Erasmus University TSEP alumnus prove you can build a successful business next to your studies
The Seepje story started with two 21 year old students, Melvin and Jasper, on what they thought was just an ordinary day in 2013. Without knowing that switching on their TV was going to be an important first step in their journey to become co-founders of Seepje (a soon-to-be successful startup), they started watching a documentary where a woman used shells out of a fruit tree in Nepal to create a form of natural soap that is able to clean not only her body and hair but also her clothes. This got them thinking, “Why are we using all types of synthetic detergents when there is a better solution? A natural alternative”. Not even a year later, Melvin and Jasper managed to scrape together their student loans to import their first batch of shells to the Netherlands from Hari, a Nepalese farmer.
Seepje‘s modest entrepreneurial beginning with only 3 products that supplied a few health stores and sustainable supermarkets skyrocketed a few years later. Fast-forward to 2019: Seepje has now expanded to a team of 13, with an offering of 15 products sold in over 1,500 stores (including Albert Heijn) available in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. In 2018, they sold over 500,000 products to achieve their mission of “a cleaner and brighter world”. Seepje only uses environmentally friendly ingredients, such as their Himalayan supershells, which are ecologically certified and guarantees a fair-based product. In this way, they are positively impacting the livelihood of people living in Nepal and India by creating a better working and living environment. “We have a holistic view on how to make an impact”, co-founder Jasper Gabrielse shared in an interview, which explains why Seepje also offers a social workplace where people with disabilities can work.
Both Melvin and Jasper managed to graduate from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) within 2 years of launching their business. The advantages of the Talented Student Entrepreneur Programme (TSEP) made sure they could manage running their startup alongside their studies. According to Jasper mentioned, “The privileges and flexibilities you can get with the programme are very important”. As an entrepreneur, you of course have to make a serious commitment to ensuring the success of your company, but as a student entrepreneur, you have to combine this with the pressure of passing exams. Without the TSEP programme, Jasper imagines he would feel like he’s “being punished for being an entrepreneur”.
Jasper’s advice to student entrepreneurs is to “use your young enthusiastic student selves to your advantage because young people often don’t see the barriers that others see.” “Don’t be afraid to ask. A lot of people are willing to help you move forward and there are mistakes that you don’t have to make because someone else has already made them.” Jasper also highlights the importance of focus, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to “try to make important decisions on where to focus your precious time and money – especially in the beginning. We started out with our student loans, with practically nothing in the beginning when those decisions on where to focus your resources are very important”.
For those entrepreneurs aiming to create a positive impact, he says “Don’t let it be an excuse. Just because you are contributing to a social/environmental cause, doesn’t mean that your product can’t be priced competitively/packaged in the best possible way. For example, Seepje’s packaging is not only sustainable but has also been rewarded by multiple national and international packaging design awards as the best packaging in the household category.”