Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship is a recognized RVO* startup facilitator for international innovative startup entrepreneurs. For one year, we provide these entrepreneurs with support and mentorship to develop their businesses in the Dutch market. Each month we ask one of our Startup Visa participants to share their story. This month we spoke to Joshua, founder of Novogreen.
Joshua, originally from Iran, started studying in the Netherlands about six years ago. After finishing his bachelor’s in International Business Administration at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), he continued with a Master’s in Marketing Management.
During his studies he became interested in starting his own business, which led him to join the Minor in Entrepreneurship. During this programme, Joshua found his true calling as an entrepreneur!
Drivers for Novogreen
Joshua’s entrepreneurial journey is driven by environmental sustainability. “After the minor, I was thinking of ideas that are socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable. I wanted to do something for the planet and people,” Joshua says. During the minor, he learned about the bamboo plant as a potential alternative to paper. “Together with my father, I started researching to see what existed in the market already and what can be done. We found out that it is possible to make paper out of bamboo, and not just bamboo but other sources as well, such as the waste-product of sugar cane. Since then, I have been trying to make a business model out of this to make alternative sources for paper more widely available.”
The pivot: from selling products to selling a service
Thinking about the best way to commercialize this idea, Jason initially decided to create a premium tissue paper brand called Chupaper, with which he aimed to sell directly to retailers. However, Joshua says, “after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, contacts with different supermarkets became much harder. Brands in tissue paper lost their value because people would buy any tissue paper that they could get their hands on.” As a result, and after realizing that this was not his key strength, Joshua decided to pivot. “At the moment our company is more of a strategy player, focusing on using new fiber technologies and bringing alternative sources of paper to the mainstream paper market through the network we have already gained.”
Joshua sees great potential for the market in alternative sources for paper: “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility, red.) and becoming more environmentally friendly are trends that are happening around all big corporates, and as an alternative paper-specialist we can help companies that use a lot of paper, such as shipping or food companies, to optimize their packaging or their products. By using alternative fibers they can reduce their environmental impact!”
When asked why he decided to build his startup in the Netherlands, Joshua says: “for me, the Netherlands has a sense of cosiness. Not in the sense of being small, but in the sense that you can easily connect to people. It feels kind of like a flat society where you don’t have a very strict social hierarchy. I remember I got a chance to talk to the former prime minister, and I chatted with him for like five minutes. I can’t imagine this is easily possible in another country.”
In the years after his graduation, Joshua stayed up to date on ECE’s activities and even returned to the Minor Entrepreneurship as a mentor. When he saw that ECE was listed as a facilitator during the application process for his Startup Visa, “it was kind of a natural choice”, Joshua says.
From his experiences with Erasmus University and Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, Joshua most valued the startup support through the different tools and canvasses that were provided, ranging from empathizing with your customer to mapping your value-proposition and visualizing your business model. “The first time I learned about the canvasses was during the minor, and since then they have been great tools to organize my thoughts and ideas. They help you bring your ideas to life which, as an entrepreneur, are sometimes hard to view objectively,” Joshua says.
What does the future hold?
Affected by the current pandemic most in terms of uncertainty, Joshua’s short-term goal for Novogreen is very clear: survival. “To come out of the pandemic alive is a goal in itself,” he says. “A lot of things are uncertain right now, but we can’t push them. For example, one of the factories located in the USA that we aim to work with, is currently closed because of the regulations, so we simply have to wait for everything to open up.”
In the long-term, Joshua aims to have more clients that can be references for Novogreen’s activities. “Currently, we are working on different accounts. Some of them are big corporates, so if these projects are finished, they can be really good marketing for us because we would gain more trust as a service provider,” he says.
Joshua’s advice to aspiring and fellow entrepreneurs is to stay close to your heart: “It might sound like a cliché, but at the end of the day it is about doing what you love. When I wanted to go for retail, I never really loved it. That voice inside, made me think that maybe this was a sign that I had to pivot
Want to know more about Joshua’s entrepreneurial journey with Novogreen? Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Applying for Startup Visa Facilitator programme International innovative entrepreneurs have the possibility to apply for the programme all through the year. With a startup visa, international startups have one year to start an innovative company in the Netherlands. On the Startup Visa Facilitator page, you can find all the information you need, including a brochure.