The finals of the Erasmus University Challenge – an entrepreneurial competition for students – took place in the skybox of the Excelsior Stadium last Thursday, with an audience of around two hundred people watching the pitches of student entrepreneurs from Erasmus University and TU Delft.

It was ultimately down to the members of the jury, which included Ed Brinksma (President of the Executive Board of EUR) and entrepreneurs such as Han Go (co-owner of the food company Go-Tan), to determine which start-ups were most promising. In addition to prizes for the best companies in categories such as Prototyping and Startups, several other prizes as well as an Audience Award were awarded to participants.

Hydroponic potatoes

Adithyan Senthil Athiban (Industrial Design) and Mustafa Agbari (Technology, Policy and Management) won in the Prototyping category for their company Habbi. The TU Delft students developed a system that can grow potatoes using hydroponics, meaning that their technology allows crops to be grow in water, i.e. without soil.

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Image credit: Shrey Khurana

Mustafa, from Palestine, came up with the idea: “I’d had an interest in hydroponics for some time. Then I realised that it’s only used for leafy vegetables and fruit, but not for anything that can sustain human life long term.” Habbi’s system, on the other hand, can be used to grow root vegetables, such as potatoes. Mustafa sees potential opportunities for war zones, such as his home country. “Why don’t we use hydroponics to grow food in refugee camps, for example?” The pair won 4,000 euros for their company, which they will now use to further develop the prototype.

Home batteries

“Alexander has been an entrepreneur ever since he learned how to write. I got into the game a little later, but Accuselect really made me fall in love with it”, says IJsbert Bekooy, who set up Accuselect, the company that won the Audience Award, together with Alexander van Citters.

The company helps make home batteries more accessible for people to have at home. These are batteries that are crucial to storing excess energy, Alexander explains: “Most solar energy goes unused, with 70 per cent going back into the electricity grid. You need a battery for that.”

The two entrepreneurs studied Industrial Design together at TU Delft. IJsbert then went on to take a subsequent master’s programme in Strategic Product Design, and Alexander chose the master’s programme in Innovation Management at Erasmus University. During the finals, IJsbert and Alexander won the Audience Award, amounting to a cash prize of 1,000 euros. They also received an invitation to a scale-up dinner, which is a dinner at which various entrepreneurs meet for networking purposes. Alexander is looking forward to it: “It’s always great to talk to people who have a similar mindset and are involved in entrepreneurship. Scale-ups are by definition further along than we are, so I think we stand to learn a lot from them.”

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Image credit: Shrey Khurana

A mindful approach to smoking and drinking

The top prize of the finals went to Playfool, which developed an app to help people control their cravings for cigarettes or alcohol. Marta Imeneo, one of the founders, explains how this works: “Whenever you notice that you feel like having a cigarette or a drink, you open up the app. The app offers a number of different activities, such as sports, reading and writing, to distract you.” Marta explains that this distraction has to last for approximately three minutes in order for the urge to smoke or drink to dissipate.

However, Playfool’s goal is not to get people to stop smoking or drinking altogether. “Of course that’s something we can help with, but we mostly want to people to approach smoking and alcohol in a mindful way. In doing so, we hope to tackle excessive habits.”

University Challenge_24_09_2023_Shrey Khurana_Team Playfool
Image credit: Shrey Khurana

Marta studied International Business Administration at Erasmus University and is currently the co-owner of a consulting company for start-ups in Georgia. A client initially came up with the idea to do something to tackle excessive drinking and smoking, after which Marta and her colleagues came up with the app. The consultants were so thrilled that they decided to participate in the new project personally. The team primarily aims to use the 5,000-euro cash prize for organic marketing, which is marketing that is based on growth within the company’s own network and via social media.