AAA 30under30 member Stefan Poelman discusses his career to date which has seen him co-found Essex festival Zenfest at the age of 18. Poelman, alongside his friend and business partner Sam Cottrell launched the event in 2016, off the back of their clothing range Zen Apparel. The first Zenfest event was held with 250 people in an Essex field.
This was followed by its first official festival in 2019, when Poelman and Cottrel applied for a one-day license to host the event for 1,000 people on land in the village of High Ongar.
How did you get started in events?
I kind of fell into it by accident. About five years ago my best friend and I threw a joint birthday party at his house. We ended up putting a lot of work into it and everyone who came loved it. Afterwards they were pushing us to do something more, so we ended up throwing the very first ZENfest a couple of years later.
What’s your favourite event you have attended and why?
I think it would probably be Hideout festival in Croatia – the location & clubs are just unreal! Also I grew up with V festival in the local area – it was the first ever festival I went to and ended up going pretty much every year when I was in my teens, so I definitely have a soft spot for that.
What is one major challenge of running an event that you have encountered?
The biggest challenge for me was just everything being unknown. None of us had any experience in the event/festival industry at first and for the first two or three years we just did everything ourselves. Because of the lack of experience we definitely had a tonne of stumbling blocks – too many to count.
When not at work, what do you do to switch off and relax?
I like lots of things to be fair, I like to keep myself occupied – gym, reading, restaurants, cooking, site-seeing etc. I would probably say my favourite chill time though is just watching a film on the sofa.
What’s been a highlight of your career so far?
Going from a small pool party to a festival with a full team of people. I love teamwork, brainstorming and coming together with like-minded people to build and create together – it’s really rewarding knowing that what we’ve built gives other people opportunities to grow as well.
What are your future ambitions in the industry?
No idea! We’re just going with the flow of it all and I’m just excited to see what the future brings.
Watch a video here that explores the foundation of Zenfest.