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Student Jesper: personal and social entrepreneurship

Jesper van Loon, a second-year Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences student, is a fully fledged entrepreneur. He was still a minor when he and his school friend Max started their own business, BLIJLES Bollenstreek, which has now expanded to the Midden-Holland and Haarlemmermeer areas. ‘This is what I want, but I’m going to finish my degree first. You have to have a plan B.’

The friendship between Jesper van Loon and his equally young business partner Max Uphoff is a story in itself: they met at primary school in Lisse and were inseparable, and have been friends ever since. Although they went to different secondary schools, both did tutoring and this, along with a desire to help others, is what inspired them to start their company BLIJLES. Max turned 18 first and registered at the chamber of commerce; Jasper had his name added when he too came of age. They have since helped hundreds of schoolchildren find a tutor, and helped enthusiastic students and schoolchildren find a job. Tutoring can be anything from help with homework or a particular subject to exam training.

Jesper van Loon and BLIJLES tutor Marc Joman hand out sweets during exam training at Fioretti College Lisse
Jesper van Loon and BLIJLES tutor Marc Joman hand out sweets during exam training at Fioretti College Lisse

Match Generator

Max, the arty one, enrolled for a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at VU Amsterdam. Jasper, the sciencey one, opted for Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences in Leiden. ‘My father having cancer is what motivated me to do Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences. He recovered, but I liked the idea of being able to mean something to people with cancer. I’ve always wanted to help others. That’s just how I am. It’s great that this has been given shape in BLIJLES. We really want to help children, from primary to secondary school.’

What sets BLIJLES apart from other tutoring companies, says Jesper, is that it is personal and has a social conscience. ‘We don’t charge any more than 15 euros per hour, and for groups – of up to four children – we charge as little as 6.50 euros. We want to make tutoring accessible to all.’ The lessons can be purchased in packages of five, ten or fifteen lessons; the more lessons, the cheaper they are.

Jesper in the new BLIJLES office
Jesper in the new BLIJLES office

What makes BLIJLES personal? How they match tutors to pupils. This is with the aid of a system – Match Generator – that was thought up by Jesper and Max, and developed with the aid of Leiden PhD candidates in psychology who were conducting research into the brain and cognition. ‘The tutors and pupils fill in a questionnaire asking about their hobbies and what kind of person they are. The system then finds the best match between pupil and tutor, on the basis of science. It works as we’d expected: it makes the tutor-pupil relationship easier and more fun.’

The plan is for both the individual and group tutor sessions to remain online. This saves on travel time and helps the matching process because distance is irrelevant.

Helping the baseball club

What also makes BLIJLES personal is that its owners know all the tutors personally and are approachable. ‘I’m in charge of about 50 tutors every day,’ say Jesper. ‘They ask how to deal with certain things, for instance.’

The two owners network to increase their customer base, and try to build relationships with schools, like Fioretti College (Hillegom and Lisse), and community organisations. The aim is to get projects going, like the one with a baseball club. ‘The trainer told us that almost all of his charges had to repeat a year at school because they preferred playing football to doing homework. We came up with the idea of providing homework supervision before their training sessions. Everyone is pleased. The pupils are doing better, both at school and on the field. The trainer says they’re calmer. Our contract is with the club, but the parents also pay a fee for the tuition.’

Homework supervision at the baseball club
Homework supervision at the baseball club

Division of labour

Over time they’ve taken on their own tasks. Jesper is in charge of the tutors and the admin, whereas Max does the networking. He makes contacts and looks for problems that BLIJLES can solve. And what about their studies? With the exception of one course, Jesper says, he managed to complete his propaedeuse in Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences in one year. The lockdown was a blessing in disguise. ‘Not having to travel saves time of course. And the programme hasn’t been that difficult anyway. The second year is harder. If I can’t combine my studies and the business anymore, we’ll have to find someone to replace me. I’ll take a step back so I can concentrate on my degree.’ 

Jesper definitely wants to complete his bachelor’s degree. ‘I need a plan B if, for any reason, we have or want to wind down the company.’ At present he tends to work for the company in the daytime and study in the evening. He wants to continue working for BLIJLES after his bachelor’s degree. ‘We knew nothing and didn’t have a cent, but it’s great to jump into the adult world of entrepreneurship and build something up. It’s your baby. It’s your responsibility and you see it grow. And to see that you’re effective is fantastic. For us it’s never been about the money.’

Work things out yourself

The two have had to work a lot of things out for themselves: which legal entity, taxes, admin and son. They learnt a lot from self-employed family members. When they’ve graduated, they’ll be adults in the taxman’s eyes, which is very different from being able to earn 6,500 euros tax free as a student. And they want to continue to grow the company. ‘We want keep professionalising. We’ve got terms and conditions and a privacy statement, but we want a structure that will suit further expansion because then we won’t be able to do everything by ourselves. We also want to invest in Match Generator.’ Now they’ve expanded the Haarlemmermeer and Midden-Holland areas, the owners – Jesper doesn’t once use the word ‘director’ – want to grow the business even more. Perhaps they’ll conquer the whole of the Netherlands.

Text: Corine Hendriks
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