When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the Netherlands, society – and therefore education as well – came to a halt. Students could still attend online lectures, but tutorials and other study activities were canceled. At the same time, business owners were struggling with declining revenues due to the corona crisis. Stijn van der Vat and Tjibbe Steenstra – BScBA students at Nyenrode Business University – wanted to help entrepreneurs instead of keeping their knowledge to themselves. That is why they started TheFAC. The student collective has only been around for two months, but the students have already helped over a hundred business owners by giving them free advice.
TheFAC offers free advice in areas such as marketing, strategy and financial matters. This can range from a recommendation about crowdfunding for a restaurant owner to cash flow analyses that provide insight when a situation becomes untenable. Van der Vat explains: “Every day we talk to emotional people on the phone who don’t know how to move forward with their business. It’s very rewarding to be able to help these entrepreneurs.”
Various media outlets have highlighted the initiative, which has in turn caused it to gain momentum. The students must now look further ahead. “Think of it as a next step,” Steenstra says. “While at first we were focused on helping businesses directly, our role is now shifting more towards supporting the students – over 60 of them at this point – who are in contact with the businesses on behalf of the collective.”
The question is therefore how the students will proceed with their initiative in the near future. Steenstra: “We are currently looking at how we can scale up. We’re talking to other student initiatives and universities to see if we can involve students in this #strongertogether movement on a national level.”
The upscaling possibilities are contingent upon a tight study schedule. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Of course, in addition to our study schedules, this is also depends very much on exam periods and the priorities of students who have joined us,” Van der Vat explains.
With regard to the learning curve for the participating students, they say they are taking the combination of practical knowledge, theory and personal development that is so important at Nyenrode and actually putting it into practice. As a result, they are able to engage in solution-oriented thinking and take a proactive approach, Steenstra says: “This is what we do with the cases that people are currently calling us about. We don’t have a ready-made answer. Instead, we work together with business owners to look at possibilities and solutions. Sometimes we can do that in a few hours, and sometimes it takes several days.”
They see with their own eyes how big the entrepreneurial risk can be. The students therefore feel that they are doing rewarding work. For the students, Nyenrode’s core values come together in this initiative. They, along with the other students who have joined, demonstrate leadership by standing up for others. In doing so, they put the public interest first and listen to entrepreneurs’ needs, which they then translate into actual results.
Finally, the students would like to call upon everyone to keep supporting small business owners in particular during this time. “The corona crisis has only just begun in terms of its impact on the economy, and it’s important that we (as consumers) continue to buy and spend. A pub owner can’t cover his fixed costs with twenty guests, and a theater that has thirty spectators can’t pay the people on stage. But that’s exactly where consumers can make a difference,” according to Van der Vat and Steenstra.