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A deep, vibrant sound filled the space in the monumental building in the city center of Amsterdam. It is the sound of a gong that was used to officially open the Humanities Venture Lab on Wednesday 2 November. From now on, students of the so-called ‘soft sciences’ have the opportunity to get professional training to start their own business. But do these studies go hand in hand with the business world? Not everyone seemed to be enthusiastic from the start.
An unexpected pitch
1. A popular revolt or rebellion against policies at a startup presentation.
2. The act or an instance of rising or rising up at a startup presentation.
Right after the official opening of the Humanities Lab, a group of young students in the audience stood up to deliver what they called the ‘first pitch’ of the evening. Holding signs and throwing self-printed banknotes in the air, it soon became clear that this was an uprising from the Humanities Rally, the same group of students that occupied the Bungehuis last year. Their message to the Humanities Venture Lab was clear: don’t bring your capitalist world view to our faculty! Humanities studies do not belong to a world in which startup ideas only have value if they generate enough profit. As soon as they finished their speech, they left the building immediately.
Why a Venture Lab for Humanities?
If only the startuprisers had stayed a bit longer, the discussions that followed in the next part of the evening could have been a lot more interesting. In an interactive debate about the importance of Venture Labs, several standpoints were put forward by a selected panel, and people from the audience could respond. Would the Humanities Rally have agreed or disagreed with the standpoint that the only real entrepreneur is in fact the government? Whether it was the lack of time or the unluckily formulated standpoints, the debate did not yield any spectacular insights or results.
UvA startup challenge
Enough chatter now, let’s hear what the Humanities pitchers have to say! There was a jury consisting of three Humanities entrepreneurs. The five participants were given three minutes each to convince the jury about their startup idea. First one out the gates was a history student who wants to conquer the world with his tea brand humaniTEAs that is already served at several Michelin restaurants. A quite different idea was pitched by De Bildung Academie, a group of philosophy students developing an educational program based on Humanistic values. Jaar & Dag Media wants to bring history to a wider audience by means of short films, and a student of Slavic Language and Culture wants to start a travel agency focusing on former Jugoslavia.
The Baseball cap-Business Model
Winner of the challenge was ERIS VU Journal for Humanities, a journal for Undergraduate students of Humanities. In this journal, students can publish their papers in magazine-format. Background of the idea is that students often work for weeks or even months on a paper, after which one professor reads it, and then it disappears. Why not share this knowledge with other students? Founder Max van den Broek admits that they haven’t figured out yet how to turn their idea into a financially viable business. When the jury asked him how they were going to monetize their idea he responded: “Uh, not sure yet. I was thinking about merchandise like baseball caps and T-shirts with the ERIS logo, but the others weren’t sure about it.” Humanities may still have some catching up when it comes to entrepreneurship, but you have to start somewhere. A first step has definitely been taken today.
Photo: the jury of the pitch challenge. From left to right: Hans Brouwer (founder Massive Music); Manon Bechers (Starters4communities); Thijs de Jong (co-founder Westwijs Huiswerkbegeleiding)
All photos by Boudyn Photography
Video by Laura Vrijsen: interview with Max van den Broek after winning the pitch challenge