On 29 April I posted a story about Taste of India, a new restaurant run by recent immigrants to Aalborg. The post got a lot of hits and likes on Facebook, perhaps because it was about a restaurant, something I hadn’t covered before. Or maybe because people liked the human-interest aspect of the story – international residents who have successfully started their own business in Denmark. In all honesty, it is probably a combination of these two. But it got me thinking that I might be onto something with the ‘immigrant entrepreneurship in Aalborg’ spin. So I decided to do a series on the topic. Here’s the second story in the series…
Edgar Zareckis is from Riga, the capital of Latvia. Twenty years old, he studied business in the UK for two years before realizing that he had a real itch to be an entrepreneur. In September 2013 he came to Aalborg to see if his entrepreneurial spirit might find a home. He hadn’t yet completed his studies, and he was attracted to what seemed an innovative city and an innovative university – AAU.
As a student of economics and business administration at Aalborg University, Edgar is less than two years into his Danish life but enjoying the experience so far. He is gaining a lot of theoretical knowledge through his degree program, which he finds he can apply in real life. Meanwhile, he is testing his entrepreneurial wings in order to get some practical experience…and some practical financial support.
Let’s back up for a second and start with the fact that Edgar is one of several thousand European students in Aalborg. While things are easier for them in many ways than students from non-EU countries (starting with free tuition at institutions of higher education), they do not qualify automatically for something that many Danish students take for granted: SU. SU, which stands for ‘Statens Uddannelsesstøtte’ or state education support, is money given to all Danish citizens participating in a youth education program or working toward a higher education degree. In 2015 the amount of SU for those living apart from their family is 5,903 kr/month before tax. However, European non-Danes can only receive SU if they fulfill the conditions in one of two categories: 1) equal status according to Danish rules; or 2) equal status according to EU law.
Without going into the details of these two sets of rules (which you can find by clicking on the links above), most freshly arrived European students to Aalborg can only qualify for SU through the ‘equal status according to EU law’ rules. And the main stipulation of this set of rules is that the student is working a minimum 10-12 hours per week, in addition to pursuing an education. However, one can choose whether to work for someone or be self-employed. And Edgar decided that it made sense to go the self-employment route, given his background, his ambitions, and his interests.
In his first stab at being a business owner, he started up a small, high-end cleaning company called Vejgaard Cleaning. However, he rapidly realized that it made more sense to invest his time and energy in something that he knew and that inherently interested him – and so he switched to bicycle repairs. Edgar had spent a lot of time as a youth learning how to fix bicycles by disassembling and reassembling numerous cycles. He learned by doing, in other words.
Edgar’s one-man (at least for now) bicycle repair company is called Cykel4You and has a CVR number (a business’s equivalent of the CPR number). In fact, a CVR number is required for any self-employment venture whose founder or employees wish to qualify for SU. Naturally, a CVR number links the business to SKAT and the business must pay the proper taxes and file the required monthly paperwork in order for the proprietor (and employees) to continue to receive SU.
Cykel4You is run out of the garage in Edgar’s house, which was purpose built for student accommodation. As the garage isn’t being used by any of his housemates, the landlord agreed to let Edgar use it for his bicycle repairs in exchange for cleaning snow off the walks, cutting the grass, and keeping the garden in order. However, while Edgar is happy to let customers come to him, the real value in his service lies in his willingness to travel to them. In other words, if you discover one morning that your bicycle has a flat tire, you don’t have to get it to the shop – he’ll come fix it on site. I learned how convenient this is when, this past weekend, I found that the inner tube in my rear tire had died overnight by getting poked the day before. Edgar arrived, assessed the situation, and had the tire back in working condition in less than 30 minutes. All for 100kr.
In fact, Edgar explained to me that his business’s USP (unique selling point) is ‘at home cycle repair.’ As attractive as this USP may be, because the business is new he is finding it tricky to get the word out; he uses Facebook group ads (which is how I found him) and recommendations via word of mouth. However, given that he speaks little to no Danish at this point, he finds it hard to attract Danish customers.
It is worth noting that besides traveling to his customers’ homes, Edgar also charges less than bike shops. For example, a flat tire that requires a simple inner tube replacement costs 193 kr. at Urban Cykler but only 100 kr. at Cykel4You. This includes the inner tube and labor. He told me that more complicated repairs cost 65 to 70% less than those done at Aalborg bicycle shops.
Edgar is still learning the ropes of business ownership in Denmark. He tries to work the required 10-15 hours per week while giving sufficient attention to his studies and enjoying his free time. Only time will tell whether his venture can sustain him (and his SU.) But his idea is a good one and his work is high quality, if my newly repaired bike is any indication…
Cykel4You’s contact information:
Vejgaard Kjeldgaardsgade 2
Mobile: 27 99 84 91
Next up in the ‘immigrant entrepreneurs in Aalborg’ series: Konkret Dialog (week 22 or 23)