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

Mr Tom Krikke is currently working as a Business Developer at Hiber, a company that provides global low-power, low-cost connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT). Prior to this, he worked for Nova as its Chief Operating Officer. Mr Krikke has a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He followed it with a Masters degree in International Management from CEMS and the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

At Refugees Forward, Mr Krikke worked with Hamed Alshaabi.

Mr Tom Krikke had always wanted to assist newcomers since having been introduced to the idea through a Swedish organisation, ‘Just Arrived’. When the time came for him to join Refugees Forward as a coach, it took Diederick, the founder of Refugees Forward, little to get him on board. After a short conversation, Mr Krikke found himself interviewing prospective newcomer entrepreneurs for the first incubator program in early 2018.

However, while coming on board, he did wonder about how he could be of service to these entrepreneurs. He remained apprehensive about his ability to assist someone who has more experience than him.

“I questioned myself if I had the right to advise them? But upon introspection, I realised that there are avenues where I can be of help. I initially felt that as a coach I would have to tell them what to do, but that was thankfully not expected. It was a free-flowing discussion that moves towards a goal.”

Mr Krikke came prepared for this role of a coach. He has given presentations during the Refugees Forward’s first Start-Up Weekend and had trained in Lean Start-Up methodologies. He had also joined a start-up idea validation program at YES!Delft that helped in shaping his views on such enterprises. Additionally, Mr Krikke had read up on frameworks of setting up businesses before he began coaching that kept him in good stead.

“I was glad that I had worked with Syrian immigrants to the Netherlands before. This gave me an understanding of cultural sensitivities. I understand Syrians and Palestinians where Hamed hails from come from different cultures, but there are streams of similarities. I had also worked with multiple cultures, and so I felt prepared.”

 Mr Krikke spoke quite candidly about managing expectations when taking on such a venture. His goal was not just to help create a successful business but to aid a newcomer to find a place in Dutch society. He hoped to achieve this by opening networks of people and organisations that he was aware of for them. Mr Krikke also felt that creating a business was a sound way to find oneself especially if the journey helped the newcomer acquire new skills. In that case, failure was an incidental part of the entire process.

 

“I questioned myself if I had the right to give advice to them? But upon introspection, I realised that there are avenues where I can be of help. I initially felt that as a coach I would have to tell them what to do, but that was thankfully not expected. It was a free-flowing discussion that moves towards a goal.”

 

Mr Krikke interviewed Hamed for the incubator and felt he could contribute to his idea of exporting veterinary products. They began working in June of 2018, and he was immediately taken by Hamed’s in-depth knowledge about the industry. The fact that Hamed was veterinarian gave Mr Krikke a boost of confidence on the idea that was brought on the table.

“The subject of the business was not my core competency. But what I was able to contribute was bridge the gap between the start and the finish. I was able to bring in processes, the planning, and defining milestones that needed to be achieved. This allowed me to leave the in-depth knowledge bits to Hamed,” Mr Krikke pointed out. “In essence, I was able to offer inputs in making the iron structure. Hamed was able to pour in the concrete.”

During this time, Mr Krikke was also able to prepare himself specifically to be of help to Hamed. This included some market research, bringing out specific companies that work within the sphere, figuring out focus, and sizing the market. However, Mr Krikke also recognised that building a business by oneself was a difficult proposition where momentum became an essential factor.

 

“It is so easy to get into a bubble every now and then, and  Refugees Forward allows us to experience a different side of life and bring us out of the echo chamber.”

 

“Hamed showed perseverance to begin all by himself, but we could have moved faster. We took a little too long to define focus. Hamed is an organic trial and error entrepreneur. I come from a school of thought that stresses on being methodical and structured,” Mr Krikke asserts. “But that interplay worked well for us. Incorporating the business, getting orders and interest from the market, struggling with suppliers were points where Hamed did well.”

However, the turning point came when Hamed was joined by Mohamad Maaroufas as a partner in the business.

“I think when two people come together for business as partners, it becomes a lot more concrete and defined. There is a lot more accountability.”

This allowed Mr Krikke to move from the role of a coach to an advisor. Seeing the business in motion, he felt comfortable. The team was able to set up a format where Mr Krikke was invited to assist. One such aspect where he was able to help the business was by setting up networks for Hamed and Mohamad.

 

Tom Krikke

 

Looking back, Mr Krikke honestly assesses his time with the Hamed.

“To incoming mentors, I would say get a subject matter or industry expert on the team as soon as possible. What took us months could have been achieved quicker if I had deeper insights or connections into this business. As for students, I hope they don’t just see it as a fun project. And if you can commit time to the process, it is of enormous importance to entrepreneurs.”

As the interview winds down, a reflective Mr Krikke, one who confesses to not know much about the immigration system, feels it is designed defensively and ends up not being of help to people it is built for. He thinks that newcomer entrepreneurs fear losing governmental aid when building businesses, a tough task in itself. He believes there is a need for clarity and transparency in the system where newcomers are stuck in a system that does not allow them to work, thus wasting precious human resource and time. It also to adds to the narrative that newcomers are perhaps lazy.

When asked how this experience has changed him, Mr Krikke takes time to answer.

“I am humbled, and after being educated about their struggles, it puts things in perspective. How easy has my life been,” he says with a wry smile. “It is so easy to get into a bubble every now and then, and  Refugees Forward allows us to experience a different side of life and bring us out of the echo chamber.”

With an acknowledgement of our privileges, the interview comes to a close, as does another successful chapter in Refugees Forwards’s young life.