Making friends through casual get-togethers, whether it’s a cup of coffee, playing sports or catching a movie; There’s an app for that! And it’s called Activitree. The Startup in Residence Northern Netherlands participant is working with the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Noorderpoort to help students be more socially involved. But how are things going so far? We catch up with co-founder Moshe Sijben.
The idea behind Activitree started in 2017, when founders Moshe Sijben and Fred Manders met at a party in Maastricht. “We instantly hit it off and shared the same experience of how difficult it can be to meet new people when moving to a new city”, Moshe says. “That’s something we wanted to fix, so we decided to quit our jobs and take the plunge together. We spent about three years developing things and started rolling out Acitivitree in 2020. We were already active in Maastricht, Eindhoven and Amsterdam, so Startup in Residence seemed like the perfect opportunity to roll things out in the Northern Netherlands.”
The challenge & the fix
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the trend towards online learning has accelerated. And in a society where 1.5 meters of social distance is the new norm, a combination of online and offline learning will also be necessary for the foreseeable future. And education of course is more than taking classes, studying and earning credits. Personal development and social interaction is just as important, like an informal chat in the hallway to see how someone’s doing. So how can you keep students involved and connected when they’re studying online?
“The Hanze University and Noorderpoort challenge really felt like a perfect fit for us”, Moshe says. “We want people to meet in real life as fast and as often as possible, but at the same time create genuine and lasting connections. You can’t do that meeting up with a big group of people, because that would be too impersonal. So we’re focused on small scale, low-key activities for up to 12 people. And the low-key, informal aspect is important here. It’s about meeting up for a game of soccer for example, without the commitment of joining a club.”
Their experience so far
Even though Activitree has already taken some pretty big steps last year, Moshe thinks the Startup in Residence program has so far been a valuable experience: “Aside from the opportunity of working together big organizations like the Hanze University and Noorderpoort as potential future customers, you learn a lot of new things too, as well as learning to rethink how you previously approached things. Our mentor Alex van Ginneken has been a big help and despite not being able to meet up physically, I love the dynamic with the other startups in the program. We’ve recently set up a Slack channel, so it’s pretty easy to get in touch and help each other out with questions or similar problems you ran into.”
And what about working together with a big organization? “As a startup, you’re pretty used to being flexible and making quick decisions. For any big organization, the decision process takes a lot longer of course, so it’s about learning to adapt to their speed and way of working. But all things considered, things are actually running pretty smoothly! We came up with a detailed approach together, which makes working together that much easier, because the expectations are crystal clear. And if we do happen to actually run into something, the Startup in Residence team is always ready and willing to help out.”
Current and future plans
With the continued lockdown, there are a lot of limitations and restrictions when it comes to meeting up in groups. However, Moshe isn’t that worried about potential delays. “I think a lot more will be possible in the spring, when it gets warmer and more and more people are vaccinated. In the meantime, we’re making sure everything’s ready and geared up on our side, so we can start a pilot as soon as restrictions are lifted. We’re also doing research together with the challenge owners, which will be incredibly helpful for us in the coming years. So even if everything were to fall through, which I don’t think it will, it’s still going to be a very valuable experience.”
As for the coming years, Activitree has big ambitions: “It would be great to keep on working with the Hanze University and Noorderpoort. It’s been a very pleasant experience so far, so we’d love to continue working together. And in the next two years we plan to roll out Activitree to the rest of the Netherlands and hopefully help people throughout the country doing fun-sized activities they love with likeminded people.”