Photographer:Fotograaf: Jean-Pierre Geusens
Student services company Jules seems to grow in leaps and bounds
A year into her PhD programme, Maastricht graduate Karin van der Ven dropped out. She knew what she wanted: to start a student services company. “Deep in my heart I had a vision of Jules.” Back then, in 2009, one of the first services was the bike repair. And it’s still alive. A major growth area is in the management of student rooms and studios. The company seems to be moving forward in leaps and bounds. Observant spoke with Van der Ven about the expansion.
This is roughly how the 2.30 am telephone call went between a student and a staff member of student services company Jules Maastricht:
´Hi, I ordered a bedding package from you, but the pillow is too hard. I can’t sleep like this. Could you bring me a softer pillow?’
‘Another pillow? Can’t it wait till morning?’
‘No, it’s really urgent.’
Is this the kind of thing you should expect from a company that says ‘Everything a student needs’ and even sells bedding and is reachable 24 hours a day? “I was able to see the funny side of it”, says owner Karin Van der Ven (33). “And yes, we did end up bringing him a new pillow, that same night.”
This was an exception, apparently: most students don’t call in the middle of the night demanding a new pillow. But it’s this reachability – “being a point of contact” for a student who has lost his or her house keys, say – that Jules wants to be known for. Van der Ven: “It’s important that students can go somewhere with their questions or problems.”
The management of rooms and studios is one of the company’s major growth areas. “We’ve been involved in housing for five years already and things started to take off in the past few years, but last year’s growth was exponential [among others the management of the Carré building with 143 studios and 461 rooms at the Katzensprung in Vaals for students of the RWTH Aachen]. What motivates us to take on housing management? This way we can keep a closer eye on quality and act quickly, for example as a neighbour complains about the mess in the front yard of a student house or in case a washing machine breaks down.”
Van der Ven was born in Brabant and raised in Veghel and Arnhem. Unsure of what she wanted to be – after high school she even considered doing chemistry – she completed the bachelor’s and master’s in European Studies in Maastricht. “During my master’s programme I spent six months in Istanbul and I noticed how badly I needed help with everyday things: a Turkish language course, banking, transport.”
It was a gap in the market. A student services provider would be useful anywhere, she figured, but especially so in Maastricht, where the international student population continues to grow. The idea formed just as she was starting a PhD programme with Marjolein van Asselt, professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “When I look back on that topic, I think phew, pretty tough. It was about the role of foresight think tanks in policymaking in different European countries. Of course I was happy to be given the opportunity, but deep in my heart I had a vision of Jules. I ended up quitting the programme after a year.” That was March 2009. “I remember my parents finding it quite a disappointment. But that just made me even more motivated. I was lucky with the people around me. Charles van Goch, owner of the hospitality temp agency Mise en Place, had a place at the Ezelmarkt where I could set up temporarily. Charles was looking for students and I was able to help him with that. I also won €20,000 in a business plan competition, which I was able to put to good use.”
Back then the company was still called Jules & You. “We switched to Jules because it offers more possibilities, especially outside Maastricht. Jules Rotterdam sounds better than Jules & You Rotterdam, don’t you think?” she laughs.
While in 2009 she was virtually on her own – “I had one person working for me” – there are now some 37 people on the payroll, most of them part time. The office at the Ezelmarkt was quickly traded in for a location on the Bouillonstraat, opposite the law faculty.
Several months ago they initiated Challenges, a scheme where Jules teams up with a regional company and disseminates a question among students online. For instance, the MECC conference centre wanted to know how it could attract young people. A jury selects the submissions and the winner gets a cash prize and an audience with the company.
Does Challenges mean Jules is straying from its original plan to provide student services? “No, enabling students to make use of their talents outside the regular study programme is exactly in line with our mission. And it has several nice side effects: companies come into contact with those students who go that step further, and we make a contribution to keeping talent in the region.”
Van der Ven sees her services as “supplementary” to, rather than competing with, those provided by Maastricht University. Except perhaps in one sense: language courses. “Our courses [offered in eleven languages] are a core part of Jules. When we started out, our courses were more informal than those on offer at the Language Centre. Years later the difference has lessened, which means we’re fishing in the same river. That can be a point of friction.”
“I know that UM, just like us, ultimately wants its students to end up as well-placed as possible. But the university’s main activities are teaching and research; they’re paid from public money and so they have to be accountable in that way. I on the other hand can go my own way. I can test things out and see straight away if there’s demand. If so, great. If not, we pull the plug. My vision from eight years ago hasn’t changed. People from other student cities have come by to see what we’re doing here and we ran a pilot in Tilburg. My aim is to grow, but I want to think carefully about what form that should take.”
As for her ideas about the future: “We shouldn’t underestimate the social engagement of students. There are plenty who make a contribution to society and commit to local projects or good causes. We notice that those students also seek one another out. We want to facilitate that, and integrate volunteer work with it. We also hope to do more when it comes to housing. Our aim is to ensure good quality accommodation for everyone.”
So have her parents got over their disappointment of her quitting her PhD? “I think so”, she laughs. “My father is now on board with Jules as one of my most important advisers.”
Jules Maastricht is a student services company. Some seven thousand students, three quarters of them from abroad, have a Jules Card. This allows them to make use of various services, including:
*temp jobs, volunteer work and internships
*housing, sales of furniture, laminate, towel, bathroom and bedding packages, fire safety supplies such as extinguishers and first-aid kits, inspection reports, removals
*IT, print and copy services
*handyman and cleaning services
*discounts for hotels, restaurants, shops, etc.
*24-hour service desk
Plus information about insurance, tax, bank accounts, donating blood, finding a GP, parking, sports, entertainment, arts and culture.
Jules Maastricht, Bouillonstraat 12