Entrepreneurial mind of the month: Sharon Lederer

Tekstory: a business in the making since Sharon was 8 years old

When Sharon Lederer was a little girl, she already had big dreams. At the age of 8, she started to create content. Back in 2004 she already made her own drawings and booklets on her computer in Microsoft Publisher and posted them on her self-built HTML website. So, it’s fair to say that Sharon’s entrepreneurial spirit sprouted at quite a young age.

In the summer before she started college, Sharon started editing texts and founded ‘Tekstory’ at age 18, a company that helps small and middle-sized companies with their online brand. She got her first customer through her father, who had a client that needed help with online texts.

“My dream is to help companies improve their online branding”

During the first weeks of her study ‘Communication Sciences’, Sharon quickly realized that academics wasn’t for her. She missed the link with the practice. She then chose to switch studies and started ‘Communication and Information Sciences’, a study with a stronger link to the business world and a focus on practical forms of communication such as writing. So now Sharon could focus on her passion: writing texts that move people. “I want to help businesses with their online appearance. Technically, everyone can be a writer, you just have to learn how to do it!” In her philosophy, companies know their own product or service the best so she helps entrepreneurs to write their own texts. She wants to help improve the online visibility of companies and entrepreneurs.

Tekstory was founded 5 years ago and now Sharon is busy as ever. Next to her business, Sharon is focused on getting her Master’s degree in Behavioral Science. After finishing her Masters’, she intends to fully focus on her business and make it grow.

Sharon: “I never expected to become an entrepreneur; I just sort of rolled into the whole entrepreneurship thing”.

Sharon is very modest about her own company and doesn’t like to talk about it that much. But she is very proud of the personal growth she experienced during the process of setting up her own business. “Looking back on the texts I wrote a couple of years ago and what I create now, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made as a writer.”

Right now, business is going well and Sharon has more work than she can handle. But being her own boss gives her the excitement and freedom she values so much. At the moment she’s happy to be working on her own and she will focus on building a team in the future.

“Sometimes the combination of writing creative texts and studying at the university is frustrating. It can be difficult to switch between both worlds.”

Sharon would like to share a message with all staring entrepreneurs: “What you are doing now, even if it seems small and useless, will become useful in the future. It’s the small things that help you grow.” Last year she was asked to give a blog writing workshop to the tourist office in Schiermonnikoog. They apparently found her old blog writings on the internet! She didn’t write these blogs with future business potential in mind, but look where those blogs got her now! So, no work is ever useless, eventually it all adds up to a higher goal. The goal of you becoming a successful entrepreneur!

Are you ready to become an entrepreneur this summer?

What convinced you to join the Summer School last year?
The most important motivation for me was that the Summer School was a one-week crash course. It was short but sweet and that convinced me to join! The Mercator Launch Summer School enabled me to learn things that I would not have learned myself during a longer process.

How did the Summer School help you?
Most importantly, it taught me how to approach entrepreneurship. I received a lot of feedback in one week and that showed me where I was standing as an entrepreneur. It gave me a better business perspective and a sense of direction: after the Summer School I was able to see the bigger picture and the steps I needed to take to get there!

What is your biggest take away of last year’s Summer School?
 Before Summer School, I didn’t exactly knew where I stood with my business. This crash-course in entrepreneurship was just what I needed to take my business to the next level.

Why would you recommend the Summer School to others?
Next to gaining insights and a better overview, you learn so much from the other inspiring people in the program. And giving feedback to others automatically ensures that you reflect on yourself. Responding critically to others, makes you more critical to yourself. By telling someone how to do something better, you take that in consideration for your own journey. That was a real plus for me.  

Besides the content of the course, it is very ‘gezellig’ to be with a group of people with the same mindset and ambitions. You really bond with people, which is valuable for your own network.  And of course, the Summer School is organized in a fun way that fits within the atmosphere of entrepreneurship. And even though the Summer School takes place at a university; the whole process is quite informal which makes it a fun and relaxed opportunity to learn. It is quite intensive but super fun!

Honestly, you did not mind that the course took place during the summer holiday?
That only made it better! The weather was great and we enjoyed the sun during our lunch breaks. This gave a lot of energy and positivity to the week. Vitamine D is crucial! The opportunity to discuss your plans outside only brought more energy. If it would be raining the whole week it would be less inspiring.

What would you tell people who are still hesitating to sign up this year?
If you’re insecure about your business idea or hesitating to sign up in general, just come by the Mercator Launch office! The business coaches are happy to listen and to help. Or you can come to one of the lunches on Thursday (the next one is on the 20th of June). There you can meet other entrepreneurs who joined the Summer School or the IMPROVE program and ask them your questions. Even if you are insecure about the quality of your idea, you can sign up because during the week you learn how to boost your idea and how to take it to the next step. That’s very valuable!

What was the most inspiring part of the Summer School?
The group process! The people who joined had very diverse ideas and backgrounds, which made it fun to engage in conversations. During this week you can learn a lot from each other and get different perspectives on your own ideas. Everyone has the same goal but achieves this in a different way!. 

Are you still in contact with you Summer School ‘colleagues’?
Well most of them I still see them during the lunches and other Mercator Launch events. Last year there were some people from other countries, it was a great opportunity to meet interesting people from different cultures.

So are you excited about our Summer School?  

International staff exchange program to Israel

International staff exchange program to Israel

Mercator Launch has organized together with International Office Radboud University an international staff-training event to Israel from June 2nd until June 7th. In the context of exploring how to create successful startup companies by universities we will visit Ben Gurion University and CyberSpark, Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Technion and Rambam Medical Center.

4 Days Left to submit your idea for the IMPROVE Program

FROM A PARTICIPANT’S PERSPECTIVE!

There are only 4 days left till the deadline to apply for the IMPROVE Program 2019. Would you like to know whether the program can help you to advance your idea into a startup? This is how Guido Wijffels, founder of SEN6 and a former IMPROVE participant, experienced it.

SEN6 is changing the way athletes sport and train. Based on measurements of movement, feedback is provided to athletes to better control their movements and improve their performance.

‘I expected to learn what it takes to build a business out of an idea. The reality, however, is that anything worth pursuing has no clear or easy path. Therefore, accepting every opportunity and considering all advice is vital if you want to succeed. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to find a real opportunity at Mercator Launch. Excellent resources were provided by some of the most helpful and experienced people I have met.’

Mercator Launch IMPROVE Program enabled Guido to take his idea a step further. ‘This program helped me make real steps towards my goals, something which would have been a lot harder without their guidance.’

I have learned that entrepreneurship is challenging and rewarding regardless of the results.

 Also, the program provided valuable lessons for this young entrepreneur. ‘I have learned that entrepreneurship is challenging and rewarding regardless of the results. The improve program was definitely worth it.’ 

Would you like to learn valuable entrepreneurial lessons as well? Apply for the IMPROVE Program before February 26th and go for it!

Entrepreneurial Minds of the Month: GRAPHKITE

GRAPHKITE: SOLUTIONS FROM DATA

It’s been said that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to have a larger impact on the world than the internet revolution ever did. Machine learning, a subset of AI, is the scientific study of algorithms and statistical models that computer systems use in order to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to perform the task. So basically, it’s building self-thinking machines! 

Machine learning is conquering the world. You might have experienced it in real life when you get suggestions for your next purchase online, increase the appeal of photos taken by your phone or when your doctor uses AI to help him analyze your CT-scans. AI is offering a lot of opportunities to develop new solutions and the Entrepreneurial Minds of the month are helping those solutions come to life. Meet Jelle Piepenbrock, Simon Brugman, Roeland Wiersema and Alex Kolmus. These four student entrepreneurs together are Graphkite!

Your idea doesn’t need to be perfect, it evolves through time and experience. Just do it!
— Jelle Piepenbrock

Graphkite develops advanced self-learning algorithms. ‘We are able to find patterns from the data of a person or an object while using automated models and as such are able to make valuable predictions’, explains Simon. Accurate predictions can help organizations make better decisions. 

It started all about a year and a half ago when the founders of Graphkite entered a Computing Science Masters course at the Radboud University. During this course, they participated in an international online competition for Data Science, competing against more than 3000 other teams. ‘The goal of the assignment was to come up with a model that predicts the amount and the type of fish being caught, by analyzing video material from several fishing boats in the ocean. Basically, to be able to statistically predict overfishing,’ explains Roeland. ‘Often students use a model they’ve learned about during the course, just to find out much later that the model only works for that one particular boat. That is precisely the art and the difficulty of machine learning,’ says Simon, ‘to develop a model that works for every boat.’ They did amazing in this global competition and even got into the top 2%!

After working together for a longer time, they realized that they work well as a team and that they are able to translate theoretical knowledge in to practical solutions. ‘Naturally, we wondered whether we could solve other practical problems. Without too much hesitation we reached out to one of the three largest insurance companies in The Netherlands’, Simon explains. ‘We explained what we could do using machine learning. Two months later we booked our first job!’

After that they took Graphkite to the next level, bringing machine learning to other companies. It’s a very large market and it’s expensive for companies to innovate. ‘It’s more beneficial to hire a company that offers existing solutions, like us’, says Roeland. ‘And it works because we recognized that the problems an insurance company has, are actually applicable to problems in completely different lines of work’, adds Simon. 

The team has even bigger plans for the future, looking to solve problems on a larger scale. In order to actually scale up to the next level the students looked for an experienced entrepreneur to join their team. It didn’t take long for entrepreneur and growth advisor Johannes Vinke to join Graphkite. ‘With his help, we hope to attract more business and to start growing,’ adds Roeland. ‘But for now, some of us need to graduate first.’

The team doesn’t need long to think of a tip for a beginning entrepreneur: `Just do it, says Jelle. ‘Don’t think about it as a huge step. Tell people what you do and ask if they can use it. Your idea doesn’t need to be perfect, it evolves through time and experience. But the only way to find out what it will become, is to just do it!’

The next IMPROVE program is taking off!

FROM A PARTICIPANT’S PERSPECTIVE!

On March 7th, 2019 is the start of the second Mercator Launch IMPROVE program: a 10 step pre-incubation program for those who seriously consider starting their own business. What is a better way to learn more about the program than from the experiences of former participants? This week Jordy van Langen, founder of ShareTalk, shares his point of view on the IMPROVE program and what it has offered him. 

‘When I signed up for the IMPROVE program I expected it to be highly informative regarding the different steps of building a startup. This expectation matches the reality. What I didn’t foresee was the comprehensive network of people around the IMPROVE. This was an absolute plus!’

ShareTalk builds a new on- and offline platform that enables people with mutual interests to meet. Every day many knowledge-rich, inspiring and experienced people are traveling by public transport to work, conferences or other social (network) meetings. Nevertheless, in each others proximity, they do not get in touch. ShareTalk enables these people to meet and connect. A (gaming) element encourages commuters to meet face-to-face, win points and receive discounts and other rewards.

Furthermore, Jordy was enthusiastic regarding the sessions: ‘The Pitch training was outstanding and all the other sessions were very good organized. The different locations (SUN, NTC, Rabobank) where the sessions took place gave me extra motivation to contribute to the program.’ In Jordy’s opinion the program delivered what was promised. ‘It brought me further. By building my own Golden Egg Academy, I have now a solid foundation on which to advance my business.’

I’ve learned to be critical and listen to others. My idea can be as good as I think it is, however, there are always different angles to approach an idea.
— Jordy van Langen, founder of ShareTalk

‘In conclusion, the program is definitely worth it! Although you might not be able to have your startup up & running immediately after the program, it definitely pointed me in the right direction and provided me access to a network for next steps!’

Are you a student, PhD or Alumni at the Heyendaal Campus and is your idea ready for the next step? Apply before February 26th by hitting the button below!

No less than two pitches during the first Mercator Lunch of the year!

On Thursday January 17th Mercator Launch opened its doors to the student and PhD entrepreneurs, professors, academic staff, so basically to all the entrepreneurial minds on campus. We also welcomed Prof. Daniël Wigboldus, President of the Radboud University Executive Board. 

During Mercator Lunch Marijn Martens (researcher at NeuroDrug Research) and Quirine Wissink (founder of Lutto) pitched their ideas and shared their experiences. We’ve witnessed our guests making new connections and chatting away while enjoying a delicious vegetarian lunch.

Thank you all for coming. The first Mercator Lunch this year was a success! You can already sign up for the February lunch.


Make money, do good!

Make money, do good!

Sometimes you wonder how a person can be this enterprising and proactive. Well, Marlieke van Schalkwijk (22) is one of those people. She’s a Political Science Master student, she’s a freelance content writer, she’s the ambassador of Young Lady Business Academy, founder of Hidden Talent and co-founder of Immigrants With Impact.

Entrepreneurial mind of the month: Martijn van der Meulen

PERSEVERANCE, PASSION, PLEXUZ

What do you do if you’re a medical student and you want to optimize your learning behavior? Or what if you’re in need of personal feedback on how well you’re doing compared to other students or even feedback on which subjects or themes need more attention? You download the free Plexuz app. In case of Martijn van der Meulen, you develop it!

Plexuz is an app that supports medical students by giving them personal feedback on their learning behavior. It works like a quiz-app. You choose the topic within medicine you want to practice and answer multiple choice questions. Almost all the questions provide feedback whether you give the correct or wrong answer. Furthermore, the app tracks your progress and advises which topics you’ve mastered and which topics you need to work on. ‘We received the questions from the Radboudumc and we linked every question to cognitive learning objectives for first year medical students as well as for almost graduates. Every medical student in the Netherlands can benefit from Plexuz’, says Martijn. ‘Besides, you can invite other students to join your study group to learn even more effectively.’

‘During the first years of my studies I often had the feeling that I wasn’t getting optimal results. A score of 70% meant that I missed out on the other 30% and I didn’t know why. Also, I felt that I didn’t receive the feedback I needed from the faculty and missed the oversight of my knowledge and what it should be. After talking to other students about it I’ve realized that this was a common problem, one that I could solve’, Martijn explains.

He started working on the very first version of Plexuz back in 2014. Today the Plexuz team has two more members, Romy Heijse, law student at the Radboud University, responsible for business development and marketing and Pieter van Laatum, recent Informatics grauate at the Radboud University and IT-developer at Plexuz. After a year of developing, they finally launched the new and improved third version of Plexuz. Within two weeks the app has over 200 users. Great news for Martijn. However, he has bigger plans. ‘In time we want to add other studies, beside medicine and even introduce it in high schools. But first we hope to convince the teachers and professors to work with Plexuz as well.’ Not an easy task to do. Like healthcare, education sector is also quite conservative. Oftentimes decision making is linked to best practice. Nevertheless, the team is positive about the outcome. They developed a new feature that creates the most optimal study group based on students’ results and learning objectives in the app. ‘In my opinion, a ‘smart’ study group will achieve better results compared to a group that is randomly placed together by the professor. We’re hoping that this feature will be widely supported by the teaching staff, so that we can start with a pilot.’

Choose your team wisely, you’ll have a bigger chance at success
— Martijn
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An amazing idea and a quality product. However, the business side of things can get tricky sometimes. ‘We developed this app not quite according to the lean-startup method’, laughs Martijn. ‘And we don’t even have an earning model yet, as the app is free, without commercials or premiums. Also, we lack knowledge on how to lift this business to the next level. This is why it’s important that the university facilitates this kind of support for starting entrepreneurs. I followed a startup program at REshape and I often discuss my affairs with a coach from Mercator Launch.’

Evidently, Plexuz is not about the money. ‘This project captured me and became my hobby and my pastime. It was never my vision to develop this app for myself, as I’m nearly graduating. The aim of this project was to support the future medical students in becoming better doctors. For me, that’s the ultimate payoff.’

In all those years developing Plexuz, Martijn realizes how important it is to have a team that you can trust. This is also his advice for a beginning entrepreneur. ‘Choose your team wisely. You’ll have a bigger chance at success if you work with someone you’ve known for a while. Developing a product is not easy, but you’re more likely to succeed when you’re surrounded by the right people.’

You can now download Plexuz for free below (in Dutch):