How can young, entrepreneurial-minded university graduates position themselves to start their own businesses? Thijs de Wert, a project manager with Fresh Forces, also called Frisse Blikken, believes his company knows what Gen Y entrepreneurs need. “The founders did research about the entrance of the new generation in the workforce. About how to cope with Gen Y employees, and about what drives them,” he explains. “And they found that only 1 percent of students graduating from university actually start their own business, due to various reasons—lack of an idea or a network—and they wanted to improve on this.”
Fresh Forces helps its clients – primarily Dutch (multi)national organizations – to cope with modern day challenges like implementing new strategies and adjusting to change. Employees are given the opportunity to develop skills, knowledge and a network by working with various companies across different sectors. “Fresh Forces offers a stepping stone toward entrepreneurship,” according to de Wert. “With Fresh Forces you’ll gain experience working with energy companies, banks, fast-moving companies or the government.”
The company, which celebrates its fifth birthday today (1 April, 2016) attracts young, ambitious graduates who want to hit the ground running. “The company really appeals to our generation: people who want a high degree of freedom, autonomy—and all that comes together in entrepreneurship.”
Members of the Fresh Forces team want to make an impact, de Wert says—from day one. “Typically when you start in a regular consultancy firm, you are at the bottom of the ladder and don’t have a lot decision-making power yet. Here, we try to really implement the concepts of trust, autonomy and responsibility. You have a high level of these things from the start. That appeals to my generation. Having that freedom to do what you think is best, right at the start of your career.”
Although de Wert also wanted to have impact early in his career, he took some time off after graduating from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) in 2009 with a master’s degree in Strategic Marketing Management. “I traveled the world for a year,” he recalls. “It was really great. I was just 22 when I graduated and wanted to take some time before jumping into my professional life.”
It paid off. After six months’ traveling, de Wert started thinking about his next moves. “I found the website of Fresh Forces and saw they were hiring entrepreneurial young professionals,” he says. “To apply, you had to send a video pitch — which I did from the pyramid at Chichén Itzá [the Mayan temple city in Mexcio]. I thought it would be a nice background. I recorded it and was offered an interview when I returned to the Netherlands.”
Although a focus of Fresh Forces is to prepare its employees — through experience and through extensive training sessions on the job — for the next step in their career, de Wert has found enough satisfaction within the company to stay. “I’m unusual in the fact that I’ve been here for more than 4,5 years,” he says. “Normally people stay up to 3,5 years and then move on to something else. But in my case, I found entrepreneurial opportunity within the company.” De Wert started a team within Fresh Forces that focuses on the marketing/communications field, and as a team-lead he also became a shareholder of the company.
He says the unique learning process at Maastricht was invaluable in preparing him for the professional challenges he know faces daily. “What I really liked about Maastricht was the case-based education, problem-based learning. It really helped prepare me for my work now. Also in working with teams, making presentations. It helps me a lot in my work. I think it’s pretty special how Maastricht approaches education.”
Watch the short video below (in Dutch) to learn more about how Fresh Forces works.