Mass exodus of Sandbox members following restructuring

Network’s Dublin hub to join new community of entrepreneurs and innovators called HQ

Sandbox was founded  in 2009 with the  aim of bringing the brightest, youngest entrepreneurs in the world into contact with each other. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Sandbox was founded in 2009 with the aim of bringing the brightest, youngest entrepreneurs in the world into contact with each other. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Sandbox, the international business networking organisation, has suffered an exodus of Irish members amid complaints about a new fee-based and elitist structure being adopted by the organisation’s new owners.

Sandbox, founded in 2009, aims to bring the brightest, youngest entrepreneurs in the world into contact with each other. Over the last five years, its members have graced the covers of Wired and Fast Company, spoken at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, and been consistently featured on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.

One email, however, has caused a mass exodus from what was once the foremost global network of young innovators and entrepreneurs.

Natasha Sherling, co-ambassador of Sandbox Dublin, said the 35 members of the network’s Irish hub all made the decision to leave, and join HQ.

“When we heard about the changes, pretty much everyone decided overnight that they didn’t want to be part of the network. We are not about paying and being extremely elitist. We have thus moved on to a new group called HQ.”

Ms Sherling said a huge number of Sandbox members worldwide were unhappy with the restructuring changes, and thus decided to form a new community of innovators and entrepreneurs called HQ.

Swiss company-builder Centralway, which is the majority shareholder in Sandbox, told members it was going to begin charging a fee to be part of the global community, adding membership would be “strictly limited”.

‘Hand-picked’ ranks

“From September on, Sandbox will accept only the best members. We demand a track record of great achievement and a can-do attitude that brings about action not words,” Centralway said of the new Sandbox network.

“By the time of the relaunch, a hand-picked group limited to 150 Sandboxers will be invited to join the community.”

Centralway said Sandbox founders Christian Busch and Fabian Pfortmueller, and former chief executive, Irishman John Egan, would not be re-elected to the board of the new network.

In June 2013, the entrepreneurial network was financially bankrupt. Centralway rescued it with a €1.1 million capital injection and became a majority shareholder in the process.

Sandbox was founded by Antoine Verdon, Mr Busch, Mr Pfortmueller, Nico Luchsinger, and Severin Jan Rueegger. It grew to over 1,000 members in more than 55 countries before a mass exodus this summer.