Enthusiastic Tilburg University Challenge winners thrive on challenge
What do students learn from participating in the Tilburg University Challenge? How do they dream up a business idea? What is the source of their entrepreneurship? Zoia Shakhova (30) won first prize with her Mindful Sprint in the Business Ready category. Anita Vrins (21), Jos Prinsen (21), and their team members came in first in the Ideation category with their innovative brain computer FOCUS.
Text: Sara Terburg
Participation in this competition offers students the possibility to develop their business and innovative ideas into feasible and profitable business plans. They do so under the supervision of coaches from the business sector. Of the fifty participants who started the Challenge, fourteen went on to compete in the final. The prizes were presented on July 7. We talked to students Zoia on her idea, Mindful Sprint, and Anita and Jos on their brain computer FOCUS.
Meet Zoia, Jos, and Anita
Zoia came to Tilburg from Russia, a year ago. In July 2022 she finished the Work & Organizational Psychology Master. She decided to join the Challenge after talking to one of last year’s winners. ‘He liked my idea and that gave me the boost of confidence I needed to enter the competition.’ Jos and Anita completed their Bachelor of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence in the summer of 2022. So did their team mates Catarina Ceccato and Ethel Pruss. ‘In September the four of us will start with the Master’s program in this discipline.’ The team developed FOCUS during a hackaton. Anita: ‘We love challenges so we regularly participate in hackatons and signed up for the Tilburg University Challenge.’
More productive with less screen time
Zoia’s Mindful Sprint is an online training program for adults who want to spend less time on their smartphones and want to become more productive. ‘Mindful Sprint is a series of workshops with tips and lectures to help you develop more healthy digital habits. It teaches you how to use devices in a way that helps you rather than wasting your time. Your screen time will decrease, awareness about your habits will increase.’
She shares a few tips. ‘Turn off the notifications of e-mail, social media, and other apps. When you start with turning them off for one day, you may feel like you are missing a lot. But after a while you will see that you are not.’ Another easy thing to try is switching your phone to black-and-white mode. ‘Everything will look less attractive, which makes you realize how everything is built to be attractive and to keep you online as long as possible.’
FOCUS, the winner in the Ideation category, is an innovative brain computer that helps you to stay concentrated while you are studying. ‘But you can also use it in healthcare, for instance, to monitor the concentration levels of surgeons during long surgery,’ says Jos Prinsen with enthusiasm. 'In one of our YouTube videos, you can see that we have hooked up a robot to the device. As soon as the robot notices that concentration decreases, it offers you a snack.’
With FOCUS, you can map when your concentration/commitment/engagement peaks. Jos: ‘An activity tracker does not show this. It cannot measure at what moments your concentration decreases. With FOCUS you can find out what your top concentration moments are. An employer can make rosters based on these data.’ Anita: ‘It could even contribute to preventing burnout.’
Pitching your idea in one minute
The competition was a great learning experience for Zoia. ‘I enjoyed it a lot. It was challenging and very well organized. The workshops by business professionals were interesting. The whole challenge was good for my network. My coaches offered me an internship.’ She especially liked the pitching workshop. ‘I am confident when I talk on stage, but to pitch my idea in one minute proved to be quite difficult. So I learned a lot in this workshop.’
She has won € 3000 and an additional prize package and a workplace for a year in the IQONIC Incubator on the Tilburg University campus. She will invest the money in marketing Mindful Sprint. ‘Winning the competition gave me more perspective and ideas. I see many more future steps, helping people with their work-life balance or teenagers with managing their TikTok addiction.’
Zoia's future plans
Zoia wants to stay in the Netherlands and is looking for a job. ‘My goal with the double degree-program was to study, live and work abroad. I like living in Tilburg. I know people here and how the country works. And because of the political situation in Russia, it makes no sense for me to go back there. I have experience in IT, so it would be cool to develop apps for HR professionals or something like that.’
Wow, this is really useful
One of the things Team FOCUS learned was selling their idea. Jos: ‘We were already very capable in building the software, but we had no marketing skills. Especially when we were taught how to network and to pitch, I thought: Wow, this is really useful.’ Anita adds: ‘The Pitch Queen taught us to tap into the listeners’ emotions; your text alone does not achieve that.’ Jos: ‘Without talking about your product, the listener must think: that’s what I want.’ Anita: ‘That is my tip for next year’s participants in the Challenge: speak from your heart, not from your script.’
Anita, Jos and their team won € 2000. They will invest this in hardware, software, and the research needed to convert the FOCUS idea into reality.
The Brian Cox of brain computing
During their Master’s program, they will continue to test and further develop FOCUS. Anita: ‘A lot of research is necessary to prove that FOCUS can be a product that actually works. We do not have any customers yet and we are not registered at the Chamber of Commerce.’ Jos: ‘And we know very little about how to set up a business.’
And what will they be doing after their Master’s? Anita: ‘I would like to be part of a group of smart and creative people and create solutions that can make the world a better place.’ During the Challenge, Jos discovered how much he enjoyed transferring information. ‘I would like to find out whether I also enjoy teaching larger groups. I think it would be cool to combine teaching and research, like people working at universities do.’ Anita: ‘I can see Jos becoming the Brian Cox of brain computing!’
The popular vote award of this edition of the Tilburg University Challenge was won by Eternal Books.
The Tilburg University Challenge is organized by Tilburg University IQONIC.