Every Thursday Refugees Forward will profile a Coach who has worked with a Newcomer.

Mr Martijn Ruding has more than 12 years of marketing experience within the food industry in Europe. He worked in Unilever as a Brand Manager overseeing various food brands. Subsequently, he took charge of Frozz Frozen Yogurt since 2014 as General Manager. Mr Ruding holds a Master’s degree in Business Management from the IESE Business School in Barcelona and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Groningen.

At Refugees Forward, Mr Ruding worked with Muhammed Ari and Teha Aldelmedid.

Mr Martijn Ruding was looking to support a project involving newcomers in the Netherlands and came across Refugees Forward. He reached out to Diederick, the founder of the organisation for a meeting. The meeting was enough for him to come on board to coach not one but two newcomer entrepreneurs.

“I was impressed with Diederick’s vision, his ideas, and the team’s ambition. I had a ton of questions that he answered. But what impressed me most was that he was realistic about his goals, and was critical, pointing out himself what he wanted to improve after the first events.”

The conversation took Mr Ruding to the selection committee where he decided to work with Muhammed. Once he consented, he was introduced to Teha, and he began working with two teams simultaneously. It helped that both newcomer entrepreneurs brought business ideas around consumer products and services, an industry Mr Ruding had himself worked in.

 

“The businesses were focused on the Netherlands, and I had to add to the original idea. If I saw everything from their cultural point of view, the ride would have been bumpier. I think this added value to the ideas because the price, taste, product, the delivery had to work for certain target groups in this market.”

 

Despite working with two teams with intensive schedules, Mr Ruding maintains that he did not prepare much for the coaching role. He instead decided to rely on the newcomer entrepreneurs to guide him through the first few stages to understand their motivations and business understanding deeper. However, as the respective teams began going deeper into the businesses, Mr Ruding started to arm himself with sectoral knowledge by checking prices, competition, consumer behaviour, and location of setting the business. For example, he would take a tour with one of the teams around Amsterdam to explore locations where the business could be set up.

 

Martijn Ruding

 

“My professional background ensured I knew about product development and delivery. But that was targeted more to indirect sales to supermarkets and on-the-go shops and not directly homes. And so, my preparation as the incubator progressed was to inspect the consumer journey. That meant, the team studied the logistical aspects of the delivery system and how orders were to be taken. A fun challenge,” he says while sipping his coffee.

For Mr Ruding, the process and the pace of the team changed as he went a personal journey to understand the newcomer entrepreneurs. He notes how important it was to recognise their hopes and fears, their ambitions, their past professional successes, to personalise the coaching process.

“The entrepreneurs have been modest and polite. Sometimes you had to ask them to give their critical opinions on all the input they receive from the rest of the team.”

While Mr Ruding took on the initiative to understand the cultural contexts of the newcomer entrepreneurs, he did not let go of the Dutch consumer glasses.

“The businesses were focused on the Netherlands, and I had to add to the original idea. If I saw everything from their cultural point of view, the ride would have been bumpier. I think this added value to the ideas because the price, taste, product, the delivery had to work for certain target groups in this market,” he says nodding that cultural diversity added to the teams. “We had to be aware that consumer culture and the culture among the teams were different aspects that had to work together for the business idea to succeed.”

Mr Ruding takes time when prodded to investigate what he had understood about the entrepreneurial journeys taken on by newcomers. He confesses to having thought of multiple streams of assistance that could be given to them. He goes on to detail his experiences with the bureaucracy revealing his surprise how the government tends to cooperate ineffectively with the newcomers stating that everyone must put some extra understanding into newcomer entrepreneurship because it takes time to get their ambition on track. He backs this thought with businesses that have been set up across Europe by newcomers.

“The entrepreneurs have the same dreams. They see market opportunities. Of course, language can be an issue. But where is it not? When we go to a foreign country for a visit, language always us a concern. Imagine setting up a business,” he remarks. “I think there is a misconception that newcomers know little about the host nation. They don’t. They have done their homework, many eagerly learn the language, and often know more than others know about their business opportunity.”

 

“They were eager, asked questions, were open to alternative views, and that motivated me to do my best as well. And this perhaps is the only way to change mindsets and policy. That is to show their success, show their ambition, show their entrepreneurial achievements.”

 

As talks turn to team dynamics, he observes that the students he worked with came motivated, were entrepreneurial and put much effort into supporting the set-up of the enterprises.

“In one of the teams, one student had been working with a start-up in his university town, and so he was all about trial and error of ideas and prototypes. Another student was more strategic and wanted to add more structure. They brought different elements to the process, which made our support for the entrepreneur stronger I would advise incoming students that they be open to surprises and changes to the initial plan .”

As for advice for future mentors, Mr Ruding candidly says, “do not be overly prepared, as far as you can actually be overly prepared. Rely on your expertise and rely on the potential of the entrepreneur. And make sure the entrepreneur remains in the driver seat.”

As our conversation comes to a close, Mr Ruding reveals how he was motivated by the entrepreneurs he encountered during the incubator workshops.

“They were eager, asked questions, were open to alternative views, and that motivated me to do my best as well. And this perhaps is the only way to change mindsets and policy. That is to show their success, show their ambition, show their entrepreneurial achievements.”

With this thought, Refugees Forward moves on to newer programs in 2019.