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You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to join Delitelabs: new opportunities for Ilham

As a (former) public officer in Turkey, Ilham Atus was one of the 150,000 public officials who lost their jobs after the coup. To escape imprisonment and other dangers, Ilham fled the country to Greece. In 2019, he arrived in the Netherlands and applied for asylum. “I lost money. I risked my life. I risked pushback. I risked almost everything,” he says.

After arriving in the Netherlands, Ilham felt he had to start from scratch, so he started seeking all kinds of learning opportunities, such as mentorship programs and networking events. “My job was not very easy to be translated into the Dutch context,” he explains. “I didn’t want to live off the social benefits system. Because of that, I constantly sought programs that would offer me a shortcut to the labor market or make my transition easier.”

Enter: Delitelabs

The ICE Academy program at Delitelabs came to Ilham through a recommendation from one of his friends. While his friend only had positive reviews about the program, Ilham was hesitant.

“I didn’t have a business idea, so I didn’t feel like an entrepreneur,” he tells us. “I thought it would be best to leave room for people who had ideas.”

Despite his doubts, Ilham decided to join the program thanks to his friend’s insistence that it would benefit him. At the time, Ilham also wasn’t having much luck with finding a job – after receiving seven rejections, he decided to join ICE Academy.

I feel like I have more confidence moving forward,

The biggest distinctions of the ICE Academy program

Even though Ilham was reluctant at first, he definitely feels good about his decision to join Delitelabs. “I’m glad I made the decision to join the ICE Academy program because even though I didn’t have a business idea, I was able to get a sense of how the process goes,” he says. “It was a very stimulating experience for me.”

Learning about new (business) concepts opened Ilham’s eyes to new ideas and opportunities. One concept that stands out to him is the MVP, or minimum viable product, which essentially is the most basic version of a product to attract early customers who can then validate the product and provide feedback for the future.

As Ilham puts it, “You can’t start a five-star restaurant from scratch, but you can start in your own kitchen and try to sell food on Instagram. I thought that was a genius concept. It’s a concept that you can also apply to your life, be it your prospective business or your career or your life in general. You have to start small, and wisely.”

On the program’s learning methodology, Ilham says, “It was a very interactive program. We didn’t shy away from getting our hands dirty. I’ve been through so many mentorship programs and this was the first program that offered something very concrete. I think this is the biggest distinction of the program.”

He also met a diverse group of people in the program, from a professional football player to a writer and poet to a former paramedic. Today, Ilham is working with Aiva, one of his classmates and a personal branding expert, to work on his own personal branding journey. “I built lasting friendships and networks,” Ilham tells us.

Filling career gaps with a short internship

Like many Delitelabs alumni, Ilham was able to do a short internship at Unilever via the ICE Academy program.

“It’s a huge opportunity because we are still newcomers or ‘dark horses’ for the Dutch labor market, so we have years of gaps on our resume, which is a constant obstacle for people like me,” Ilham says.

Because he wants to build a career in sustainability, Ilham’s short internship at De Vegetarische Slager (The Vegetarian Butcher), a leader in plant-based meat whose parent organization is Unilever, was a perfect match. During his internship, Ilham was able to experience a real Dutch working environment, learning how the team comes up with new ideas and what it is like to be a part of a large corporation.

“Thanks to that experience, I don’t have that four-year gap on my resume anymore and I was able to meet people from great corporations. I feel like I have more confidence moving forward,” Ilham tells us.

The importance of entrepreneurship – even if you’re not an entrepreneur

Ilham urges anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit to join the ICE Academy program at Delitelabs – even if you’re not an entrepreneur.

“Even if you don’t feel like starting your own business, in some cases within a big organization you are expected to think or act like an in-house entrepreneur,” he says. “This is how you’re expected to approach projects or come up with new ideas within a business, so I don’t think the ICE Academy program is only beneficial to aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Delitelabs also brings value to its participants far beyond the end of the program. “It’s not limited to ICE Academy. Once you’re in the network, you can receive a lot of help and assistance, backed by lots of commitment,” Ilham elaborates. “The short internship is a huge thing itself. Hardly any organization gives such an opportunity.”

Ilham is currently completing a Master’s in Global Business & Sustainability at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He hopes to find job opportunities in the sustainable finance sector. “Through my existing network, I’m having some talks with companies and recruitment agencies, and focusing on my thesis as well,” he says. “I would love to work in the sustainable finance sector, it’s a huge sector. At the age of 35, I don’t want to close any doors.”

Are you a hard-working professional like Ilham, but struggling to find new opportunities? Join the ICE Academy program to get the skills, knowledge, and expertise you need to create your path to building a sustainable livelihood.

Written by Sophie Poulsen

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