Shell staff provide mentoring boost for innovative young Dutch LiveWIRE entrepreneurs
Jul 19, 2016
Shell LiveWIRE Netherlands enables some of its most innovative young entrepreneurs to receive the specialist business support from Shell employees that they need to strengthen and grow their start-up companies. Finalists in the Shell LiveWIRE NL awards are offered a Shell mentor for a 12 month period, who will help the entrepreneurs make the most of their opportunities.
Innovative online music service Chordify is one of the LiveWIRE finalist businesses receiving support from a Shell mentor to develop their potential. The five founders that make up Chordify together have a great deal of expertise in the field of e-learning. The team comprises engineers, designers and a marketing specialist. Music is the binding factor. Chordify uses complex algorithms to convert any given piece of music into a chord scheme completely automatically. This is very useful for people wanting to learn to play music.
They are receiving business support from mentor Katherine Manthey, an experienced Finance Manager with Shell. Providing an insight into the areas of support she is able to provide, Katherine says, “Our discussions cover investments, strategic planning, budgets, prognoses and risk management.
“Even though Shell and Chordify are clearly very different organisations, certain basic business principles apply to both companies.”
Gijs Bekenkamp, one of Chordify’s founders, agrees, “It is interesting to see that however different the companies may be, we both face similar challenges. And it’s good to be able to talk things over with such an experienced manager and excellent sounding board as Katherine. But aside from this, we’re also trying to develop the most appropriate culture for our organisation, and Katherine can help us with that too.”
The fact that the company’s culture needs developing is not that unusual. Chordify’s platform went live in January 2013 and turned out to be a success, attracting millions of visitors and currently with no less than 300,000 registered users, the service has provided chord schemes for almost 3 million pieces of music. Musicians across the world – amateurs, professionals and everyone in between, now consider the service as indispensable.
“A young company that is growing so fast needs a sounding board,” Katherine says. “And the perspective of a professional from a different sector of industry is really quite useful in such a situation. For the people in the company, but also for me as a Shell employee.”
Katherine did not hesitate for one minute when given the opportunity to volunteer as a mentor. “Volunteering has always been important to me. I used to do it back in America, and I’m continuing to do so now in the Netherlands. It helps me integrate into Dutch society even better and I derive a great deal of energy from working with such impassioned entrepreneurs as Gijs. It’s just so much fun. And yes, I wish that Chordify had been around back when I was having piano lessons!”
Another young start-up with completely different challenges is NETICS, last year’s winner of the LiveWIRE Netherland Audience Award. Young entrepreneurs Eldert Besseling and Hugo Ekkelenkamp developed a method for constructing mud dikes which is more sustainable and considerably less expensive than the materials used in the construction of traditional flood defences. It’s an attractive proposition, as the need for new flood defences is growing on a global scale as the result of rising sea levels and the rapid increase in urbanisation in delta regions.
“Every year, river deltas face enormous amounts of unwelcome sediment being carried downstream, which collect there in the form of dredging sludge and mud,” says Eldert Besseling. “Our method uses this very mud to construct the flood defences.”
The special thing about NETICS’ concept is that it uses a raw material that would have had to have been removed anyway. Eldert adds that, “Rivers have to be dredged to ensure that there is continuous safe passage for shipping and that the water storage capacity remains intact. The extraction, procurement and transport of expensive primary materials such as clay, which is normally used for dike construction, is therefore no longer necessary.”
Eldert and Hugo set up NETICS in 2013, and soon became involved in constructing real flood defences using dredging sludge both at home and abroad. The LiveWIRE Audience Award afforded them access to strategic advice from Kalyan Ram, General Manager Solvents with Shell Chemicals Europe.
Kalyan is passionate that Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship are what Europe needs, saying, “Young talented entrepreneurs must be given the opportunity to bring their innovative methods to market. Shell supports these entrepreneurs through LiveWIRE, and I believe I can play a role in this thanks to my management experience.”
Over the past 25 years, Kalyan Ram has held various positions in different continents. He is currently sharing his experience with NETICS, “To help them learn from the mistakes I have made and from the positive experiences from which I have benefitted.” Conversely, Kalyan is also learning a lot from the young entrepreneurs. “They look at things completely differently, and that really is like a breath of fresh air.”
Commenting on the role of mentoring within the LiveWIRE NL programme, Celina Wang, Programme Manager, Shell LiveWIRE Netherlands says, “From my perspective, LiveWIRE is about connecting the entrepreneur more closely with Shell. On the one hand there’s a connection to Shell’s business by enabling some beneficiaries to become part of Shell’s value chain.
“Mentoring is also an opportunity for the entrepreneur to connect more with Shell’s people so we can learn from one another. Shell is a learning organisation and mentoring provides a valuable opportunity for Shell staff and entrepreneurs to create a mutually beneficial learning experience which enhances the mentee, their business, Shell and the community.”