Students

Moldovan franchise in Groningen

‘Business is bigger than studying’

You think you have enough on your plate already? Try running a café while also trying to pass exams. For Moldovan student Diana Scorpan, it is hard but rewarding work.
By Edward Szekeres

‘All you need is love’, is the first thing you see when you enter Tucano Coffee, a tropical-styled café just down the street from the RUG´s Harmonie building. The large sign hangs on a colourful wall decorated with paintings of wildlife, statues, and ornaments. It feels like you’ve dropped into the Amazon rainforest for an espresso.

Diana Scorpan (19), a second-year international relations student from Moldova, and her business partner (who also happens to be her fiancé) are co-owners of the Tucano Coffee branch in Groningen.

Day in and day out

Diana doesn’t spend her days in the library and her evenings in a pub somewhere. Nope; Diana is in the café – day-in and day-out – playing both the busy waitress and the composed manager. ‘I´m here at least eight hours a day. I do most of my studies in here as well. It´s practically a full-time job.’

Waiters stroll nonchalantly around the cosy room, the sweet scent of coffee and freshly-baked cheesecakes trailing behind them. There is a steady hum of conversation in the background. The casual vibe requires nurturing; Diana routinely checks in with her employees to make sure the customers have been served to satisfaction.

While Diana has cherished every moment at her café since it launched in October 2018, she´s finding it harder and harder to keep up with her study obligations.

Extremely busy job

‘Timewise, it´s been very hard. Running a business is an extremely busy job’, Diana says. She failed a couple classes earlier this year and has had to drop some courses.

The university wasn´t much help, either. Diana had previously heard that the RUG encouraged student entrepreneurs. But when she tried to get help combining her business with her studies, she couldn´t find any resources. ‘I didn´t really know who to speak to, so I just left it at that.’

But this gen-z entrepreneur was not deterred from chasing her dream. ‘Moldovans share a legacy of striving for success. I want to prove to my peers and to myself that I can do it.’

She plans to be a more focused student next year once the business is more established. ‘I will get back on track with my studies and make up for the dropped courses as soon as possible’, Diana says, confidently.

I always wanted to do something big

But for now, Diana has very little free time for anything else; her hobbies and lazy morning have also had to give way to her ambitions. Even her parents worried at first that opening a café might just be too much weight on a teen student´s shoulder. But Diana brushes the concerns aside. ‘I always knew I wanted to do something big; to be successful and eventually return home and help my country.’

Next step

Tucano Coffee is the next step towards her goal of one day becoming an important public figure in her native Moldova. ‘I´m learning so much here every day. Just look at all the different people in here. It´s international relations unfolding in front of our eyes’, she smiles proudly at the groups of students hunched over glaring laptops or engaged in jovial chatter. Everyone clutches a flamboyantly coloured cup. The screech of the espresso machine in the background cuts through Diana´s words. ‘My parents are okay with it now, too.’

The Tucano brand, born in Moldova in 2011, is named for the indigenous toucan (Tucano in Brazilian) bird that lives in the tropical forests of Brazil and Colombia. 32 Tucano coffee shops bring an atmosphere of the South American jungle to locations in eight different countries, including Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and the United Arab Emirates. Diana was the first to bring the hip café franchise to Western Europe.

She recognised Groningen´s business potential as soon as she enrolled at the RUG. ‘When I first came to the city, it immediately struck me as a hub for creative and active people. With so many students around, Groningen needed a place where everybody could meet’, she says.

People see students as childish drunkards

At such a young age, Diana is a rarity among entrepreneurs. That created obstacles. When applying for a license to become Tucano´s franchisee early last year, she had to overcome a deeply embedded credibility problem. ‘People put this bad label on students. They see us as childish drunkards who don´t know what to do with our lives.’

But as high-ranking corporates at Tucano slowly got to know Diana, they realised she was different. She always seemed to be a step ahead of everyone else. For example, she was only 16 when she founded the Moldovan Debate Association, a nationwide student organisation.

Mayor

Her business partner and fiancé, Sergiu Braga (30), doesn´t fall far behind Diana in terms of accomplishments. He was elected mayor of his home village at the age of 26 and served a full 4-year term before following Diana to Groningen.

Diana considers herself ‘lucky’ that life offered her a unique opportunity: ‘And I just took it.’ She thinks that many of her fellow students are afraid to dive into the stormy waters of business, despite having great ideas.

The effort and sacrifice it requires might seem like too much work to many young people. ‘But life is so short; I would regret not exploring all these possibilities. With good time management and task prioritising, anything is possible.’

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