertheless, there are still a number of points of attention that can be used to further strengthen the position of the Northern Netherlands.

'For many student entrepreneurs, it is difficult to find a good workplace. This makes it difficult to work nicely or causes them to live and work in their rooms for a long time. If we can improve this in the North by, for example, creating a hub or making the facilities of the colleges available, we can distinguish ourselves even further from the Randstad.'

Go-getter mentality

And when it comes to distinguishing oneself, they see at De Noorderlingen that the go-getter mentality and mutual solidarity are strengths that could be communicated a little more. There are enough clients who do not want to work with blowhards from the Randstad, but want someone from the North who they can be sure will get the job done,' laughs Vellinga.

NOM can also make another important contribution to binding young entrepreneurial talent. 'Many young entrepreneurs only want to work with their own money and do not dare to borrow money. They have no idea what possibilities there are and what this could mean for their business. Sometimes we almost literally have to pre-calculate that they won't make any progress without funding," Bakker said.

Both Swagemakers and Martirosian came into contact with the NOM during their minor and eventually took advantage of external funding. For both entrepreneurs, this turned out to be exactly the push they needed to continue growing and make strides. Swagemakers: "I was never such a fan of borrowing money. I look at it differently now. Thanks to the loan we were able to grow faster.

Business developer Leonie Ebbes of NOM therefore sees this as an important mission of NOM. 'Together with The Northerners, we want to increase knowledge and transparency about funding opportunities among young entrepreneurs. In this way, entrepreneurs can really grow instead of remaining self-employed. If we want to keep young entrepreneurial talent in the Northern Netherlands, this is really important.'

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