It’s not the normal marketing plan trajectory, but nevertheless, students Jonathan Pfaffenrot and Rajarshi (Raj) Chakraborty have built up a huge following for their Erasmus Tech Community of students at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). They presented their first event to an audience of 150 students just a month after meeting as new MSc Business Information Management (MScBIM) students themselves in autumn 2017. Now they have a following of 2,200 interested young people. Their ambition to satisfy the hunger for tech debate among their fellow students has spiralled into something much bigger than they first imagined. Since they started, they have hosted events for thousands of attendees and made impressive business connections with C-level executives in international corporations – and all of this in addition to their studies.


The decision to start a student association for tech matters was made by Jonathan and Raj with fellow MScBIM students Gabriel Chitic, Dilshan Kelsen and Oscar Langeslag during their very first weekend at RSM. Both Jonathan and Raj have entrepreneurial family backgrounds, and identifying the opportunity and acting on it came naturally to them, they said. Gabriel, Dilshan and Oscar took on vital multiple roles and responsibilities in the small team. But none of them could have known what would happen next.


They knew of Rotterdam’s busy corporate and international trading connections, and that RSM had a strong brand that they could leverage. First, they created the Facebook page for the Community, and only then did the five students brainstorm what they should do next.


“As tech enthusiasts we were aware of what was going on within the crypto space and how the hype around Bitcoin was growing. We realised that cryptocurrency was slowly being covered by bigger news platforms, so we decided our first event should be about the basics of Bitcoin and Blockchain.”


No location, no speakers? No problem!

They planned an event for the end of September and shared it with fellow students. “At this point we thought we would be lucky if we got 20 highly motivated students to ‘discuss some Blockchain’,” said Jonathan.


“Within 48 hours we had reached over 40,000 people, and over 700 engaged with the event. One day before the event the total reach was at roughly 84,000 and there were 1,550 interested in coming.”


But they had no location, and no speakers.


They quickly booked a room on campus with space for 150. And decided that they would do the presentation themselves. “We literally did not know anyone; we had only moved to Rotterdam three weeks before.”


The registration list for their first event was filled within a few minutes, and there was so much demand that the students had to run two sessions of it. “People were mad at us for not having enough space because crypto was such a hot topic! We managed to pull off the two sessions and got positive feedback but most importantly we had attention!”


Bringing value to companies

Their second event, on machine learning, had to go one better. Raj and Jonathan both enjoyed attending conferences, and used their expanding network to find interesting speakers for the Erasmus Tech Community. The second event, just four weeks later in front of more than 680 students, was hosted with the help of Rokesh Jankie, a cloud engineer for Google in Amsterdam.


“We realised the value we were able to bring not only to students but also to companies. So Raj and I started to attend all types of events and conferences to build our network. We conducted over 30 C-suite meetings – we learned so much!” said Jonathan.


What followed was a consolidation of the initial idea. They created a legal entity of Erasmus Tech Community, collaborated with companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Tesla, Deloitte, EY, Danfoss and Domino's, and hosted events for over 4,000 people. “We held workshops with Microsoft in Advanced Analytics and IoT using Microsoft Azure, which gave us to understand that we could also provide practical knowledge to our community. That led us to develop further concepts such as the first hands-on course in data visualization at Erasmus University.”


“It seems surreal that this was achieved in a matter of 10 months,” said Jonathan.


Recruitment happens!

The Erasmus Tech Community has become a platform that connects students with companies in the digital sector, and has been useful for student recruitment, even though this was not one of its original aims.


Jonathan thinks that companies are forgetting that young talent can help them through the process of digitalisation, and the challenges it brings for the corporate world. “Digital transformation is even harder for businesses if they miss out on young talent that can contribute right from the start of the process.” He sees that RSM is highly valued by big companies, and that the Community attracted exactly the type of students that companies want to engage with. He refers to the small number of business graduates with an interest in technology or a specific field of digital business, who choose to educate themselves beyond the scope of their studies.


“Students that do this put themselves into a strong position; they know what they can – and want – to do and most importantly don’t wait for HR departments to take the initiative.”


A direct channel

Companies need to do more to capture this unique talent, says Jonathan. The Erasmus Tech Community has created a channel for companies to connect with students who want to work in the digital field. HR departments should do more to understand what drives these young people; how they think about work, and their expectations.


Jonathan recounts a conversation he had with the CEO of internet provider XS4ALL about changes to the labour market because of digitalisation, and how everybody should adapt to the changes. The CEO advised students to try to keep up with developments in tech, and told Jonathan: “This is just the beginning. Just doing your degree is not enough anymore, you should inform yourselves about the different technological topics in addition to your studies."


Adding to studies

The Community events have helped Jonathan and Raj to develop leadership and organisational skills, and to find out first-hand about the current state of the digital transformation as they spoke to top executives in industry in a way they could not have learned in class, they said. At the same time, they gave Community members an international network, which is a bonus for starting a career.


Growing and making plans

The Community recently appointed its first official board members; the Board will decide how to deliver useful information and activities for increasing numbers of people joining the Community in the Netherlands, and will consider new projects such as contributing to the democratisation of data analytics by offering practical courses from software providers, or indeed, organising its first summit.

Even though the founders and core members will leave RSM to address new challenges and projects, the Community will continue to grow as a non-profit organisation, with plans to use different kinds of venues and more corporate collaborations during the next academic year (2018-2019). The founders will take on a more advisory role. “We have requests from big companies that are interested in working with the Community’s new board, and we have already made an annual plan, which really looks exciting,” said Jonathan.


It sounds like a fully-formed organisation – but of course, it’s less than a year old, and was set up by five master students in their spare time. We are pleased to report that all five successfully finished their master programmes, and are now already tackling new projects.


Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.


For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at


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