Three students of the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS) believe they can do what authorities can’t: solve the housing crisis faced by international students in Tilburg and other university cities. Named after the Greek goddess of the home, their agency Estia provides student-to-student assistance in finding affordable accommodation.
Second-year master’s students Rehan Saif, Vincent Munos and Stefan Driessen recently founded Estia, and their business idea is quickly catching fire. The idea for Estia was born on the JADS campus in Den Bosch, where the data science students developed their housing assistance startup as part of a course in entrepreneurship that they are taking this semester.
“At the start of the course, we were asked to come up with a business idea to tackle a problem that we encountered in our own surroundings,” Saif explains. “When talking to international students on campus, we noticed that the tight student housing market hits them particularly hard. They have difficulty finding affordable accommodation, and they’re targeted by scammers offering fake rooms. Vincent is actually an international student from the United States himself, so he knows from experience what’s involved and what’s needed to find student housing here and to gather all the necessary documents.”
Compared to Dutch room hunters, Saif says, foreign students are at a great disadvantage. “As a student, the easiest way to find a nice and affordable room is through your network. When you know someone who knows someone who is going to move out of their student building, for example, you have a much better chance at getting the room you want. Students from abroad don’t have a network like that yet when they first arrive in the Netherlands and start looking for a room.”
Saif and his fellow students decided to mobilize their own networks to help internationals in their search for a student room. Internationals pay a one-time fee of around 300 euros, which buys them a well-connected Estia assistant with inside knowledge of the local student housing market. “We contact people within our own networks, but we also offer assistance by making phone calls, searching for accommodation online and accompanying students on house viewings. Basically, we act as a personal assistant to international room seekers throughout the entire process.”
After successfully helping international students find a home in Eindhoven and Den Bosch, Estia is now expanding to Tilburg, where it’s notoriously difficult for internationals to find accommodation. ‘Dutch only’ student rooms are very common in Tilburg, Saif explains, which complicates efforts by the university and local authorities to solve the housing crisis faced by new arrivals.
According to the founders of Estia, student-to-student housing assistance may very well be the solution to the recurring housing crisis that continues to leave many newly-arrived Tilburg University students homeless at the start of each semester. “We can’t build more houses,” Saif says. “But we can help bridge the social gap that puts international room seekers at a disadvantage in the first place.”
Estia does not have its own website yet, but you can get in touch via email if you’re an international student looking for student-to-student housing assistance in Tilburg. Currently, Estia is also looking for well-connected Tilburg University students who are interested in working as a (paid) housing assistant.
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