StartUp - Stephanie and Mbali of Expectalent
“The people we help, and the conversations we have with them, prove that we are needed.” Stephanie Buah and Mbali Mbuyisa know from experience how hard it can be to study, work and live as an expat in the Netherlands. That is why they founded Expectalent. By creating the startup, the duo wants to create a support network for expats in Nijmegen and the province of Gelderland. StartUp Nijmegen is their regional anchor.
In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more expats came to the Netherlands to study, work and live. But pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree at a Dutch university or setting up your own business proved harder than many might have expected.
Stephanie and Mbali know all about it. An example is finding a home; which can be challenging for Dutch individuals, but is tremendously difficult for internationals. “I spent the first six months of my studies couch surfing with friends, until I had my own place”, says Mbali. “And even then, sometimes internationals are disadvantaged. For example, as an international, you might pay a much higher rent than your Dutch colleagues. Rooms that are advertised in Facebook groups for internationals have much higher rates.”
It’s not just about finding a place to stay, say Mbali and Stephanie. Expats run into many more issues. The divide between internationals and Dutch people, for example, proves a hard one to bridge. This is especially the case if the international is still learning the Dutch language.
“When I’m in a group, and I’m talking to Dutch people, I sometimes ask them if they could maybe talk in English, so that I can join the conversation. But after a while, they almost automatically switch back to Dutch and I can’t keep up anymore”, illustrates Stephanie. It’s these kinds of hidden issues that internationals face, according to the founders of Expectalent. “The hidden attitude makes the struggle harder”, says Mbali
Born on the train
Both came to the Netherlands in 2016, for their studies. Mbali obtained a pre-master and followed up with a master’s in Spatial Planning at Radboud University. Stephanie came for a bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration, also at Radboud University.
“We organised an intercultural party for internationals in Nijmegen”, says Stephanie. The two had seen many fellow international friends come and go, and both felt lonely. “As an international, you want to meet people and be part of a community.” When traveling back home by train, Stephanie and Mbali talked extensively about their experiences as internationals. They formed a bond, which later resulted in Expectalent. “Mbali immediately started googling to find a hackathon in the area.”
With a little help from friends
The duo participated in a hackathon of the municipality of Nijmegen and Cultuurhuis Nijmegen and promptly won 3,000 euros. That allowed them to start up their business with help from Dick Bos at StartUp Nijmegen, which launched their platform. The women talk about his extensive help. “We were looking for an anchor in this region. StartUp is our anchor. When you start a business, local contacts are of vital importance. Thanks to StartUp Nijmegen, we can expand our network, and open up so many new doors and possibilities. Even now”, says Stephanie. “When we send an email, oftentimes we get no response. When Dick sends an email, he will get a reply.”
With Expectalent, Stephanie and Mbali want to create a network for internationals in Gelderland. “We don’t want to be an alternative to the Radboud University International Office, but to become a support network for internationals. We want to put them into the spotlight”, says Stephanie.
The women want to create their network through events and workshops, by collaborating with regional companies and by bringing people into contact, including concerning housing. “We want to facilitate connections”, explains Stephanie. For now, they mainly talk with companies and organizations from the cultural and educational sector, but Expectalent wants to expand to regional tech companies and make this process a seamless one.
“We want to support companies in finding and helping expats”, says Stephanie. “For example, there are many international students in Gelderland who want to take up technical studies. If that doesn’t work and the expats have to leave feeling disappointed, this doesn’t benefit the region.” Mbali and Stephanie want to connect global talent to local organizations. They believe that internationals can inspire companies with their great ideas, fueling innovation.
Stephanie and Mbali are hard at work setting up a business model and securing new financing as their voucher expires in August. For now, they are very proud of what they have achieved so far. “To just be able to realize and launch Expectalent is our greatest achievement to date.”
In this blog series, The Life Net and StartUp Nijmegen like to show what an attractive region Nijmegen is to start and establish as an entrepreneur. It spotlights various internationals or companies that attract internationals. They like to share their inspiring story about how they started and grew with their business. Check StartUp Nijmegen for how they pay attention to this.