A lot of the skills you need to become a successful entrepreneur can’t be taught in a classroom alone. You can only learn them by doing. That’s why Niek Huizenga teaches Hanze students all the practical ins and outs of having your own startup company: “It’s amazing to see students really flourish when they get out of their comfort zone.”
Niek is an entrepreneur, startup consultant and co-founder of the Launch Café. Since 2013, he’s also a part time lecturer at the International Business School of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. In six months, he helps his students set up their own tech startup, with a working prototype and a validated, healthy business model.
“I want to create an environment where students don’t feel like they’re students, but a group of people working on a cool project, creating something together”, Niek explains. “The Launch Café really is an ideal place to do that, not just because it’s far removed from the classroom atmosphere, but also because we’re currently working to turn it into an Internet of Things testing ground. That means students not only learn valuable practical skills, but their ideas also have an immediate impact and can be tested and perfected, with the help of entrepreneurs and professionals from the Launch Cafe.”
Jumping off the deep end
A hands-on approach like this teaches students a lot of valuable skills. “The startup process is all about dealing with uncertainty”, Niek explains. “You need to be assertive, creative, get out of your comfort zone and, most of all, you need to just start and learn things as you go along. The dynamics of that can be scary, especially if you’re a Business student and don’t know that much about technology.”
“But that’s also a good thing”, Niek continues. “Because when you’re confronted with things you don’t really know much about, it forces you to learn to speak a new language. You’re forced to apply what you know about business, management and marketing in a whole new way, because you’re suddenly dealing with things they don’t teach you in the classroom.”
But Niek’s students can always count on expert help from the Hanze Institute of Engineering, as well as entrepreneurs, developers and interns working in the Launch Café. “These experts can help the students out with all the questions they have about possible technological applications for their ideas, the technical details and how to do it. If they have questions about, say, user interfaces, they need to go out and contact these experts. This can also be a bit scary at first, but I see a lot of my students flourish and get really creative once they get the hang of it.”
Internet of Things testing ground
Because the Launch Café is working on becoming an Internet of Things testing ground, the students’ startup ideas revolve around creating their own tech company around the applications of IoT. “We’ve got a whole bunch of sensors and other things ready to be used, like a big Lego box!” Niek explains.
His students have already come up with a couple of kickass ideas. “One group is working on a smart solution for garbage logistics, another on intelligent plant watering. The group working on a smart window concept taps into an urgent need of Launch Cafe and can close a customer deal after the course. In just six months, they’ll have all the foundations of a startup, from working prototype to solid business model, and all the practical skills and entrepreneurial mindset to make it work.”