With firm plans to start an incubator in Rotterdam by 2019, Refugees Forward began its program in the city with a Start-Up Weekend between 23rd and 25th November 2018 at the Erasmus Centre of Entrepreneurship. A total of 13 newcomer entrepreneurs from seven countries of origin took part in the program where they were assisted by 18 university students. Ten coaches came on board to polish the business ideas of the newcomer entrepreneurs that culminated with a final pitch given by the entrepreneur and the teams they lead on the last day of the Start-Up Weekend.
The teams were vying for three spots in the incubators that would take place in Rotterdam and Amsterdam in 2019 and Euro 500 as starting budgets for their start-ups. Additionally, a total of five teams were to be selected by the Young Advisory Group to begin a series of follow-up workshops in Amsterdam the following week where they could walk away with scholarships worth Euro 2000, 1000, or 500 respectively to fund their ventures.
The weekend began with an introductory session led by the founders of Refugees Forward, David Hwan and Diederick Van Der Wijk. This presentation brought forward the entire plan for the weekend and how the workshops designed for the entrepreneurs and students were to add to the development of their businesses. The stage was then opened to the entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas. A variety of concepts were put forward. These included a hearing device for sportspersons, consulting start-ups that specialised in information technology, brand management, environment, international trading and construction, a platform for web to print products, and an African restaurant and cultural centre among others. These ideas took on the spirit of entrepreneurship; to challenge existing problems and to create solutions for them. Once the pitches were done, teams of students and entrepreneurs were formed after a round of personal discussions. The night ended with trust-building exercises and a pizza dinner.
A variety of concepts were put forward. These included a hearing device for sportspersons, consulting start-ups that specialised in information technology, brand management, environment, international trading and construction, a web platform for web to print products, and an African restaurant and cultural centre among others.
The second day began with a workshop on Lean Business Canvas that was led by Diederick. The goal of the workshop was to help entrepreneurs validate their proposition by putting their products in front of the customer as quickly as possible. The entrepreneurs and students benefitted from three key takeaways; to fail fast and fail often, to test products and processes as much as possible, and winning by learning more swiftly than their competitors. David led the second workshop for the day that gave participants an understanding of Customer Development. The workshop provided the entrepreneurs and students tools to define the distinctiveness of their products and services for specific customers, identifying target groups, and clarifying their unique selling product.
During the day, teams of entrepreneurs and students were given time to use the knowledge gained out of the workshops to apply to their business ideas. They were later introduced to their coaches who gave these teams time and mentoring before they were asked to provide their interim pitches. The general observation was that these pitches were better formed and answered several questions that remained unanswered before.
The final day began with another set of workshops. Diederick took on the challenge of explaining ‘Earning Models’ to the participants with the intent that entrepreneur and students could utilise the information to make their prospective customers happy while making money. The expected outcome was to take the customer through a journey from being unaware to satisfied with the product or service the entrepreneur provided. David rounded off the day with a spirited Pitching workshop where the essentials of the elevator and other industry pitches were discussed and practised.
The Refugees Forward team not only returned refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenges of running two incubators together in 2019, newcomer entrepreneurs, students, and coaches also empowered themselves with information, education, and blossoming ideas that tomorrow could change the entrepreneurial landscape.
The evening ended with a pitch finale that was open to audiences. A jury comprising of Alexander Maljers, an investor in newcomer start-ups and businesses, Ruben Habraken, Program Manager at ECE, Thomas Koorndijk, Entrepreneurship Advisor at Rotterdam Municipality, and Arian van Huis, Director at the Young Advisory Group were invited to assess the ideas that entrepreneurs and their teams. After powerful presentations, and questions and answers that followed, three teams walked away with the big prizes of the evening.
The Winner of the Audience Votes
The audience took part in live voting for the first time. They voted overwhelmingly for Mustafa and Ugur who wanted to create new-age efficient fire extinguishers. The jury voted for Reshad and Manshor who wanted to develop hearing aid devices for sportspersons. Ali with an e-commerce platform to sell Mesopotamian beauty products in Europe took the second jury vote. The winners will polish their plans further when incubators in Rotterdam and Amsterdam starting in 2019.
The Refugees Forward StartUp Weekend in Rotterdam was an inspirational success. The Refugees Forward team not only returned refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenges of running two incubators together in 2019, newcomer entrepreneurs, students, and coaches also empowered themselves with information, education, and blossoming ideas that tomorrow could change the entrepreneurial landscape.