Tilburg University Challenge: The winners
Sven Correia (Bachelor’s student of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation) produces tofu from soybeans grown in the Netherlands. His fellow students Krzysztof (Chris) Trzebinski and Jakub Janczak own a sustainable clothing brand. “We want people to start thinking about man-made environmental and social problems and to reflect upon their own actions.” These students won prizes in the Tilburg University Challenge. How did they come up with their business ideas? And what did they learn in this annual competition?
Giulio Tosato, Cesare Maria Dalbagno, and Francesco Fumagalli (Bachelor’s students of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence) won the Ideation Award with their BCI-Magicians. They developed a model that uses Artificial Intelligence to create synthetic EEG neural data: brain activity data that are traditionally collected using an EEG cap (a cap with electrodes that measures brain activity), a time-consuming procedure that has its fair share of difficulties. Guilio: “EU privacy laws do not permit the use of patients’ EEG data.” The team's goal is to give medical professionals and researchers the possibility to generate datasets that they can use to study the brain.
Why are we eating so much meat?
Sven Correia won the Business Ready Award with myTofu. He produces and sells tofu seasoned with natural ingredients. “In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I started to wonder why we eat so much meat. And I stopped eating meat.” He tried a lot of meat alternatives; one of them was tofu. “It was not easy to make tofu tasty. I worked out a way to season it. I squeezed the water out and marinated the tofu in oil, vegetables, and herbs and then fried it in an air fryer.” Because this process was still quite complex and time-consuming, he decided to work on a better formula. “And I started to make tofu myself. I bought soybeans at an Asian shop and learned how to make tofu from soybeans by watching YouTube videos.” Now he buys soybeans from a Dutch farmer. “That makes it sustainable.” Sven registered myTofu in February 2023. He wanted to test and validate his concept in front of a jury. “And I thought the Challenge would also be a good opportunity to get funding.”
This year we were ready for the Challenge
Thirsty Clothing won the Audience Award. The owners are Tilburg University students Krzysztof (Chris) Trzebinski and Jakub Janczak (Bachelor's students of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation) and their designer in Poland, Jan Banasiak. They combine fashion with creating awareness about sustainable and social issues.
Chris: “From the age of 15, I have dreamt of starting my own clothing brand. At Tilburg University, my sustainable mindset started to develop because of what I learned in class about the Sustainable Development Goals. I learned that when you start a business, you should take environmental and social issues into account to make a positive impact.” Jakub participated in the Tilburg University Challenge two years ago but did not succeed. However, shortly after, he started Thirsty Clothing with Chris. The team managed to launch two collections and establish a solid customer base.
Useful pitching classes
Giulio came up with a business idea especially for the Challenge. He drew inspiration from problems he encountered when he was working at the ETZ hospital in Tilburg. “Hospitals are not allowed to share information and EEG data about patients. A lot of research, and reviewing the research of other scientists, is not possible without these data. There is no open access to this research either because scientists cannot share the data they used.”
During the Challenge, team BCI-Magicians learned a lot from the pitching classes: “With your pitch, you need to win the trust of potential investors. You need to connect with them and point out how they can do some good for the world instead of only emphasizing making money. We also learned that we need to focus on the needs and desires of our potential clients. Our product is not central, our client is. So we should not focus on telling everybody about our research for our model, but on presenting a solution to the problems our clients are experiencing.”
The Challenge gave my company a boost
The Thirsty team also learned a lot from the workshops. Jakub: “Brainstorming about our target groups was very insightful. It brought to light our adaptability and the ease with which we can shift our focus from young to older target groups. It has become clear that we do not have to stick to our current approach and can explore innovative solutions. Additionally, engaging in conversations with like-minded students provided valuable takeaways and alternative viewpoints. Thanks to the Challenge, we managed to establish a partnership with U4ECO (another team participating in the Challenge) and become the first vendor on their platform.”
It was very nice to meet like-minded students who are entrepreneurs as well. I also upgraded my pitching skills. I know how to structure my pitches better - Sven
Sven: “It was very nice to meet like-minded students who are entrepreneurs as well. I also upgraded my pitching skills. I know how to structure my pitches better. And at the speed dating event I got into contact with employees from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority NVWA. I have learned a lot from them, for example, about certifying products. The Challenge gave my company a boost. And participating was a fun experience. So, if you are a student at Tilburg University with a business idea, I would definitely recommend entering next year’s competition.”
We want people to start thinking about environmental issues
Jakub was inspired to launch a start-up with a sustainable mission through his membership of Enactus, a student-led NGO that promotes social entrepreneurship with a focus on one or more Sustainable Development Goals. “I worked on an idea for sustainable 3D printing, but that did not work out. Then Chris told me about his passion for streetwear and his idea for creating a sustainable fashion brand. It sounded like a good idea to start a business by creating something real, a physical product.”
We want people to start thinking about man-made environmental and social problems and to reflect on their own actions - Jakub
The owners of Thirsty want to make sustainable fashion more accessible, affordable, and appealing. “Current sustainable fashion brands are boring with no design whatsoever and very high prices.” Thirsty tells stories through the clothing it produces. We want to raise environmental awareness through education about disasters like the drying up of the Aral Sea. We want people to start thinking about man-made environmental and social problems and to reflect on their own actions."
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What are the winners’ plans?
Sven will finish his Bachelor’s in September 2023. “After that, I will focus completely on my company. I might start producing other products. I have a lot of ideas, like vegan cheesecake with tofu. And I would like to do something with the soybean shells. Flour can be made from this okara. Most companies throw it away.” With the money he won in the Challenge, he bought a production line. “I can now scale up and start making money. In theory, I will be able to produce 50 to 90 kilos per production cycle. Now I can produce six kilos a day in one flavor. And I am looking for more funding.” Sven sells through Instagram and the myTofu website. “I deliver in Tilburg only and customers pick their orders up. I want to expand to B2B by introducing myTofu to restaurants and small food shops. In the future, I hope to bring myTofu to bigger retail chains like Albert Heijn and Jumbo.” At the moment, he sells three flavors: Italian, Chinese, and Curry. “All flavors are infused with different vegetables and spices to enhance the flavor in a natural way.”
In our field, it is common to share technology
The winners of the Audience Award will graduate this summer as well. Next semester, Jakub will move to Sweden for his Master’s and Chris will continue studying in Tilburg. “We are currently working on our third collection. So far, we have only made T-shirts and hoodies and now we want to expand with socks, tote bags, and more T-shirts.” Becoming the most sustainable, transparent, and attractive fashion brand in Europe is the long-term dream of Team Thirsty.
Participating in the Tilburg University Challenge can be a good way to start your career - Giulio
Giulio and his team will use the money they won to further develop their model: “With synthetic EEG data, it is possible to train models. With those models we can, for example, enable disabled people to move robotic arms or wheelchairs. The models can be used to play music on a device just by thinking it while wearing a sensor cap on your head.” They may sell their model in the future but, for the time being, they want it to be openly accessible. How is this idea going to make them money? “In our field, it is common to share technology so others can use it and improve it. When companies like your technology, they fund you to help you develop it further. That is a different business model than the one most startups follow.” Three different organizations that participated in the Challenge showed interest in collaborating with BCI-Magicians. “Participating in the Tilburg University Challenge can be a good way to start your career.”
Entrepreneurship at Tilburg University
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