USC and UVSV have an Entrepreneur Group

‘Entrepreneurial UU students have lots of potential’

Utrecht Entrepreneur Group. Foto: Puck van Tussenbroek
An UEG meeting at the Utrecht University building. Photos by Folkert Vinke

“There aren't many resources for students interested in entrepreneurship at UU,” says Nicolaas de Gaay Fortman (22), who studies Law and is one of the board members of the Utrecht Entrepreneur Group (UEG). “The universities in Rotterdam and Delft, for example, are much more developed in that sense. Rotterdam focuses a lot more on Economics, so the link with entrepreneurship is more easily made. That university also has more platforms and initiatives compared to UU. We believe that entrepreneurship is something that UU students can benefit from, and we have a lot to offer here. That is why USC and UVSV joined forces in 2022 to set up a group allowing UU students to easily get acquainted with entrepreneurship.”

How did you end up at the Utrecht Entrepreneur Group?
“I am an active USC member and work one day a week at Groendus, a company that provides services in the field of sustainable energy. It’s a scale-up company, so I have learned a lot about entrepreneurship. That’s how my interest in sustainable entrepreneurship arose. Consequently, I was very excited when UEG was looking for new members for its board, which consists of seven students with different backgrounds. I am the commissioner of main events.” 

What does UEG offer entrepreneurial students?
“Its main goal is to introduce students to entrepreneurship. We also want to facilitate encounters between student entrepreneurs and established entrepreneurs. Students don’t have to come up with a business idea, let alone a detailed business plan, to participate in our group. Anyone who is curious about entrepreneurship is welcome. You don’t have to be a member of USC or UVSV either. UEG really is for everyone. We would like to attract a diverse group of students.” 

How exactly does UEG facilitate encounters between students and established entrepreneurs?
“We organize an event every two months, where students and entrepreneurs can meet each other. On December 15, for example, we had dinner at the Utrecht University building. The event was all about starting a business. Several entrepreneurs spoke about their businesses, including Evi Maessen, founder of CityGin, a company that makes soft gins with local products. She told us what it was like when she started her company. We also invited Willem Geunsberg, who spoke about his company, Piekfijn, which supports growing tech entrepreneurs. Two student entrepreneurs got up and shared their own stories as well. They talked about the importance of following your passion. Afterwards, the students and entrepreneurs were able to talk to each other, and thus inspire and learn from each other.”

Utrecht Entrepreneur Group. Foto: UEG

Nicolaas de Gaay Fortman. Photo: UEG

What other events do you organize and what do you want to achieve with them?
“Last year, we organized a lecture tour in which we interviewed Daan Grasveld, co-founder of Urban Jungle, a company focusing on improving the quality of life in urban areas through green spaces, about his experiences as an entrepreneur.  We value sustainable entrepreneurship, so we would like to invite more speakers experienced with this to inspire the students.

Social entrepreneurship means a lot to us as well. So, in February, we will organize a masterclass with Rowan Hordijk, about compassionate entrepreneurship. Hordijk is the founder of Service of Future Skills, an innovation and reskilling company dedicated to radical organisational change. It is not about maximising profits but rather combining organisational growth with the personal growth of the employees. Positive impact and humanity are paramount. Entrepreneurship can also make a positive impact on a societal level, and we want to convey that to our students through speakers like these.”

Utrecht Entrepreneur Group. Foto: Puck van Tussenbroek

How do entrepreneurs become affiliated with UEG and why do they work with you?
“We started our group in 2022, so you can imagine that our network is still developing. The entrepreneurs who are currently affiliated with us are enthusiasts more than anything. Some of them started their businesses while they were students too. They care about our organisation and are happy to enthuse students about entrepreneurship. They come from different fields, from Just Eat to the events sector or the consumer goods sector. Our goal is to build a large database of entrepreneurs.” 

How many students and entrepreneurs are currently affiliated with UEG?
“About 108. Some twenty to thirty students and twenty experienced entrepreneurs turn up to our events on average. We would like to expand both our entrepreneurial circle and the number of students, of course, but at the same time, we aim to keep it accessible. The students often come up with business ideas. For example, someone wanted to get started with a handbag brand, while another one had an idea for a dating app. We encourage students to come up with ideas, but it’s not a requirement.”

Utrecht Entrepreneur Group. Foto: Puck van Tussenbroek

What kind of students are interested in entrepreneurship?
“Initially, most of our members were Economics students. But we hope to attract students from other programmes too. We’ve noticed that the events we organise also have an impact on the student body. For instance, the lecture tour about greenifying the city attracted a different group of students.”

You said earlier that sustainability is important to UEG. What does the group do in that regard?
“Sustainable entrepreneurship is very important to us. Modern entrepreneurship is no longer just about maximising profits, but also about greenifying and presenting creative solutions for sustainability issues, such as combating heat stress in the city or increasing biodiversity. That's why we also organise events around sustainable entrepreneurship. And that's why we aim to attract students from other backgrounds, as they can offer a fresh perspective on this topic. The masterclass about compassion that we will organise in February is another fitting example. We will publish more information about it on our website soon."

What is your ambition?
“We aim to expand our network of students and entrepreneurs, so we can connect more and more students to an entrepreneur that suits them. We are also looking to stimulate entrepreneurship among UU students because we believe there is much more potential in Utrecht than people would assume when comparing us to other cities. But entrepreneurship doesn’t come naturally to everyone, which is why we focus on both inspiration and guidance. Additionally, we want to organise more events, such as masterclasses, panels and company visits, in the hopes of teaching students that entrepreneurship can start small. At some point, you just have to go for it. With good guidance from more experienced entrepreneurs, of course, which we will facilitate. It would be great if we could support students’ plans financially in the future."

Bestuur UEG. FOTO: UEG

Photo: courtesy of UEG