The path to becoming an entrepreneur is often not what people imagine. The path can have lots of twists and turns, and sometimes people with no intention of becoming entrepreneurs are hit with a new innovative idea, and a business springs up from it. In association with Starters Valley, Smile To The Future had the chance to host over 40 students from the Hogeschool Zuyd in Maastricht for a unique event focusing on entrepreneurship. The idea of becoming an entrepreneur and opening a business can seem overwhelming, with more risk than reward, which is why Smile To The Future loves hosting students to introduce them to real live entrepreneurs. Events like this show young people opening a business is possible and that entrepreneurs are just like the rest of us.
Starters Valley has the pleasure of partnering with HomeHandi and KAFETHEA, two successful ventures in Maastricht, which recently opened locations at the Maastricht Guesthouse (Brouwersweg 100D, just on the right when you first walk in). We had the honor to hear from the owners of both these businesses, who presented to the students from Hogeschool Zuyd. You can read more about their stories below:
Sonia never pictured herself becoming an entrepreneur. But nonetheless today she is the owner of the innovative HomeHandi, a local startup that delivers home-cooked food, prepared by chefs from different countries, in Maastricht. Her situation is not uncommon in the world of entrepreneurs. Many of the best start-ups come from people who have no interest in business, but find themselves faced with a real-world problem to which they have the solution or a product that they are very passionate about. Both statements apply to Sonia. Living in a new city, she and her husband had no time to cook healthy meals, were missing the food of their home country, and found themselves with no option other than to eat unhealthy fast food for many meals. During a period when they were moving apartments, the couple was often invited over by hospitable friends from nations all over the world. And not only was the food that their hosts prepared delicious, but the hospitality and the culture brought them joy.
Sonia realized she and her husband were not the only people who had faced the same dilemmas she and her husband were facing, not having time to prepare a decent meal, longing for ethnic foods that is unavailable in restaurants, and forced to settle for unhealthy fast food. At the same time Sonia wished to share this joy she had found in sharing a good, home-cooked meal and culture with the world. And so, she came up with an idea – connecting the chefs, many of whom were homemakers, with those who long for quick, healthy, affordable, and authentic meal options. Everyone knows that home-cooked meals are often better than what you can get in a restaurant, but simply hoping to be invited over for a good meal is something that people cannot count on every day. HomeHandi allows people to order affordable meals inspired by cuisines from all over the world cooked by people who are making their native cuisine and to have the meals delivered right to their door. In addition, HomeHandi has hosted events where the chefs and the customers can interact, allowing people to sample different foods made fresh right in front of them. Just a few months ago, HomeHandi took a big step by opening its first permanent location at the bistro space at Brouwersweg 100D.
One of the most important take aways from Sonia’s presentation is that entrepreneurship is often about more than the bottom-line. She did not open HomeHandi with the motivation to make money, although that is an important part of being able to maintain a business, but rather to deliver a product she really believed in. She really believed in supplying the public, with healthy, authentic, affordable food. She also presented homemakers who may not have an income otherwise with the chance to share their talents with the world and make an income as well. Sonia recalled how one of the home chefs was overcome with joy by the fact she was able to use money she earned by cooking for HomeHandi to buy her husband a gift, something she had never been able to do before because she had never had an independent income. Although Sonia was an unlikely entrepreneur, we are happy she decided to turn her idea into a business that brings society a high-quality product.
No two entrepreneurs are alike, and that is definitely the case with Merel. As she shared about her life, Merel gave a lesson each part of her life journey taught her that would eventually help her as an entrepreneur. She has lived all over the world – from Canada, to a monastery in Japan, to spontaneously moving with her boyfriend to Romania and living out of a van. She emphasized that travelling can provide valuable experience that you will be able to rely on later in life. For example, travelling can be a time of solitude and relying on only yourself, which is often a challenge that entrepreneurs must face. While her university degree is in law, Merel realized that this was not what she wanted to do with her life. She found more joy in writing and photography, and unexpectedly found herself thrown into the world of being a wedding photographer specializing in Moroccan weddings. While it may seem random, her photography skills were noticed by a friend who asked her to be her wedding photographer. Based on doing a good job at that wedding, like a chain reaction, she was invited by people who had been at that wedding to do their own weddings. Which taught her the lesson if you put yourself out there, things can fall into place for you. Merel also spent a few years working as a massage therapist, specifically helping students, for whom massage services may not be affordable. As a massage therapist, she learned about the importance of connecting with clients. When hand issues forced her to give up massage therapy, she did not lose heart. Her and her partner balanced studies with opening and managing a bed and breakfast, which taught her another lesson: customers can be difficult. Eventually, when she went on to open KAFETHEA in the center of Maastricht, and those life lessons, which she shared with the audience of attentive students, helped her navigate the path of entrepreneurship.
Despite admitting to never having been a baker prior to opening KAFETHEA, the café has become one of the most popular spots in Maastricht, which led to the opening of a second location alongside HomeHandi at the Guesthouse in Maastricht. Since KAFETHEA specializes in vegan baked goods, Merel treated the audience to vegan muffins that disappeared in a matter of minutes as the students gobbled them up. The main take away from her presentation, besides the fact that vegan baked goods can be just as good as regular ones, is that for an entrepreneur the culmination of all your life experiences can come in handy, even if you find yourself starting a venture in which you don’t have a background. The success of KAFETHEA certainly is a testament to that.
To conclude the event, Nando Ngando, CEO of Smile To The Future, shared with the students about Starters Valley, a communal workspace which is unique in the way it provides solutions to start-ups in the Limburg area. While snacking on the free treats provided by the gracious guest speakers, students worked on proposing solutions to some of the challenges Starters Valley faces as it develops as an independent entity to give them a taste of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.