Screenshot from webinar with Alexandre Mars
Webinar with philanthropist Alexandre Mars
“Don’t wait for that ‘million dollar idea’. It could be a long wait. An entrepreneur is something different than an inventor. A mere one in five businesses is innovative. So, you want to start your own business? Then do it!” It is one of the tips from the French philanthropist and social entrepreneur Alexandre Mars. Last Thursday, he was a guest at a webinar by The Maastricht Entrepreneurship Club, a club of entrepreneurs that was set up last September by three Maastricht University students.
Mars is the third guest of the club of entrepreneurs (and potential entrepreneurs). He is an example for people who want to run or start a business, but actually a bad example for the 120 students who logged in. Mars himself was not such a good student, he confesses. Not that he minds very much. “A good education is important, but you also need to be ‘street smart’.”
You have to be able to see opportunities, says Mars. Which is what he saw when he was seventeen and set up his first business. He organised concerts at his secondary school. His motivation at the time was to earn money. “Not to buy six cars and live in a big house, but to be financially independent, to be free.” Just like the family in which he grew up. His mother referred to it as “great happiness”. From the time he was very young, Mars learned from her that this was “the most important thing” to have.
After that, Mars started and sold various businesses. Running a business in a socially responsible manner is key. “I want to help people who are suffering.” He does this with his Epic business. “We connect socially responsible entrepreneurs across the world with people who have a lot of money and want to give something back for the community.” Participating financers, often large businesses, take the ‘Epic oath’. This means that they will donate part of their turnover to Epic, which then uses the money to fund good causes. As an example Mars mentions fashion brand Dior. “They organised the ‘Dior Epic Day’ on 9 September 2019. Ten per cent of the turnover of that day went to Epic. The business, but also the employees and the customers, feel that they are supporting a good cause.”
There are plenty of questions during the Zoom session chat. “Is one born to be an entrepreneur? Or can anybody do it?” someone asked. The latter, Mars thinks. “Start and don’t be afraid to fail. Work on the basis that it will go wrong. That is not losing. You can only win or learn.”
Halfway through the webinar, the hosts and fellow founders Roch de Brantes and Emilio Torres start a video by Paul Smeets, professor of Philanthropy at the UM. In what way does Mars use science to measure the impact of his businesses, he wants to know. Mars: “Financially, I look at how much I am putting into it and eventually how much it yields.” No rocket science. Students from Harvard pour over the really scientific part. The prestigious university based a case study on the business. Students investigate whether the strategy, impact, and sustainability of Epic have the intended results: changing the way of donating to charities.
The Maastricht Entrepreneurship Club
The Maastricht Entrepreneurship Club is a kind of subsidiary organisation of the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The difference between the two is that the latter focuses on students who already have a business or who have a clear idea of what they want to do. The Maastricht Entrepreneurship Club caters for students who have no definite ideas, but who are passionate about entrepreneurship.
“The club’s aim is to inspire students who want to become business owners and to help them get started,” says Arnaud van der Kelen, one of the founders and third-year student of International Business. They do so by organising webinars, for example, and there are also special “idea creation meetings”, where a group of up to thirty people brainstorm about ideas that the participants have. Lastly, it is an ideal place to network, says Van der Kelen. “All students who are passionate about entrepreneurship can join,” he emphasised. “It is certainly not just for students from the School of Business and Economics.” The club has ten active members at the moment.