Second year International Business students Toufan Bracke and Rens Van Steenes are founders of Vanquish – a sustainable online marketplace powered by the next generation of blockchain technology, launched with the help of ASPIRE.
“Rens and I had noticed the NFT trend,” explains Toufan. “We were hearing it everywhere and were seeing its popularity growth. We had spoken about starting a business and attended ASPIRE sessions weekly and found out about the Business Start Up Journey. What those sessions taught us was to look at business as a solution to a problem.”
Perhaps one of the lesser publicised sides of the NFT explosion is their dramatic impact on the environment with the high-energy reliance of the blockchain technology involved in their sale. In this acute problem, explains Rens, the duo found their business model.
“Most NFT marketplaces use the Ethereum blockchain, which together with Bitcoin consumes the same amount of energy as the country of Thailand with a population of 90 million people. This is because mining for the cryptocurrency using blockchain is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions. We did our research and discovered the Solana blockchain instead of Ethereum because it is much cheaper and carbon negative.”
The pair launched Vanquish and began to think about other ways to hone a unique USP.
Toufan continues: “To buy NFT, you have to own cryptocurrency and you need a crypto wallet, which for novices can be confusing. We thought we’d offer clarity on cryptocurrency and also establish a site where you can buy an NFT with fiat currencies. There’s also a lot of problems with scams in this field, so we felt we needed to tackle the safety problem and reduce scams around NFTs.”
They called upon ASPIRE’s Entrepreneur in Residence, John, to help advise on building a website via Bubble and to help with Marketing and promotion.
“We came up with a concept we call ‘NFT 2.0’, a transition from useless collectables to online assets that truly benefit the customers,” explains Toufan. “We donate 5 per cent of our earnings to climate charities and we believe the technology we are using will make a real difference to climate change. To address the issue of safety, vendors on our website only receive the payment after the buyer receives the token.”
In April 2022 Rens and Toufan came an admirable third place in the pitching finals for the Business Start Up Journey.
“We learnt so much through this process,” says Rens. “One of the judges knew a lot about blockchain and he revealed its potential in so many areas, not just NFTs. We realised we’d been a little short sighted and that the emphasis should be on the technology and our sustainable approach to it, not for the NFTs specifically. We hope to delve more closely into blockchain to move our business forward.”
As BSc International Business Students, the Vanquish team credit their business education to giving them a head start in their own venture.
Toufan says: “The first year modules in this course really give you an overview of every single business discipline and I certainly think this gave us an advantage over our competitors.”
The pair have just finished their exams and are hoping to plough more energy into the business over the summer.
ASPIRE, the Accelerator Space for Innovation and Responsible Enterprise helps students develop entrepreneurial skills and launch their own start ups.