Text by Neeltje Miedema, Research & Funding
As off 2014, Van Swinderen Huys (VSH) in the Centre of the City of Groningen welcomes people from the Groningen University, entrepreneurs, government and network clubs to enjoy seminars, workshops, meetings, coaching sessions, diners & drinks.
This gracious meeting and congress hall in de Oude Boteringestraat is managed by a three-headed student management team of the University of Groningen: master student Marieke van den Berg, CFO and responsible for the financial planning and financial reporting, Dirk Talsma, Operational Officer of Van Swinderen Huys (VSH) and Johan Visser, VSH’s Marketing and Sales Officer and bachelor student Dutch Law, UG. Johan and Dirk summarize their entrepreneurial experiences.
Dirk: ‘Weekly, we spend 20 to 25 hours to keep VSH going.’ Johan: ‘VSH management is not a paid job. It is a learning environment for students to experience entrepreneurship in practice. We receive a compensation for our work.’
One of the aims of the Van Swinderen Huys’ business concept is to anticipate on the policy of the University of Groningen that students can combine study and entrepreneurship successfully. The VSH facility offers this unique opportunity.
Johan: ‘As marketing and sales manager, I may be the luckiest member of the MT. This elegant and beautiful historical location sells itself. To our guests, the Huys is not only just a housing facility, we offer ambiance where they feel at home. The location and our personal attention services make Van Swinderen Huys competitive as congress hall in the Centre of Groningen. The challenge is to expand to new customers that aren’t familiar to our VSH facilities and services yet.’
Dirk: ‘My job as operations manager is to oversee day-to-day operations. Duties include interacting with customers to ensure satisfaction, human resources, housekeeping, security, food service. This student entrepreneurial opportunity turns doing business into a real adventure.’
And a journey full of risks as well. Dirk: ‘We are responsible for running a true commercial business. If we can’t bring in the rent and can’t afford to pay our caterers any more, the risk of bankruptcy is on the verge. We are responsible to work out a closed budget. A responsibility that exceeds our daily student life.’
Johan: ‘Considering those risks, we are really thankful for the freedom we have as management team to make the choices we think we should make to make VHS a successful operation. This entrepreneurship opportunity is a real experience in decision-making.'
One of the decision-making dilemma’s Dirk and Johan are facing is whether or not to increase investments in the transition to a more sustainable building. Dirk: ‘We anticipate on sustainable entrepreneurship, but green management requires huge investments as well.’ Johan: ‘VSH is equipped with energy-efficient lighting.’ For the time being, the MT decided to suspend investments for more sustainable improvement. Dirk: ‘Partly to avoid the costs, partly because Van Swinderen Huys is a classified historical monument. This regulation prevents us to do sustainable adjustments.’
Van Swinderen Huys is named after Theodorus van Swinderen (1784-1851), Professor Natural Sciences, UG. The Van Swinderen Huys is owned by the University of Groningen and is opened on reservation for businesses and UG-related organizations.The programme addresses the specific organisational characteristics of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on basically all subdisciplines of management and organisation. Also, it provides insight into entrepreneurial processes in a variety of business contexts. These are topics in compulsory courses. With electives you specialise in fields like strategy, marketing or management of technology. Furthermore, a part of the programme is devoted to writing a thesis including doing research. The student installers pay premises to UG and take additional services via UG, such as cleaning facility.
The VSH management is accountable to a Board of Directors. Once a quarter the Board of Directors have consultations with the VSH management team to discuss new plans and strategy. The profits of the company are paid to the sole shareholder: University of Groningen.
Marnix Pool, Business Development of Research & Valorisation department, UG, is one of the initiators of this UG student learning company business concept and member of the Board. He is satisfied about the course of events. Marnix: ‘This concept offers students by learning in practice how to be entrepreneurs and hopefully it encourages students to create employment themselves by starting a company.’
Every year the VSH managing board is being replaced by new UG and/or UMCG students to offer them the same opportunity to be CEO of a private company. Johan Visser and Dirk Talsma experienced themselves which features their own successors should meet.
Johan: ‘Selfdiscipline, flexibility and perseverance.’ And sense for coordination and timing as well, adds Dirk, grinning: ‘One day, we booked several personal computers to be used at a congress meeting. We stored the PC’s at Oude Boteringestraat. But on congress day, all PC’s were missing. What turned out was that CIT department, UG, recollected the PC’s for perform routine and scheduled maintenance services. For us, hosts of the event, an embarrassing moment. Fortunately, our relationship with the CIT department is good, so in no time we had a new bunch of personal computers available for our guests.’
Asking about the occupancy rate of Van Swinderen Huys, the young entrepreneurs hide themselves in diplomatic silence: ‘In the hotel and catering industry it is the unwritten rule not to discuss occupancy rate and returns. But given the fact that we are more in Oude Boteringestraat than at home, must be a clue answering your question.’
So far, so good. What are their next plans? Johan and Dirk: ‘Graduating and making in and out the Groningen University even more people familiar with the Van Swinderen Huys accommodation. Do you fancy a free sightseeing tour with VHS MT through the historical Van Swinderen Huys building, or make a reservation? Please make your reservation via
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