In our series “Catching up with …”, we catch up with former IMPROVERS to see how they are doing and what they are working on!
Koen Smit started his own company where he offers yoga classes to PhD students in order to reduce anxiety & stress, and improve focus Since Koen has his own experience as a PhD student, he knows how to help his customers improving their quality of life. Koen combines his part-time work as a researcher with his enterprise. We are very eager to find out how he and his company, Yogademics, are doing.
How did you come up with the idea to start your own business?
“When I was 26, I had just started working on my PhD. One day I was helping a friend move and lifted a box when I heard a crack somewhere in my body… I hurt my back and was unable to move for about two weeks. And I was only 26! That is when the idea started to take root to spend more time working on my physical health. I ended up doing yoga and noticed that I did not only physically felt better and stronger, but it also helped me mentally as I was better able to process my work. Before I started doing yoga, I was constantly thinking about what I needed to do and what I could improve in my research. Whereas after I started doing yoga, I was capable of tuning that out more. I then started teaching yoga to my colleagues in the Spinoza building here in Nijmegen. Even though it were short classes in a very dusty classroom, the responses were very positive. That is when I really started playing with the idea of setting up my own company and seeing where it could go.
My focus is on people in academia, who have a high risk of getting stress related issues. Research shows that about 30% of PhD candidates are stressed and overworked to a clinical degree. So, there is a lot of room for prevention here, something I want to play into with my company. Since my target audience is so specific, I can tailor my classes to their wishes. I noticed that a lot of participants prefer a more scientific approach to yoga; they like to hear how their body can benefit from a certain pose during the class. Next to that, I know how busy researchers are and how important it is to give them a moment to calm down and collect their thoughts.”
What are you working on right now?
“Right now, I am doing the Venture Track at Mercator Launch. I am currently working on my product description and we are looking at the finances. I have little experience with financial aspects, but I am very happy with all the support from the business coaches. I am also running a pilot with yoga classes. Researchers can join in for free and give me feedback on the class. This way, I can find out what people like and how I can further improve and tailor my classes to their needs. After the pilot I will be adding a payment system to my website, which I have been building recently! It’s not completely finished yet, but overall, I’m very happy with my results so far.”
What challenges did you face over the last year?
“I noticed there are quite a few parallels between doing a PhD and setting up a company. It is a lot of work and you have to strongly rely on yourself and your capabilities. The big difference is: doing a PhD mainly consists of data collection, analysis, reading and writing (at least, in my case). Many tasks that involved thinking and working for yourself. Setting up yoga classes and hosting them is totally different. Going from internally focused work to working more externally took a bit of getting used to. Also, I was used to promoting articles. But now I need to promote myself, as I am the face behind the company and I need to convince people why they want to work with me or follow one of my classes. It has been very interesting to learn more about marketing and how to build my own website. As an entrepreneur I am now doing all sorts of things I had no experience in whatsoever. A great learning experience!”
What is your ultimate goal with your company?
“People can experience a lot of stress in the workplace. My vision is that preventing a problem is always better than curing it, which is why I founded Yogademics. I think prevention in this area is gaining ground right now and Yogademics can enter that wave. My yoga classes are specifically intended to reduce stress and regain focus. My ultimate dream is that Yogademics will eventually offer both online and offline yoga classes on different universities all across The Netherlands and that our services can play a key role in preventing stress related issues for people in academics.”
What inspires you to do better every day?
“I love it when I see that people are really enjoying my classes. My primary focus is on making people happy with my class, making sure that my class added something positive to their day. So, it is really the people who inspire me to do better every day!
Do you have one last tip for entrepreneurs (to be) who want to turn their passion into their job?
“When you start something new, you have to learn how to do a lot of new things. You may even feel self-doubt, shame and think ‘I can’t do this’. But you can! This quote really helped me believe in myself: “If you want to go to the shore of success, you have to swim through the sea of misery first”. I found that really reassuring somehow. Everyone has to deal with difficult hurdles, but you can do this! Work through the challenges and learn from everything you do. And, very important: when in doubt, just do it!”
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