Stages voor studenten, door studenten
What do WhatsApp, South Korea, Maastricht and four UM graduates all have in common? The answer? Fiks: An innovative internship solution for students, by students.
The idea is simple, connecting students and companies through a WhatsApp integration platform for a quick, down-to-earth, personal approach. Fiks was officially launched in October 2019, in those hazy, carefree pre-Covid days on the Maastricht terraces. It was born from the work and internship experiences of four UM graduates: Niels Geominy, David Noorthoek Iron Brands and Berke Verhey, otherwise known as ‘the wizard’, so-named for his coding wizardry.
Every year in South Limburg alone, 3,500 students are looking for an internship. They want a quick and simple solution to connect with the right companies. The problem the four UM graduates found through their own internship experiences was how clunky and outdated the existing internship platforms were. The process was slow and the types of internships were often limited. The graduates soon came to realise that the companies offering internships were also struggling to reach the right students. That’s when the light bulb went on: they could offer a solution to solve the problems faced by both parties! And so they quickly put together a team with a range of different expertise and created Fiks!
We caught up with Niels Geominy, Fiks’s Head of Marketing, currently based in South Korea, to find out how the team’s studies at UM helped them build their business and what it has been like for a newly-founded company like theirs during the corona lockdown. We were also curious to hear what Niels is doing in South Korean.
Launching a new business whilst on exchange in South Korea wasn’t Niels’s original game plan, but sometimes life throws you a curveball and you run with it. After graduating Cum Laude with a double degree in Strategic Marketing and Change Management from the School of Business and Economics (SBhttps://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/sbeE), Niels wanted to see some more of the world and was accepted on an exchange programme in South Korea. He moved to Seoul and started his exchange. When the opportunity arose to co-found an internship business with his three friends from UM, Niels decided to drop out of the exchange and become part of team Fiks instead. He realised that he could do the job just as well remotely, so rather than return to Maastricht, it seemed the perfect opportunity to apply what he had learned from his SBE courses to a real-life business venture and combine it with his East Asian adventure.
‘Speaking to our fellow students, hearing them struggle, no one really had one go-to option, and there was no company that dominated the market, we thought we can do this better, aimed precisely at people like us and around us: students. Iron initiated everything, gathered the right people whom he believed in to think through his idea of creating a better solution.’
Working remotely from Seoul, Niels is living the millennial dream of holding conference calls with the team from remote islands off the coast of Korea, a rooftop in Seoul or by the pool. But, the location doesn’t seem to hinder their ambitious goals for the business.
Niels explains, ‘I want to grow Fiks to be the best-known brand among students, which resonates with their personality and lifestyle. I want to create the biggest student network in the Netherlands.’
Co-creating and connecting with the students
The approach of seeing a problem and working out a solution has delivered positive outcomes for the students who use Fiks’s platform. Following a recent survey to their students, they gleaned valuable insight.
‘We see that our platform provides a solution in three ways: easy to use (no account needed), great variety of internships, and transparency (all companies are visible with their website, company name, etc.). The main highlight is the huge number of positive reactions from students on our platform and service. They really like the student-approach and the way we communicate. We hope to inspire them to become advocates and we try to nudge them to increase word of mouth.’
Integrating WhatsApp onto the Fiks platform enables students and companies to connect directly in three clicks. On the site, students can choose to connect via email or WhatsApp, but it seems that WhatsApp wins hands down. Based on Fiks’s web traffic data, connecting via WhatsApp is used 3.5 times more often than the email button. Future recruiters have take note, if it is up to the 'job seeker' of tomorrow, WhatsApp is the way to connect.
The benefits to the students are clear. Rowena Meijers, an MSc Strategic Marketing student at UM says,
‘Fiks saved me by offering a broad range of internship options on their platform. With personal assistance from their team, I was able to find an internship in these uncertain Covid-19 times.’
The internship office at SBE agrees. Anouk Quaden, the Internship Team leader has no doubts their approach works. ‘I like it that they’re really connecting with the students. They’re so enthusiastic and they share this on their website and social media.’ Using WhatsApp allows them to have direct contact with the students before and during their internships, which is a real advantage to get a good insight into how it is going.
Together you stand strong!
Building on the team’s existing networks and working with new ones has paid off. The collaborations with the SBE internship office and other UM connections have allowed Fiks to have good exposure in the right places. Many students come to Fiks from the UM website and it is clear that making connections and building relationships is an important part of Fiks’s journey. Their offices in Maastricht and their open and friendly approach impressed Anouk from SBE’s internship office and they were invited to take part in the Career and Development Days earlier this year where they gave a talk to students about internships. The collaborations with Limburg Investment and Development Company (LIOF) and local companies have also reaped significant benefits. 'Together you stand strong!'
Jean-Paul Thoonen, Maastricht based entrepreneur and founder of T36 Media agrees: 'There is not enough expertise in the needs and wants from the business side. I think initiatives like Fiks can be the missing link that will connect student and company. Plus, it is also beneficial for the Province and for the University itself to support these initiatives. Almost all processes in society that do not flow well, suffer from bad communication. I am convinced that with better communication the province of Limburg and the city of Maastricht will gain in terms of more job opportunities in Limburg.'
Applying the theory
The founders are able to put into practice and apply what they have learned from their time at UM at the faculties of business and economics and of science and engineering. Niels thinks that his master’s courses in Strategic Marketing helped a lot in being able to clearly define goals and targets. He explains, ‘In most of the courses you interact with companies, which helps you grasp what really matters in a business. Reading about a lot of business cases, discussing solutions within your team, and applying them to real-life companies really helps you understand how businesses operate.’
David believes that courses such as consumer psychology let you think critically about your pricing and communication. ‘The value of words and pricing really depends on how you frame it.’
Learning from the customer and service thinking is important to Fiks and draws on the founders’ own experiences at SBE. Niels is certain that his course in Service Management with Gaby Oderkerken and the input he received from Dominik Mahr, his thesis supervisor, offered valuable lessons in real-life business.
‘I think service thinking is the right way to think about a business. Creating something together with the customer helps in truly building a solution for a problem that is out there in the market. That’s why we actively talk to all of our customers and right now have finetuned our business model to truly tackle a problem and build a solution together with our customers. I also learned a lot about servitisation, co-creation, and innovative marketing solutions from my thesis Supervisor Dominik Mahr during the thesis process.'
The Corona effect
The impact of the corona crisis has affected the business, but not necessarily adversely. On the one hand, Fiks has been impacted on the company-side of their platform. ‘A lot of companies were interested in working with us in order to create more reach among students for their internships. However, due to Covid-19, companies imposed hiring freezes and put applications on hold. On the other hand, the digital innovation which has accelerated since the outbreak is beneficial to us. We believe universities are more open to partner up with online platforms like Fiks.’
The SBE Internship office agrees. Companies weren’t taking on internships during the lockdown, but since this is easing, they have seen an upturn now and one of the first placements post-Corona came through Fiks.
Takeaways for future entrepreneurs?
Iron advises, ‘you need to validate your idea as quickly as possible. Don’t build something without talking to prospective customers. If you have an idea, try to test it as soon as possible.'
David Noorthoek's advice? ‘Think big but begin small and be prepared for emotional rollercoasters.’
Niels adds: ‘Gather the right people around you, make sure you have a team that complements each other and is comfortable with speaking their mind freely. Personally, I love working with these guys, because we are all good friends. This makes it easy to say whatever is on your mind to your business partner. Working with friends facilitates a good basis of trust in each other. Trust is key.’
Are you looking for an internship and want to find out more?
Fiks is an initiative created on the premise of 'students helping out students'. Through their broad student network, companies are able to realise an effective reach for their internship vacancies. Join the Fiks network and explore your possibilities, click here.
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