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About Student Mobility

  • Founders: Ivo Kneepkens
  • Founded in: 2020
  • Employees: 5
  • Money raised: bootstrapped (ronde in voorbereiding)
  • Ultimate goal: facilitate sustainable travel for international students

Ivo Kneepkens himself traveled all over the world as a student. “My experiences abroad have had a very big impact on my personal development and I hope young people and students can continue to experience this. Learning about other cultures helps in understanding and tolerating other mindsets.” With his start-up Student Mobility, Kneepkens has a dual mission: to improve the book ability and affordability of (international and national) mobility for students and young people. In this Start-up of the Day episode, he talks more about it.

My experiences abroad have had a tremendous, positive impact on my personal development, and I hope young people and students can continue to experience this. Getting to know other cultures helps in understanding and tolerating different mindsets.

Public transport in the Netherlands is very well organized, right? Why do international students need help?

Ivo Kneepkens

“Public transport (OV) is well regulated in the Netherlands, but at the same time, our system is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, in the EU. Fortunately, students generally don’t suffer much from this because they use the subsidized student travel product. With this, they travel either during the week or on weekends for free, and at other times with a discount. International students need help claiming this. It is estimated that only five percent of them use this product. The other 95 percent are at the mercy of the regular system. And getting a discount in the Dutch public transport system is not that easy; you need a personal public transport card, a Dutch bank account, and different subscriptions per carrier. Moreover, applying for a personalized public transport card is so complex that many students use an anonymous card throughout their studies, and you can’t get a benefit subscription on that.”

How do you, as a start-up, plan to change that? It sounds more like a topic that should be discussed in politics

“It would be good if they would talk about this in The Hague. In the meantime, we are trying to build the best possible alternative with transport companies, educational institutions, and concessionaires. Students can buy an OV-chip card with a credit card from us before they arrive in the Netherlands without having a BSN or a Dutch bank account. At least, they already get a fifteen percent discount during off-peak hours at NS. These products usually are only available to people with a Dutch bank account, which students – especially in the beginning – often still need to get. So in that situation, our pass is the only product that offers discounts. With that, they get an ISICI [globally accepted student ID, ed.] for free. Students can pick up those passes during their university’s introductory days. After that, they can link and activate the card in our Student Mobility app.

We constantly seek local cooperation to offer students the best possible proposition regarding public transport. For example, students in Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe have a forty percent discount on all Arriva buses and trains in off-peak hours. OV-bureau Groningen/Drente and Arriva make this product available for one year. Look, our solution interfaces with other problems. Considering the tightness in the housing market, housing (international) students is a big problem. One solution is to house them in peripheral municipalities with a regional OV product, and our pass can facilitate that.”

How many students are currently using your product?

“We now have about 6,000 pass holders, 3,500 active. In total, about fifteen thousand students have now used our product. Every year 120,000 international students come to the Netherlands, and the ultimate goal is that a quarter of them use our product.”

What is the biggest challenge here?

“OV-pay, meaning checking in with your debit card, credit card, or phone, is becoming a game-changer in the mobility landscape. It may change our proposition, but at the moment, it looks like you can only link discount products to bank cards. So it’s mainly a replacement for the anonymous OV-chip card.”

Ok, now for your second mission: international travel. Tell!

“The second chapter of our story is international. Booking cross-national train trips is currently very complicated and also expensive. Educational institutions and the European Union will motivate students with subsidies, among other things, to make international trips under eight hundred kilometers sustainably. Utrecht University has already started this. For example, there is a grant for exchange students who travel to their destination by train or bus. These students can claim the cost of their bus or train ticket up to 185 euros from the university.

This summer, we are launching the first version of our booking platform on which subsidies are directly settled. Also, carriers can give discounts now to verified students and university staff, and it is easy to book these international trips. Existing booking platforms now often indicate that a journey from Amsterdam to Bratislava is not possible or takes 36 hours. But, you can also say: I’m going to interrail, and instead of an A to B trip, make it an A to B to C to D trip. Students are very benevolent once they attach a journey to a vacation. So we facilitate the international student in the broadest sense of the word.”