Meet and Greet Jakob Ulcnik CEO of standBystand and winner of the first GLES

Last April marked the debut of the first GROW Labs Entrepreneurial Sessions(GLES). Four startups were invited to pitch their business idea to a jury who carefully selected the winner. And the winner is… standBystand. Amongst various other reasons, it was the scalability of the business model and the originality that secured standBystand the prize — GROW Labs’ Premium Package that consists of a €5000 worth set of business services. Eager to find out more about this exciting startup, we grabbed a coffee with its CEO, Jakob Ulcnik.

Who is Jakob Ulcnik?

‘I’m 29 years old and was originally born in Slovenia. As a teenager, I already felt the urge to move abroad as I saw so many opportunities outside my country. At the age of 18, I moved to Germany. Through a Slovenian company, I found a job working for BMW and Mercedes — all manual, physical work. After Germany, France and Belgium followed, before I arrived in the Netherlands a year later. I was building ships in the harbour of Rotterdam when I realised something needed to change. Physical work wasn’t making me happy — to say the least — I knew I needed intellectual stimulation. I decided to go back to school. I enrolled at the Hogeschool InHolland to study Tourism & Leisure Management. Meanwhile, I started freelancing as a stage manager. During the time that followed, I was happy to experience the personal growth I envisaged. When a friend approached me, asking if I could help him out build a stand for a trade fair in Amsterdam, I discovered the exhibition industry. From there, I sort of “rolled” into it.’

 

What exactly is and does standBystand?

‘Working in the trade-fair industry, I uncovered a very old-fashion industry that involves established companies working with the same stand-builders for many years. I quickly noticed the challenges freelance stand builders and stand-building companies could encounter as they struggle to find each other. I quickly realised things could be easier and more efficient if there were a platform connecting them. That’s what standBystand does: connecting enterprises to stand-building freelancers in the exhibition industry.’

Who are currently onboard at standBystand?

‘ Core of the team are two founders, myself and CTO Tibor Strausz, and all around Irina Kuzminykh. Besides other mentors, Mr Peer Stoop, my former teacher from InHolland is there whenever I need him. While standBystand was originally my idea, it’s the people around me who are believing in me and helping me turn my dream into a rock-solid reality.’

Since scribbling that piece of paper in April 2017, how do you look back on your first year?

‘As a year filled with ups and downs, of course. There have been anxious, lonely and uncomfortable moments along the way. Especially after unsuccessfully “cold calling” twenty prospects. I certainly have had moments where I thought I was just delusional in thinking we indeed had found the answer to a problem. On the flip side, there are the moments you talk to people from the industry who are very keen to work with you and assign you a project. Seeing that process turnaround has been fascinating and rewarding at the same time.’

Where does standBystand stand now?

‘This past year, the Netherlands has organised 630 trade fairs at venues such as RAI, Jaarbeurs Utrecht and MECC in Maastricht. I reckon we were involved in approximately 30–40 percent of them. Bear in mind every one of these fairs counts about 200 stands, sometimes we are only involved in building four of them, so there’s room for growth.’

So, what do you need to get there?

‘Getting the product out there would be a good start. At the moment, we aim to finish the building of the platform and to further deliver on functionality of the services. However, developing the platform remains a challenge. There’s only so much our developer can do within the given budget. Which begs the second thing we need: funding. We’re actively looking for investment.’

How did you hear about GROW Labs’ Entrepreneurial Sessions?

‘Through LinkedIn. During my breaks, I tend to browse social media looking for interesting events and gatherings in the startup world. The Entrepreneurial Sessions immediately sparked my attention. I was very excited to receive an invite.’

How did you prepare for your pitch?

‘Honestly? While I meant to prepare my pitch well before, a zillion things came up in between, leaving it up to the afternoon of the event for me to prepare my pitch. I practised it about twenty times and only managed to stay within the three-minute time limit five times, so I was pretty sure I’d cross the time limit during the event too — which, of course, I did.’

 

What did you like most about the GLES?

‘This was my first pitch ever at such an event. Therefore I was slightly anxious. At the same time, I felt pretty comfortable. After all, I know we have a good product. One of the things I particularly liked about the sessions was the positive vibe in the room. I liked that the event was kept rather small and intimate — everybody truly had attention for one another.’

And the jury?

‘I loved their in-depth questions that truly challenged you to think about your idea or project. It’s through the questions someone asks, that you know they know what they’re talking about. These people are experts in their field. They prove it through the on-point questions they asked.’

So far, what have you “gained” as a winner?

‘For one, a partnership with the guys from GROW Labs. I feel we are a good match. After the session, I met Pieter Vermeer, Director of INVESTOR readyand Funding Expert in the jury. He can see potential in standBystand. During a follow-up meeting we decided to work together.’

What do you hope to get out of it?

‘Winning the Premium Package is amazing. It’s the next step for us; talking about standBystand in public and getting exposure. Moreover, we hope to leverage from GROW Labs’ know-how and expertise in the tech industry, design and marketing, enabling us to tackle challenges we encounter in those domains. Lastly, it’s always inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded people — it offers endless possibilities to learn.’

What’s the goal for standBystand?

‘Foreign markets! First Germany, that’s the no. 1 market in the world. After that, the rest of the world should follow suit. The Netherlands is a great “test environment” for us.’



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