Passionate about entrepreneurship
Starting your own business is a major undertaking, one that requires innovative thinking, tireless enthusiasm and a deep commitment to achieving success. That's certainly true for the alumni behind the ventures Novalogy, FoodWeLove and BitesWeLove.
Story by Tim Skelton
Novalogy is the company behind Ayo: intelligent light-therapy glasses that assist the wearer’s body clock. They can boost energy, overcome jetlag, and help those with disrupted sleep patterns.
The company’s co-founders, Bulgarian Aleksandar Dimitrov and Serbian Branislav Nikolic, met at RSM, where they both studied for a Masters in Entrepreneurship & New Business Venturing.
It was Branislav who hit on the concept, called EnWake. ‘I’m from a sunny country, and struggled with the gloomy Dutch winter, especially in the mornings,’ he says. He bought a Philips Wake-up Light, but this illuminates the entire room, disturbing other sleepers. They decided to try improving the concept, and the result is a personal device connected to a smartphone.
Branislav acknowledges RSM’s role in his journey. ‘The MSc programme was full of inspiring lectures. One great motivator was Professor Ferdinand Jaspers, who told us to “get out of the building” – meaning entrepreneurship is not about theory, but about being proactive, and searching for opportunities.’
The team entered EnWake into competitions, and reached the final three of RSM’s I WILL Award in 2014. They were also ranked among the three best Dutch start-ups by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship’s Get in the Ring competition.
In 2015, a new advanced solution was created called Ayo. To develop this the partners started a new company, Novalogy, and were joined by an old friend, Nikola Vucinic. ‘With EnWake we had a great vision, but we missed the freedom and capabilities to make it reality,’ Branislav says. ‘Nikola has extensive software development knowledge. He resigned from a top IT company to help us bring Ayo to the market.’
Ayo’s launch is being crowdfunded. ‘We’ve raised over 120,000 euros and got orders from 50 countries,’ Branislav says. They attracted interest from people from the worlds of travel, entertainment, medical services and professional sport. ‘Preparing the campaign was hard work, but luckily we were selected in the Hot in Hardware category by Indiegogo. For a while Ayo was a top trending technology project.’
The team hopes to send Ayo to their backers in December, with a full release planned in 2016. ‘But developing an advanced wearable technology takes time, effort, money and talent – things can easily get complicated,’ Branislav admits.
So what has he learned? ‘I think one major lesson is to expect the unexpected, learn to be flexible, and adapt to new situations – challenges can also be opportunities,’ he says. ‘And surround yourself with people you trust and can rely on – it can make or break your start-up.’
FoodWeLove and BitesWeLove are two online food companies. The first sends monthly gourmet food boxes to subscribers, the second offers healthy snacks.
What the two have in common is both were conceived by RSM alumnus Marleen Basart. Marleen graduated in 2008, with an MSc in International Management that included the international CEMS (Community of European Management School) programme.
After graduating, she worked for Albert Heijn, first as a trainee category manager, then as a store manager. ‘As I’d followed the CEMS programme it was assumed I’d end up working for a multinational, but instead I got a job with a very Dutch company,’ she says.
At Albert Heijn Marleen learned about dealing with suppliers, so the next step was easy. ‘I launched FoodWeLove in 2012. We still have suppliers, but instead of just seeking the lowest price from them I wanted to take an idealistic view, helping them build their brands.’
The idea came from the Beautybox subscription service. ‘I wasn’t into make-up, and I’d grown up in a family where food was very important. So I decided to try something similar with gourmet food,’ she says.
She also had a readymade story for the media. ‘I was young and from a large corporation, and we work with famous chefs,’ she says. ‘But I was also fortunate. I had a good PR guy, so we got into a lot of magazines.’
BitesWeLove, launched in 2014, has a more commercial slant. ‘The customer base is different,” Marleen says. ‘FoodWeLove appeals to foodies, but BitesWeLove has a wider appeal among people interested in lifestyle and health.’
Marleen agrees that RSM’s role was invaluable. ‘Studying at international level I met people from many places,’ she says. ‘We exchanged ideas, and this made me more open as a person.’ That in turn helps with suppliers. ‘It helps you come across as enthusiastic and passionate, and receptive to feedback.’
There have been a few difficulties along the way. ‘One thing RSM doesn’t teach you is how to manage people,’ Marleen says. ‘We have a team working for us now, and it’s a real learning curve.’
Both brands are growing. FoodWeLove is about to relaunch with more emphasis on food gift boxes, rather than subscriptions. And BiteWeLove is expanding into Belgium, and into the corporate sector. ‘But you need money to build a consumer brand,’ Marleen admits. As a result, the near future also involves fundraising.
Are there more ideas in the pipeline? ‘We launched BitesWeLove very soon after FoodWeLove,’ Marleen says. ‘For a time there wasn’t enough focus on one thing. So for now, two companies is enough.’