The world cup for student entrepreneurs will be held this month in Macau, China. WUR student Fabian Lindner is representing the Netherlands with Zzinga, a start-up that produces a honey beverage and invests in biodiversity.
Fabian Lindner chose to come to WUR because you can learn entrepreneurship here too.
tekst Luuk Zegers foto Aldo Allessie
Long before there was wine and beer, there was mead. This drink, made from fermented honey, is probably the oldest alcoholic beverage known to humans. WUR-student Fabian Lindner (25) encountered this ‘nectar of the gods’ for the first time in 2015 during an exchange semester in Lithuania, and it was love at first taste. ‘When I came back home to Italy I started experimenting with making mead myself. I knew I wanted to do something with it, but Italy has a very strong wine culture. Wine is way too popular for mead to compete with it.’
Nonetheless, Lindner did not let go of his newfound love for mead. On the contrary: he turned it into a company that produces a modern-day interpretation of the honey wine. This month, he will represent the Netherlands at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in China. How did he get there?
In September 2016, Lindner came to Wageningen for his Master’s in Management, Economics and Consumer Studies. ‘I picked this university because it enables you to study and learn how to be an entrepreneur at the same time. If I hadn’t come here, I probably wouldn’t have a company now.’
Lindner chose Entrepreneurship as his Master’s track and signed up for StartHub’s start-up week to see if he could turn his love of mead into a business plan. ‘In this week, you work with a team of three or four people on a business model. We decided to position Zzinga as a modern interpretation of mead, a lightly sparkling honey drink. And we want to use the drink to do good, by telling the story of bees and the role they play in biodiversity, and by donating some of the profits to local NGOs that protect bees and enhance biodiversity.’
Lindner knows his strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur. ‘I’m a sociable guy and I can make a pitch, but I’m not so good with numbers. So I asked Elias Fischer, who I have known since middle school, to move here and be Zzinga’s finance guy. We make all the important decisions together.’ Through one of Lindner’s StartHub coaches, the young entrepreneurs got in touch with Döhler, an international food and ingredient supplier. ‘We spoke to them, they liked our idea, together we finalized the recipe and now we have outsource production to them.’
The first 2000 litres of Zzinga were produced in 2018 and Lindner and Fischer toured Europe with their drink to get consumer feedback. ‘We went to cities like Ghent, Berlin, Nantes and Paris and just walked into bars to ask if we could do a tasting in the evening. We let people taste the drink and asked them questions. This way, we found out how versatile our drink is: some like to drink it straight from the bottle, others like adding lemon, ginger, thyme or other herbs, while bartenders experimented with making cocktails with Zzinga.’
This testing phase is a busy time for Lindner. ‘Being a student and an entrepreneur at the same time is hard work. The more you work, the less time you have to study for exams. So I tried to combine my studies with Zzinga where I could. My thesis was about how small breweries build a brand, for example, and I was allowed to do my internship at my own company, doing market research for Zzinga.’
Besides this, Linder also started participating in pitching events through StartHub. In November 2018, he won the Dutch Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which qualifies him for the world cup in China, later this month. There Lindner will compete against 50 student entrepreneurs from all over the world.
‘Because I won the Dutch event, they gave me a pitch trainer. He has already taught me a lot. Pitching is like volleyball: you throw the ball to the crowd, and you want them to throw it back at you. And you want to get your audience involved in your start-up. Invite them to help you improve your company. Make them feel like they can contribute something to your success.’
In the supermarket
Whether Lindner wins the Global Student Entrepreneur Award or not, 2019 is already a big year for him. He graduates on 25 June and his company is going full speed ahead. ‘We got an innovation loan from Rabobank. In three weeks, we will produce our second batch, this time 40,000 bottles. Through StartHub we got in touch with supermarkets Marqt and Lidl. They will sell Zzinga. This is the year that we prove the potential of Zzinga. In 2020 we will scale up, strengthen our position in the Netherlands, and expand into neighbouring countries.’
Want to try the new beverage for yourself? That will be possible in a few weeks. Zzinga will then be available in café Loburg and at Woudenberg Dranken in Wageningen.