A student consultant who shares their ideas with you about all kinds of problems and strategic choices which a start-up has to deal with. At High Tech Campus Eindhoven, this has turned out to be a recipe for success. Students from Fontys University of Applied Sciences can do their internship as a consultant for one of the start-ups at High Tech Plaza. It’s known as a ‘win-win-situation.’ The start-ups get extra man-hours and a breath of fresh air in their company. At the same time, during their internships students get a look behind the scenes at different companies.
“Having a cup of coffee together is very important in Brabant. This has once more become very clear,” says Menke Steenbergen, CEO of IPOS. Her start-up focuses on sensor technology for equestrian sports. She established herself a few years ago at the High Tech Campus, the hotspot of technology. “People in Brabant often invite each other over to have a cup of coffee together. This often leads to the most wonderful conversations, but also can provide practical help where setting up and running a business is concerned. What’s more, this is one huge network where everyone is willing to put you in touch with everyone else,” she adds. “That’s how it works with the students as well. They literally walk into companies at High Tech Plaza and ask if they can do something for a company.”
Several students are working on an assignment for IPOS. As an example, one of the students is looking into the bottlenecks within their supply chain, e.g., where stock can best be stored and who is responsible for packages during transport. At other companies, for example, students carry out market research or contribute ideas on marketing strategies. “We try to give students a very concrete and defined assignment. After all, they only have limited amount of time,” Steenbergen explains. “As a company, I prefer to give a small-scale assignment that will be carried out well, rather than a large assignment that will only partially succeed. Otherwise, it’s of little use to us.”
The CEO says she likes working with students. “They provide a fresh perspective and bring new knowledge with them that they’ve learned at uni.” Although working with students does also take up some time for the company. “It takes a while for a student to get to know the company well. That’s important in order to carry out an assignment properly so that we can really benefit from it. But this would also apply to a professional consultant.”
Build a large network
It’s fun for students to have a look inside a variety of companies. Steenbergen: “Education provides an overview of knowledge. Whereas in a company, you really just learn about the details.” That’s why student Shokhan Masifi chose to do an internship as a consultant at High Tech Plaza. “Working with different companies appealed to me. Sometimes these are larger companies that are already working internationally. And other times they are just fledgling start-ups. That’s what makes it so much fun,” Masifi states. “All the contacts we make with various companies can be very useful now and in the future.”
In addition to the assignments that students do for specific companies, they also organize networking get-togethers and other events for the entire High Tech Plaza. “We also try to contribute to the entire community this way,” the student says. That is also what her graduation research is about; building a stronger community within High Tech Plaza. “Companies already network well with each other. I’m going to see how the community can expand further and make it stronger,” says Masifi. For instance, she looks at the expectations that start-ups have of the community and tries to respond to those expectations. She also looks at the communication with the outside world in order to be able to expand the network even further.
“The High Tech Plaza community is growing rapidly. Within the past three years, we have gone from one building with ten start-ups to three buildings with a total of forty start-ups,” says High Tech Plaza Community Manager Karina Garcia del Real. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to network with each other. That’s why we organize various events such as networking get-togethers and workshops.” According to her, the students also have an influence on the community. “Students network with companies, and companies also come into contact with each other again via various assignments.”
Garcia del Real continues: “Students have refreshing ideas. They look at a company from the outside, other stuff then stands out from things we usually notice.” In her opinion, it is also good for companies for very practical reasons. “They often don’t have the money to hire a consultant. Students are also knowledgeable about lots of things and are eager to share that.”
This is also why Menke Steenbergen is so enthusiastic. Steenbergen: “Start-ups often have quite a few new job vacancies. As a student, there is a very good chance that you will be able to stay with such a company. What’s more, you will also get a quick overview of career opportunities. For entrepreneurs, it is nice to hire people who they already know. Consequently, Fontys Consultancy is a good way for us to scout talent.” This is how Fontys Consultancy forms a bridge between education and entrepreneurship. Education increasingly focuses on the practical side, Fontys Consultancy is a step in that direction.
According to Community Manager Karina Garcia del Real, there is plenty of room for more students in the future. “We now have five students and that is actually too few for the number of start-ups at High Tech Plaza”, she says. Moreover, there are opportunities to roll out this project right throughout the whole High Tech Campus. “Students bring a lot of energy. That’s nice to see.”